Hokie Hurdle

Andy Kennedy said going on the road may just be what Ole Miss needs to get to New York City for the Final Four of the National Invitation Tournament. Maybe he's trying to get the mindset of his team right for tonight's contest. Eniel Polynice thinks so.

"He's challenging us," said the sophomore guard, the Rebels now 23-10 after an 85-75 overtime win in Oxford against Nebraska Monday night. "We haven't played a decent road game in a long time. We need to play one. He's challenging us to make sure we're ready. We need to prove everybody wrong that we can't win one."

"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Kennedy bluntly, his team with two SEC road wins in two years and only two other true road wins (at South Alabama last season and at Central Florida this season). "The one hurdle we've not been able to clear consistently is to win on the road. This is the perfect way to take the next step. If we advance, we've shown we have matured in that area. If we don't, then that's the one area we've got to continue to improve on."

Certainly signs say that this one will be as tough to win as any SEC road game. In Virginia Tech's last five games in 10,000-seat Cassell Coliseum, the Hokies have defeated their opponents by an average margin of 21.4 points.

With their 75-49 win over UAB Monday night, the 21-13 Hokies are now 14-2 in Cassell Coliseum this season. That marks the most home wins for the Hokies since the 1982-83 season, when Tech was 16-1 in Cassell. The team's 27 combined wins at home over the last two seasons is the most for a two-year stretch in school history.

Virginia Tech, which won the 1973 and 1995 NIT Championships, is 10-0 all-time in NIT home games.

Virginia Tech has already played two games in Madison Square Garden this season, beating Hofstra and St. John's in the ECAC Holiday Festival in late December.

The Rebels and Hokies are 1-1 in previous meetings. The last one was on March 15, 1982, when the Hokies defeated the Rebels 61-59 in the second round of the NIT in Oxford. The only other meeting was a 70-66 Ole Miss win on Dec. 29, 1979 in the Sugar Bowl Tournament in New Orleans.

Probable starters for the Hokies are:

F Deron Washington Sr. 6-7 New Orleans, La. (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.3 apg)

F Jeff Allen Fr. 6-7 Washington, D.C. (11.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.1 spg)

C Lewis Witcher So. 6-9 Rocky Mount, Va. (2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg. 0.4 bspg)

G Malcolm Delaney Fr. 6-3 Baltimore, Md. (9.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.0 apg)

G A.D. Vassallo Jr. 6-6 Toa Baja, P.R. (16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg)

"They're very athletic," Kennedy said. "Many people thought they were the bridesmaid as it related to the NCAA Tournament. They may have been team No. 66. Nobody really knows. It's going to be a hostile environment, and it's for the opportunity to go to New York."

"We just have to be focused. We have to play hard," Polynice said. "This is the seniors' last time. We have to step up."

Tonight's game tips at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

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