A Good Time to Come Up Big

By Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 1/27/01

Consider this the companion piece to my last column, "A Bad Time to Stink It Up." In that column, I opined that in the January 20th home game against Providence, the Hokie men's basketball team picked a bad game to not show up.

But one week later, facing a supposedly more formidable task in the St. John's Red Storm, Ricky Stokes's Hokies came up with a big victory for the program. They outhustled and outplayed the Johnnies, eventually beating them 65-59 in a final score that must have looked like a misprint as it rolled across ESPN2's "bottom line" sports ticker.

It's funny how things work out. Coming into this year, the game against Providence was seen as one of just a few "winnable" Big East games for the Hokies, whereas this St. John's game was marked down as an automatic loss by anyone who follows college basketball. No way does a young Tech team beat the bad boys from New York.

But St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis knew better. Jarvis, a veteran coach who had visited Cassell Coliseum many times while he headed up the George Washington program, tried to warn his young charges not to take the Hokies lightly. He called this game "the most dangerous game" remaining on the St. John's schedule.

His collection of young hot shots listened earnestly, nodded knowingly, and then went out and got caught napping, much to their chagrin.

Those following the Tech program this year have made many apologies for this young Hokie team, blaming many of their woes on their youth. And give the Hokies credit -- they played hard and for the most part, played well -- but St. John's was the team that suffered from youth in this contest.

St. John's' two best players are freshmen, point guard Omar Cook and forward Willie Shaw. And in this game, those two players failed their team. Cook put up good numbers (12 points, 8 assists, and 4 steals), but he was just 4-13 from the field, including a stone cold 1-8 from beyond the three-point line.

Shaw one-upped Cook, going 1-11 from the three point line (1-15 overall) and scoring just 3 points in 29 minutes. Together, the two freshmen were 5-28 (2-19 from three-point land) and put up just 15 points total, compared to 39 points in the January 3rd 89-64 blowout that St. John's put on Tech.

It shouldn't surprise you that St. John's came in and played poorly. Sure, the Red Storm had won 7 of their last 8 and sat atop the Big East's East Division with a 5-1 record, but this is the same team that lost on the road earlier this season to Fordham and at home to ... Hofstra.

But don't take anything away from the Hokies. Tech got solid contributions from nearly every player who took the floor, and their hustle was in marked contrast to the lack of effort they showed in the Providence game. The result is a win that Ricky Stokes's young charges will remember for a long time, hopefully the next time the going gets tough.

Perhaps more surprising than the win was the fan turnout. Just over 5700 fans showed up for this game, nearly 500 hundred more than the crowd that witnessed the Providence debacle. It would stand to reason that the Providence game chased a lot of fans away, but apparently not.

It's worth mentioning, though, that the weather for this game was much better than the conditions for the Providence game. Forecasts of icy conditions probably kept a lot of fans from making the drive to Blacksburg on January 20th. That's a good thing.

The Big East has been a topsy-turvy league so far this year. The cliche of "any given night" has held true all season long, primarily because there's so much youth in the league that most of the teams can't be counted on to play consistently night in and night out. Now the Hokies have gotten into the act of pulling a big upset, and the score no doubt turned heads around the league when it was announced. It's one thing for Tech to beat Miami, but ... St. John's?

From here, the Hokies will embark on a three-game road stretch, visiting Boston College on January 31st, the woefully underperforming UConn Huskies on February 3rd, and the Miami Hurricanes on February 6th.

All three games are winnable for Tech, particularly the Miami game. The Hokies present matchup problems for the Canes, and Miami rarely turns out more than a few thousand fans a game, so they won't get much of a home-crowd advantage. But Tech could also get destroyed in all three games. They're the veritable Forrest Gump box of chocolates.

For example, you've got to like Ricky Stokes putting the 6-7 Carlos Dixon on the 6-1 Omar Cook, adding to Cook's woes. But at the same time, you've got to scratch your head at how often Tech's 6-11 center Carlton Carter handles the ball at the top of the key, often resulting in turnovers.

And JUCO transfer Joe Hamilton, the flashy swingman who led the Hokies with 12 points in this game, is fun to watch. Right up until his emotions get the better of him, and he does something like yell at his own teammates, as he did when he went off shouting at Mibindo Dongo late in this game. (Dongo surrendered two straight offensive rebounds to St. John's Anthony Glover, and Hamilton gave him an earful.)

But the inconsistency has its own charm. TSL columnist Jim Alderson, who follows the Duke Blue Devils closely, emailed me a few hours after this game and made an interesting statement, writing, "I love watching these kids develop. I find it much more satisfying than watching Duke blow people out."

Yes, that's true. Tech basketball is still a well-kept secret, so those of us who are paying attention day in and day out are getting a treat. It means more for us to see this win than it does for the casual fan to read the score in the paper.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to figure out which one of those chocolates I'm going to pick out of the box for next Wednesday's game at Boston College. Gee, I hope it's not one of those nasty yellow cream-thingies. I'd much rather have a chewy caramel or one of those crunchy nut clusters.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of TechSideline.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for TSL, and generally runs the place with his prodigious and productive brain.


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