It wasn't pretty, but for this team, it wasn't meant to be. No, this injury-riddled Buzz Williams team was destined to win ugly, a turnover-laden first half begrudgingly ceding to a historic shooting performance from none other than Ty Outlaw.
Ty Outlaw, the same Lee College transfer who tallied just 26 points in November before rattling off an impressively consistent December encore complete with 25. Yes, it was that Ty Outlaw, the same Ty Outlaw who failed to convert from deep in five of his first six conference games, who cemented his name in Virginia Tech lore on Monday evening, all but single-handedly carrying the Hokies to a 66-61 victory over No. 25 Miami with a school-record eight three-pointers.
"He had every reason, up until [Chris Clarke's injury], probably to be disenchanted with how we were using him. But how he handled all of that prior to the UVA game, was as mature as any kid I've ever coached," said Williams. "And I think that's why he set the school record."
And it was that Ty Outlaw, his season seemingly revived by a fellow teammate's misfortune, who erased any lingering doubt as to the merits of the the Hokies' NCAA Tournament resume just two weeks out from Selection Sunday. Make no mistake: Buzz's bunch is going dancing.
Forgive any reluctance for speaking with such certainties, but after a decades' worth of bubble-induced nausea, the maroon and orange faithful have been well-trained to approach March with trepidation. But with the ACC as strong as its ever been, Williams' team has proved stronger, a home bout with Wake Forest the only hurdle remaining before postseason play begins next week in Brooklyn.
It wasn't easy. In fact, Williams' scrappy band of sharp-shooters proved abundantly error-prone early on against the visiting Hurricanes. Sure, Outlaw carried the weight for much of the first half, but Seth Allen and Justin Robinson seemed determined to keep the Canes around, seven first-half turnovers leaving the door wide open for a Miami comeback.
And Miami, on the verge of a second-straight NCAA Tournament berth under Jim Larranaga, took advantage, jumping out to their first lead of the evening with a Bruce Brown three-pointer to start the second half. But the Hokies kept pace, an Outlaw three seemingly just a swing pass away at some of the game's most opportune moments.
But behind a team-high 18 points from standout sophomore Anthony Lawrence Jr., it was Miami who clung to a 52-51 lead late in the second half, two Davon Reed free throws bringing a fresh sense of nervousness back into Cassell Coliseum. But the nightmarish matchup that is the Hokies' backcourt answered, a 9-2 run highlighted by Outlaw's final three of the night giving Tech just enough cushion as time dwindled away. The Canes' fought back within three with 57 seconds to play, but the Hokies buckled down and got stops when it mattered most to notch their tenth conference victory.
A Few Additional Thoughts
T(re)y Outlaw, On Fire Outlaw's been on a torrid pace of late, hitting on 20 of his last 26 from distance stretching back to the Hokies' four-point loss to Louisville. Outlaw's done wonders for Tech's spacing offensively, an added weapon from deep that forces opponents to truly account for everyone on the floor. That wasn't always the case with Chris Clarke, who despite his strengths often muddled things up inside as defenses sagged farther and farther off a freakish athlete they knew to be a non-shooter. Outlaw will no doubt cool down — and scouting reports will soon be updated — but forcing a team into hounding Outlaw around the court will only open things up for Seth Allen and Justin Robinson. (Read: stick Outlaw in the corner, let Seth Allen go to work).
Speaking of Seth... Allen didn't have his finest showing on Monday evening, nor did fellow backcourt mate Justin Robinson (although both were markedly better over the game's final twenty minutes). It seemed like Allen was pressing a tad early, over-dribbling into traffic at times while making his fair share of questionable passes into the teeth of the Miami defense. The Hokies might be good enough to withstand a subpar performance from one of their two point guards — Outlaw knocking down eight threes certainly doesn't hurt — but their March will be short-lived if Allen and Robinson don't play better.