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Tech pulls away from Virginia in closing minutes

In-state rivals trade lead throughout game; late run propels Hokies to 61-55 victory

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Jeff Allen's performance during the past two games against Virginia before Saturday night: four points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. But the hot-tempered, prone-to-give-fans-the-bird junior forward for Virginia Tech was cool, calm and collected this weekend on his home court, scoring 13 points during 20 minutes en route to a 61-55 victory for the Hokies.

None were more important than the six that came with less than two minutes to play. The Cavaliers were in control with 2:06 remaining when junior forward Will Sherrill found Mike Scott below the basket for a one-handed dunk. The play was especially sweet for Virginia, as its possession appeared to be falling apart against a tenacious Tech defense. Sherrill's find late in the shot clock gave Virginia a 51-48 lead, however, silencing the raucous Cassell Coliseum crowd.

Fourteen seconds later, the student section was imbued with new life when junior guard Malcolm Delaney found Allen cutting to the basket from the left wing, resulting in an and-one layup as Scott was called for a blocking foul. Allen tacked on the ensuing free throw to tie the game, and, after senior guard Calvin Baker missed a wide-open jumper, Allen - a 26.1 percent three-point shooter heading into the game - nailed a trey from the right corner to give Tech a three-point lead.

"We were trying to trap the ball-screen, and he really separated," coach Tony Bennett said. "We were a little slow on our rotations but they had everything cleared out to that side, whether it was the end of the play or if that was a set call, and he hit it. I wish we could've gotten to him sooner, especially if they were fumbling with the ball to make him shoot - a hand in his face. But we didn't, and he stepped up and hit it - that's what you have to do in those settings."

The Cavaliers never recovered from Allen's dagger, as sophomore guard Sammy Zeglinski turned the ball over on their next possession, and the Hokies closed out the game with free throws. Following the loss, Virginia (14-8, 5-4 ACC) remains in fifth place in the conference, while Virginia Tech (20-4, 7-3 ACC) climbs the ladder to third behind Duke and Wake Forest.

In addition to Allen's suave performance down the stretch, the Hokies' ability to contain guard Sylven Landesberg during the second half was instrumental to their victory. The sophomore was held to just 3-of-12 shooting during the period and did not make a field goal after the 9:02 mark.

"They stack the deck against him," Bennett said. "We tried to run a few sets, whether he can get in the lane off the dribble, make plays or a couple rhythm shots. Some of them weren't falling, and they did a good job guarding him."

Landesberg still managed to finish with 17 points and was the only Cavalier apart from Scott - who scored 20 - to land in double digits. The duo accounted for 18 of the team's 25 points during what was a woeful first half for both teams. Tech's 32.1 percent shooting barely edged Virginia's 30 percent in a display of poor shooting and point-blank misses, including Scott's one-handed dunk attempt that struck the back of the rim and flew into the air during the opening minute.

The junior forward redeemed himself with a three-pointer at the end of the half, though, which gave Virginia a four-point halftime lead.

But Scott and Landesberg were given little help from their supporting cast, which shot 6-of-31 from the field on the game. The Hokies, meanwhile, had a balanced scoring attack, with three players in double figures. This struggle to find a consistent third scorer has plagued the Cavaliers all season long.

"We're searching," Bennett said. "There's not a guy - I wish we could tell you - and I think that would help us, but that's who we are. We keep fighting, keep telling 'em, 'Hey, let your defense keep you in there.'"

This scoring problem is compounded when Virginia finds itself in close-game situations. But another tight loss and blown lead did not leave the players worried.

"The close games show us that we're right there - we're able to compete with the best of 'em," Landesberg said. "We just need that extra push."

The Cavaliers will have an opportunity to take the next step tonight as they take on a Maryland team that is coming off its perennial loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

"Physically I hope we'll be all right, but mentally, can we bounce back and get ourselves ready?" Bennett said. "Going into a tough stretch - playing against Maryland, I know they're coming off a disappointing loss and it'll be another gut-check time. In this league, there are no easy ones, and going into that setting - if we can come up with that kind of effort, hopefully shoot the ball a little better, you gotta be able to stick some of those shots"