Shocking blowout in home finale spells trouble for Virginia Tech

Malcolm Delaney certainly didn't want to end his home career at Virginia Tech the way he did on Tuesday night.

Now, the Hokies' star senior just hopes that it actually was his last game in Blacksburg.

Some — Dick Vitale, most emphatically and probably prematurely — were proclaiming Virginia Tech as an NCAA tournament lock after they knocked off top-ranked Duke at Cassell Coliseum on Saturday night.

But just three days later, plenty of the good that came from that signature win was undone in an embarrassing 76-61 loss to fellow bubble-dweller Boston College.

Virginia Tech looked tired, distracted and emotionless early on, falling behind quickly by 17, but a late spurt got the hosts back to within eight points at halftime.

A closely-contested second stanza was blown wide open with 11:33 left when frustrations boiled over for the Hokies and never simmered back down.

First, coach Seth Greenberg was assessed with a technical foul with Tech trailing 53-41. Over the next four minutes, B.C. would pull off a 10-2 run, and it was never close again.

The unraveling hit another low when senior Jeff Allen was then T'd up with 4:41 remaining for jawing at the refs during free throw attempts by B.C.'s Reggie Jackson. He was benched by Greenberg, but put back in so that he could get his proper senior exit a couple of minutes later. He was modestly applauded with the other seniors by the handful of folks who stuck around until the bitter end.

The Hokies were outrebounded 38-22, only had six assists on 24 field goals and swallowed their most lopsided home loss in two years.

But how surprised should we be by what transpired in Blacksburg on Tuesday?

Well, the severity and odd timing of the loss is shocking. But the program's been anything but consistent in ACC play in recent years. No matter what anyone on the outside said, the Hokies were still flirting with fire on Tuesday, but Virginia Tech clearly didn't treat it like that. As a result, the Hokies again find themselves in this compromising position to start March off.

Shots of Greenberg shown by the ESPNU cameras throughout the game were painful, as his disappointment in the team's performance was more and more visible as the game wore on. A postgame picture of him losing his cool following a radio interview was painted nicely by Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post.

These late-season woes have become a disturbing trend for Virginia Tech.

In 2008-09, the Hokies improved to 13-5 early in the ACC season with a win at top-ranked Wake Forest. But after that came a 4-8 finish to the regular season, including dropping six of their final seven after failing to capitalize on the momentum. They bowed out of the league tournament in the quarterfinals and were bounced for good in the second round of the NIT.

Last season, they won 23 regular-season games but suffered from a severe lack of quality wins and nonconference schedule clout. After losing to Miami in the first round of the ACC tourney, it was a trip to the NIT for the third straight season.

The program answered those who questioned the nonconference schedule that kept them from last year's NCAA tourney by booking some more challenging games to start this season against the likes of Purdue and Kansas State. However, the victory over Duke, which featured a gritty, inspired performance, was their first marquee win.

They deserve some credit for overcoming season-ending injuries to senior guard Dorezno Hudson and sophomore forward Cadarian Raines back in December. The emergence of sophomore point guard Erick Green has helped ease some of the pressure originally felt by Delaney to be a do-it-all in the backcourt, making the senior stalwart more consistently effective in turn.

Now, just a few days after their NCAA tourney fate appeared close to sealed, the Hokies are having to pick up the pieces quickly. They've been swept by both B.C. and Vrginia this season, are 19-9 overall and 9-6 in the ACC.

They head into their season finale at Clemson on Saturday with an RPI of 62, the nation's 86th strongest schedule and only two wins over RPI Top 50 competition.

The overall lack of strength in the ACC outside of Duke and North Carolina is hurting Virginia Tech's power numbers, but the much-talked about lack of quality around the bubble keeps the Hokies a formidable challenger for one of the 37 at-large berths.

A loss on Saturday or another first-round exit in the league tournament would only further jeopardize that. It would also mean that Delaney will have to play at Cassell Coliseum again in his fourth reluctant trip to the NIT.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.