After leading by as many as 10 points in the first half and 5 in the second, Virginia Tech squandered a perfect opportunity at home. The Hokies lost to Louisville 75-68, and dropped to 20-9 (9-7) on the season.
For such a negative final result, Virginia Tech began the game with promise. Tech opened up a 28-18 lead with 6:35 left in the first frame. However, a renewed focus on defense allowed the Cardinals to go into intermission knotted at 34.
"I told them coming out of the timeout to try and get three stops in a row," said Louisville coach David Padgett. "They came out the last eight or so minutes of the first half and defended and were able to tie it up."
Tech started the second-half poorly. Quick personal fouls against Devin Wilson (19:43), and Kerry Blackshear Jr. (19:04), presented Buzz Williams with a conundrum. Both of Tech's glue guys had three personals. Louisville somewhat took advantage of the opportunity and used their size to grab offensive rebounds and throw home alley-oop dunks.
Yet, even with the 13 offensive rebounds, the foul trouble, and the lack of size, it didn't really impact Tech. The Hokies were in control. An Ahmed Hill dunk with 9:05 remaining put the Hokies up five, and Cassell was as loud as it been. The Hokie faithful could feel a win ahead. The Hokies were about to all but punch their March Madness ticket. The atmosphere was... different. It was almost celebratory.
And then it wasn't.
Louisville drained six straight three-pointers and sank the Hokies' dreams of a bid-sealing victory.
How'd that happen?
"We knew the last couple games, the reason they've been playing so well is cause they've been defending very well," explained Padgett. "They were really helping on the basketball when teams drive. We knew that if we got to the corners and got our spacing, we would get looks."
And looks they got. Wide open three after wide open three.
And Tech didn't want to acknowledge that Louisville out-gameplanned them.
"You would have to look at the play-by-play," said Williams. "How many of those six three's were after an offensive rebound? They were all late clock. I don't know if all six of them were late clock. I would say three, I would remember for sure, were late late clock. I thought that wasn't the difference. I thought we did a really good job defensively. We just didn't finish the possession with a rebound enough."
Let's break that down.
How many of those six three's were after an offensive rebound?
They were all late clock. I don't know if all six of them were late clock. I would say three, I would remember for sure, were late late clock.
This is trickier because late clock is objective. But "late late clock" sounds pretty darn far into the shot clock. Two of the six-straight triples came with less than 2 seconds on the shot clock. Williams was right about the rest of the shots being put up around the same point in the possession though — about 10 seconds-or-so left on the shot clock. However, I wouldn't define "late late clock" as only 66% into the shot clock.
I thought that wasn't the difference. I thought we did a really good job defensively. We just didn't finish the possessions with a rebound enough.
Louisville shot 44.4% from three, a 8.4 percentage point bump from their season average. Quentin Snider had a career day from beyond the arc for the Cardinals (7 for 14). Dwayne Sutton, with 12 total threes all season, went 3 for 4 from deep. And of the eight offensive rebounds given up in the second half, the Hokies allowed just four points. Rebounding wasn't the issue.
That's what worries me. The Hokies have worked so hard to get their defense to a more competitive point. It's obvious that they have. But when it broke down today and it allowed Louisville to steal the game, the blame was put on the lack of size. When in reality, the Cardinals just knew what they were doing.
The Hokies have no time to dawdle on such a frustrating loss. Duke travels to Cassell on Monday night, and with March around the corner the Blue Devils are peaking.
First Half: Virginia Tech 34–Louisville 34
15:51 Hokies go into the first media timeout with a 9-8 advantage. Both teams are still feeling each other. Louisville with two early three-pointers, and Justin Robinson with seven of Tech's nine points.
14:06 Hill misses two straight three-pointers. He's 1 for 14 from deep in the month of February.
8:51 Tech checks in four new players. With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, that type of rotation/depth is huge.
5:52 Robinson passes up a wide open layup to kick out to a guarded Tyrie Jackson. Odd choice with how good Robinson has been this season.
2:08 Robinson draws a foul on Darius Perry. Perry's been talking smack all game. Robinson ties the game at 32.
0.00 Buzzer beater by Robinson. Ruled a three, and then changed to a two after review. It was extremely clear it was a three though. Not sure what the refs saw.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 68–Louisville 75
19:04 Wilson and Blackshear Jr. both picked up their third fouls of the game. Not ideal for the Hokies.
14:16 First media timeout of the second half. Louisville is getting whatever they want on the inside while Blackshear Jr. is on the bench. Two successful ally-oops and then another failed attempt as well.
13:17 Justin Bibbs hits a three to give Tech the 47-44 advantage. Big time shot from the senior.
9:46 Blackshear Jr. checks back in. He's vital for the Hokies' victory chances.
3:57 Final media timeout of regulation. Louisville has the 62-61 edge. The Cardinals have hit four three-pointers in a row.
2:51 Five straight for Louisville from deep. Unreal.
2:22 Six straight. This is unbelievable.
1:03 Blackshear Jr. fouls out. That should just about do it.