The game was bruising, defensive and taut. One loose ball and elbow later, matters became contentious and sad. A stirring comeback and acrobatic jumper later, we simply had a classic.
Virginia Tech 76, Virginia 71. In overtime.
Thursday night's game had no such signature performance. But Tech's Malcolm Delaney, J.T. Thompson and Dorenzo Hudson were gallant. Ditto Virginia's Mike Scott and Sylven Landesberg.
So drained was Hudson that a trainer led him to the bus holding aloft an IV bag to rehydrate him.
Indeed, what this contest revealed was the Hokies' grit. Down 10 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, their best interior player in the locker room after an ejection, Tech scored 13 consecutive points to lead 65-62 with 10 seconds remaining.
"We thought the game was … over," Thompson said.
Choosing not to foul, Hokies coach Seth Greenberg saw Sammy Zeglinski, the ACC's most accurate 3-point shooter, hit an off-balance trey from in front of the Cavs' bench with 1.3 seconds left to force OT.
Undaunted, Tech (16-3, 3-2 ACC) scored the first five points of overtime to seize command for good.
"I think we're developing a trust," Greenberg said. "I think guys are finding roles and niches. I think guys are gaining confidence."
Delaney, Hudson and Thompson combined for 62 points and 15 rebounds. Scott scored 21, his most in an ACC game. Landesberg added 18.
Alas, a focal point must be Tech forward Jeff Allen.
Official Karl Hess ejected Allen with 13:41 remaining in regulation for an elbow that sent Virginia's Jeff Jones to the floor. The encounter in the right corner near the Hokies' bench could not be farther from media seating, so we're in no position to judge. But the call drew no protest from Greenberg at the time or after the game.
Some folks watching at home, none Tech fans, texted that Allen's elbow did not appear flagrant on replay. Hess obviously disagrees since he consulted the tape before ejecting Allen, who finished with four points.
Allen, a junior, was suspended in each of his first two seasons at Tech, for bumping an official at Georgia Tech and for flipping off fans at Maryland. Thursday's incident does not carry an automatic suspension, but given Allen's history, the ACC may ponder discipline.
After Allen's elbow, Jones made both free throws, and on the ensuing possession Landesberg hit a jumper. Tech's Terrell Bell then missed in transition, and seconds later Scott attempted, and made, his first 3-pointer of the season to give the Cavs (12-6, 3-2) a 44-34 cushion.
Game, set and match. Right?
Nope. The undersized Hudson and Thompson continued to attack inside, while Delaney (game-high 27 points) showed why he leads the ACC in scoring. Delaney missed all six of his 3-point attempts but countered with 9-of-10 free-throw shooting.
Virginia contributed to its own demise with a season-high 16 turnovers, some sloppy, others a credit to Tech's defense.
Games such as this identify NCAA tournament teams, and games such as this kept Tech out of the field in 2008 and '09. This season is starting to feel different.
The Hokies defeated Seton Hall, also in overtime, in Cancun, Mexico, with Delaney sidelined with a sprained ankle. They bested Delaware in overtime and Boston College by one.
The Cavs and Hokies now hit the road for curious and contrasting Sunday tests.
Virginia heads to North Carolina, where Roy Williams' reigning national champs defeated N.C. State on Tuesday to snap a three-game losing streak and pull fans in from the proverbial ledge. The Cavaliers have lost six consecutive meetings with the Tar Heels and six straight at the Dean Dome, all of the latter by at least 10 points.
Tech travels to Miami, where the last-place Hurricanes have dropped four consecutive ACC games. If the Hokies are to swipe another road game or two in conference, no more inviting venue than Coral Gables, where they won last season.
"We're not aesthetically attractive," Greenberg said. "But I convinced my wife to marry me, and look at me."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.
True classic reveals how Hokies can gut out win