A lucky bounce and a veteran official's snap judgment were all that separated Virginia Tech and Boston College on Saturday.
The basketball and the whistle went the Hokies' way.
"You win a game like that, and it gives you a chance to have a special season," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said moments after his team's 63-62 victory at Cassell Coliseum.
A benchmark season is far from certain for the offensively challenged Hokies, but this much is clear: With road tests at Virginia and Miami beckoning, losing at home to one of the ACC's poorest teams would have staggered Tech like a Tyson-in-his-prime uppercut.
The Hokies (15-3, 2-2) dodged that fate thanks to a trapping defense that created 20 turnovers, eight more than the Eagles' average and 15 more than they committed in Tuesday's victory at Miami.
"We've been working on defense since last summer," forward Jeff Allen said. "6 a.m. workouts, and it paid off today."
Allen, Terrell Bell and Dorenzo Hudson forced the decisive turnover with 21 seconds remaining when they smothered Biko Paris in the backcourt. Paris yelped for a timeout, but when Allen got his hands on the ball, referee Mike Wood quickly called a held ball.
The possession arrow — a pox worse on college basketball worse than Dick Vitale's heartfelt but incoherent ramblings — favored the Hokies.
"It could have gone either way," Hudson said. "When he blew the whistle, I thought he was calling for the timeout."
So did most of us close to the play on press row. So did Boston College coach Al Skinner.
"As an official you have to give a timeout before a tie-up," he said. "It was unfortunate."
Following a Greenberg timeout, Tech fed Victor Davila in the post, where he lost control of the ball. The friendly bounce found Hudson for what he called a "right-spot-at-the-right-time" layup.
The last of Hudson's game-high 18 points gave Tech a 63-62 edge with, after officials consulted replay, five seconds remaining. Boston College (11-9, 2-4) was unable to get off a final shot as Jackson dribbled the ball off a teammate's foot.
Greenberg and several players harkened back to last season, when the Eagles defeated the visiting Hokies 67-66 on Rakim Sanders' stickback with four-tenths of a second remaining. That loss, and five others on opponents' final shots, denied Tech an NCAA tournament bid.
"One play's the difference between being miserable and being able to breathe," Greenberg said.
With three days of preparation, Greenberg and his staff crafted a shrewd defensive plan. The Hokies aggressively trapped Reggie Jackson to force the ball from his hands — he committed five turnovers — and used the quicker Bell instead of Allen to shadow Joe Trapani, Boston College's top scorer and 3-point shooter.
Trapani had 36 points in two games against Tech last season and a career-high 31 Tuesday at Miami. Saturday he played only 20 minutes and managed just six points, his second-lowest production this season.
"This is how we're going to win," Greenberg said. "We're going to be tough and grind it out."
As telling as the Eagles' giveaways: The Hokies converted them into 26 points, four coming on breakaway dunks by Bell.
Meanwhile, Tech committed only nine turnovers to mask Malcolm Delaney's sub-par 4-of-15 shooting. The ACC's top scorer entering Saturday at 19.9 points, Delaney did not scratch for the first 17-plus minutes of the second half, missing all six of his shots.
But Delaney made 3 of 4 free throws and a pull-up jumper in the final 2:16 to finish with 13 points.
"It just shows how tough our team is," Delaney said. "We're a good defensive team."
Delaney spent much of the second half wincing from a right-ankle tweak — a sprained left ankle sidelined him for two games previously — and a sore shoulder, and as soon as the horn sounded, Greenberg rushed to his side.
"If you coached this team," Greenberg said, "you'd want to make sure he was healthy, too."
No doubt, for without Delaney, Tech has no chance to break even or finish above .500 in the ACC. And even with him, the Hokies must improve a team field-goal percentage of 43.2 that ranks last in the conference.
Greenberg will fret about shooting later.
"To try to do something special over the course of a season," he said, "you have to get lucky. … The resiliency we showed in staying the course is something I'm proud of."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
Next gameNext game WHO: Virginia Tech (15-3, 2-2 ACC) at Virginia (12-5, 3-1).
WHEN/TV: 7 p.m. Thursday/CSN.