Damaging defeat

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Seth Greenberg believes his Virginia Tech Hokies belong in the NCAA tournament. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski concurs.

But they don't have a vote. Moreover, they're not the most impartial observers.

As the regular season concludes, the Hokies must convince a far more objective group: the 10-member NCAA basketball committee.

Saturday afternoon Tech squandered an opportunity to state its case, falling to seventh-ranked Duke 72-65. And with Selection Sunday two weeks away, those opportunities are dwindling to a precious few.

This was the Blue Devils' third game in six days, the latter two on the road. Time for the Hokies to attack early and often.

Except Tech opened in a haze. Duke led 9-2, 20-5 and 32-16. Most troubling to Greenberg, defensive tactics stressed during practice were being ignored and/or forgotten.

Force Gerald Henderson to his left. Don't bite on Kyle Singler's pump fakes. Shadow Jon Scheyer beyond the 3-point arc.

And what happened? Henderson made a living going right, Singler lost defenders with pump-fakes, and Scheyer made three 3s in the first half.

"Defensively was the worst part," A.D. Vassallo said of Tech's wretched start.

"The scouting report is only as good as what's digested," Greenberg lamented.

Sure, Duke is good. Very good on its best days. But a tournament-worthy team should not go more than 27 consecutive minutes of a critical home game trailing by at least five points.

That's what happened to the Hokies (17-11, 7-7 ACC), and when they finally did claw close, they brain-cramped again.

Duke led 66-63 after Tech's Dorenzo Hudson made two free throws with 35 seconds remaining. Kyle Singler took the ball out of bounds and, ex-high school quarterback that he is, flung a deep pass to a wide-open Greg Paulus for an easy layup.

"You get a layup at that point, God bless America," Krzyzewski said.

"Miscommunication," is the word Vassallo and Greenberg used.

A miscommunication that should not befall a tournament team.

Hey, kudos to the Hokies for forging a 58-all tie. Applaud the defense that harassed Henderson (21 points, six rebounds, six assists) into 0-for-7 second-half shooting, and admire the Vassallo binge that saw him score all the points in a 15-4 run that knotted the score.

Also acknowledge that Tech was short-handed with point guard Hank Thorns sidelined by cramps and dehydration that sent him to a hospital following Wednesday's gritty victory at Clemson. Without Thorns, Malcolm Delaney, most comfortable and effective on the wing, was forced to play the entire 40 minutes at the point.

Not coincidentally, Delaney missed 10 of his 12 shots and scored seven points, nearly 12 below his team-high average. He had scored at least 10 in 32 straight games dating to last season.

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