There are always moments in conference tournaments that get national attention. UConn hitting a 3/4-court heave to send their game to a fourth overtime against Cincinnati. Kemba Walker hitting his step back buzzer-beater over Pitt in Madison Square Garden. Shoot, North Texas banked in a halftime heave from the opposite free throw line yesterday evening and that made the rounds. On Thursday afternoon, Virginia Tech was on the wrong side of one of those moments. Florida State's Terance Mann hit a wild runner while falling out of bounds with 1.8 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Seminoles over the Hokies, 65-63.
It's hard to reflect on a buzzer-beating loss and feel positive, but Buzzketball has no reason to hang their heads. The Hokies showed a grit and effort in the quarterfinals that should not be dismissed solely on the end result.
"I don't want it to come across arrogant at all, but if there was some category for effort across the country regardless of sport in college, I think we would win," noted Buzz Williams. "I know it comes across selfish and I just said this to our guys, and I don't mean this in the wrong way either, I don't want to win so we can win. I want to win because that means we get to play again. And I've never seen, in my career as a coach, the connectedness and the effort that these guys play with. I'm just struggling to articulate over and over to these guys the level of respect that I have for them, considering all that they have been through and how they just keep responding. So much of what goes on in the locker room and timeouts, it's them, it's what they're saying. And it's not just our players and it's not just me, it's the organization all pulling. And I think you can see that. We probably get more bench warnings than anybody, and it's not for mal-intent, it's just that's kind of how we do things when it's just us. But the utmost respect for Florida State, for sure, but also for the effort and care and love that our guys play with."
Tech emphatically took its first lead of the contest on a Kerry Blackshear Jr. slam, just a casual 38:44 into the contest. The Hokies had to scrap and claw their way back from a 13-point first half hole to go into halftime down by just 2, and faced seperate 7- and 8-point deficits following the intermission.
"I believe it's the matchup," explained Nickeil Alexander-Walker. "I think we matchup well with them and they matchup well with us. When you have two teams that are tough by label it's going to be a good game and it's competition. Guys wanted to compete, everyone was going back and forth and we were aggressive, they were aggressive, it was a physical game, but again, like Med said, credit to them, they made shots down the stretch and they did what they had to do. They're a great team, which is why they earned that double bye and I just feel like it's always a great matchup because you have two high level teams going as hard as they can."
And don't forget, even though you probably want to, that Tech had a 3-point lead with 18 seconds remaining with a chance to make it 4. By all definitions, the Hokies had Florida State picking up the towel to throw. But instead, Blackshear missed his free throw to set up the first of two heartbreaking shots by the 'Noles.
In regulation, it was Devin Vassell who stepped up for Florida State. Head coach Leonard Hamilton drew up a perfect play design for a game-tying deep ball.
"We had four options and Trent [Forrest] did a very good job of locating," said Hamilton. "We had options on the left and options on the right, and I think with the lack of experience with Vassell, I'm sure that they thought he was the -- would be the last option, but he was open and he's a very confident freshman and he knocked the shot down. And when it left his hand, Coach Gates said, 'it's going in, Coach', and he was right."
"Coach just drew up a great play," added Vassell. "Trent, he just found me open, T-Man set a great screen and I caught it, and my teammates told me to let it go if I got it, and so I just let it go and it went in."
As both teams huddled up before that final play, the question running through just about anybody's mind was if the Hokies, up three, would foul before FSU got a shot opportunity.
"We discussed all of that," explained Williams. "Did you see how Nickeil played the ball? On the out of bounds play? We didn't want it to go to the strong side. That was one thing. We talked about fouling on the inbounds pass and then we talked about -- our colors signify some defensive things for us, we wanted to 'black' on the weak side. Coaches call that a hammer screen that they set and we wanted to 'black' that, which is switch it. So we prevented it from going to the strong side, it went to the weak side, but we didn't 'black' it, we didn't switch it. In hopes that if you switch it, maybe that's denied and now the ball's got to go towards half court and now as the ball goes towards half court now we can load to the ball and maybe buy, eat up two and a half, three seconds and maybe it's more of a contested shot. Really good player, it's 24 that hit the shot, right? I think he's shooting 44 percent from three through 18 conference games. Obviously that's why they ran the hammer for him."
The play that Hamilton and his coaching staff drew up was designed in a way that Vassell immediately caught and shot the ball. Tech had no chance to foul because the 'Noles never put the ball on the floor. To give credit where it's due, Vassell hit a corner three with Isaiah Wilkins' hand right in his grill. It was good defense, but better offense.
1⃣4⃣points and a CLUTCH three to send the game to OT for Devin Vassell! 🔥#GoNoles #MustSeeACC #ACCTourney (@FSUHoops, @Yvngdevo)@NewYorkLife #GoodAtLife #ad pic.twitter.com/HEJr0ZVmJX— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) March 14, 2019
And in overtime, it was a similar situation with a similar result. Good defense, better offense. Mann's shot hit the rim four times, and the backboard once for good measure, before dropping through the net. That's March for you.
"For me, when I caught it they were kind of jogging back on defense, and I kind of caught it in a stride so I thought I was going to get all the way to the basket and he [Ahmed Hill] kind of cut me off and I took the hit and shot it, confident shot," explained Mann. "Just let it go."
Alexander-Walker got a good look at a game-winning three from just inside halfcourt, but the shot sailed just wide of the back iron. And with the miss, the 'Noles moved on to the semifinals to play Virginia and the Hokies packed their bags for Blacksburg.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, And Some Justin Robinson News
The Good. It's weird to write, but it might be good that Virginia Tech lost. Instead of having to play their third game in as many days against a tireless Virginia squad, the Hokies get to rest until their first round game of March Madness.
Florida State played 10 guys against Tech, with only 3 of those playing over 30 minutes. The Hokies played 8, but 6 combined for 220 of the 225 possible minutes. Tech needs as much rest as they can get before the real (sorry, ACC) tournament starts.
The Bad. Buzzketball started 0 for 12 from three against Florida State and finished 4 for 19 (21.1%). That's not just poor, it's statistically improbable. Tech entered this contest averaging 40% from deep on the season.
"I think they had beautiful contests they knew that we as a team that we could shoot three, they kind of played it, they wanted to make us drive and go into their bigs and the bigs are so tremendous at blocking shots so we tried to get them in the air, kick out for a three, but they did such a good job of contesting it so they just made it miss," explained Hill.
Hill and Alexander-Walker led the team in makes from the bonus-sphere, with both going 2 for 5 on the day.
The Ugly. Free throws. They're free for a reason.
The Hokies went a perfect 4 for 4 in the first half and seemed quite comfortable from the charity stripe. But then, they practically lost the game from the line after the break. Tech shot an abysmal 3 for 9 in the second frame, including the aforementioned Blackshear miss with 18 seconds remaining that would've made it a 4-point game.
Yes, the Hokies probably had tired legs from their game yesterday. Yes, it's a different arena with a different shooting background and different rims. But if Tech makes 1 more free throw out of 9 chances, they win the contest in 40 minutes instead of losing it in 45.
Justin Robinson report. Williams was much more candid about the senior's status. The more open the head coach becomes, the closer it feels like Robinson is to returning.
"He's making progress," said Williams. "Similar to any athlete, you have to continue to make progress and that progress is based on the doctor's timeline, the trainer's timeline, he has met each passing phase, we took pictures of it last Friday before we played our last home game, those pictures determined that he couldn't play. So we're going to end up being able to take pictures again on Sunday and I think that's a nine day stretch between pictures, which is the longest that we have had. We, not me, the medical team will make that decision after those pictures are reviewed. Five did his work on Sunday ... We came here on Monday. So on Tuesday we had practice here in Charlotte. He was able to do a little bit more than Monday. God's the ultimate healer and we're praying that it works."