A sloppy, dramatic night that leaves you feeling empty, angry, and physically ill. If there was ever a basketball version of a bender, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team's 86-83 loss to Alabama in the first round of the NCAA Tournament would be it.
And as those things often go, there were some close calls. There were some embarrassing outbursts, and there were more than a few moments where things almost went off the rails before they eventually came crashing down.
It's probably best to start at the end, with the play most Tech fans will take away after the loss.
Now let's be clear: this is NOT the reason the Hokies were bounced in the first round for the second straight time. This wasn't the sole cause of a defeat that had been brewing for the previous five minutes. It didn't lose the game for Tech, but it effectively ended it.
Down four with exactly one minute remaining, point guard Justin Robinson came up with a steal in the backcourt. After Nickeil Alexander-Walker missed a three, Robinson (who else?) grabbed it. He was then called for an offensive foul on the play above, which wasn't only a turnover, but the junior's fifth foul. To make matters even worse, Buzz Williams was called for a technical, giving Alabama a free trip to the line and the ball back.
What was once a chance to cut the deficit down to just a single possession ballooned into the Tide taking control. They then led by seven and never looked back.
Just as I think it's foolish to completely dwell on the call, I won't go too far into the technical on Williams. But this just about sums it up:
Buzz CAN'T get that tech. Terrible. But I fundamentally hate that being a charge. It's a flop. Tech player has landed.— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) March 16, 2018
For the second straight outing Buzzketball lost control of both their emotions and their actions, leading to heartbreaking finishes.
But there are many more reasons to blame other than a single questionable whistle from a referee. The Hokies turned it over 14 times, didn't hit their shots in the second half, and were outpaced by their opponent.
As Bama sped Robinson and company up, things seemed to break down on both sides of the ball. Kerry Blackshear picked up five bad fouls in just 18 minutes. The offense was all over the place, especially down the stretch. The defense was gashed by the high pick-and-roll, and gave up too many open threes to count.
The Hokies didn't play their best, bringing a disappointing end to a season where they exceeded many people's expectations. In January, they were supposed to be too small and too sloppy to make any noise in March. But then they did.
And yes, this one will sting for a little while. But just like the bender, give it a few months to shake it off and we'll all be ready to do it again.
One quick thought
Just think about this for a second.
Three years ago, first-year Hokie coach Buzz Williams' squad took Duke—the eventual national champs—to overtime in Cassell Coliseum. Though it may seem like a common occurence now, Tech had just a pair of ACC wins and were desperately in search of a season-defining victory.
They didn't get it. The Blue Devils won in overtime and continued their quest to the confetti. The win that gave Tech fans hope came in the ACC Tournament, when their last-place squad won game in the first round (over 11th seed Wake Forest).
This isn't another praise party for Buzz. It's great (and borderline miraculous) that he turned the program around as quickly has he has. But it's his job. He gets paid millions of dollars to work hard, hit the recruiting trail, and coach his tail off.
No, this is about the three players who remain from that 10-win group. Devin Wilson, Ahmed Hill, and Justin Bibbs have seen it all. Hill flipped from Marquette (a perennial tournament contender at the time of his commitment) to follow Buzz into a rebuilding job. Bibbs committed to James Johnson, stuck through the coaching change, and grew from a spot-up shooter into the most complete guy on the roster.
And Wilson, who quickly became the face of the otherwise-dysfunctional Johnson administration, became synonymous with "team first". He's the one who saw his playing time decline in each of his four seasons. Who left for an entire year to play football, and still worked his way back for one last run.
Yes, Hill's coming back, but those three guys deserved back-to-back tournament trips together. They deserved all of the 20-win seasons and top-10 wins they could get. And quite honestly, after what they've been through and what they helped build from the ground up, they deserve more than a first round exit.