Virginia Tech and Duke have put together plenty of great games over the past few seasons with tonight being no different as the Hokies had a great gameplan and put together one of their best performances in the biggest game in decades. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as a few inches from an off-balanced, fading away alley-oop attempt came up just short from Ahmed Hill at the buzzer.
Virginia Tech's historic season came to an end tonight as the Hokies fell to Duke 75-73 after missing three shots to tie or win the game inside the final 10 seconds. The loss means that the Hokies will finish with a 26-9 record, the most wins in school history and tied for the fewest losses since VT had only 9 in the 2009-10 season.
Virginia Tech had arguably their best rebounding performance with a 17-8 advantage in offensive rebounds including 11 from Kerry Blackshear. Meanwhile, VT also finished with only 11 turnovers after a start that saw them pick up 6 turnovers relatively early in the game. VT started out 7-13 from three-point range, but cooled off going 2-13 the rest of the way which hurt the Hokies down the stretch.
Defensively, Virginia Tech tried to double team Zion Williamson with some success, but the freshman star was almost impossible to contain with 23 points on an absurd 11-14 shooting. Duke gave Tre Jones space to shoot the 3 to compensate playing the percentages with Jones shooting under 25% from three, but the freshman point guard went 5-7 from three on his way to having 22 points, proving to be a major x-factor and turning his weakness into a major difference in this game.
The Hokies' ball movement was a big reason for their improved offense with 19 assists tonight, up from the combined 21 against Saint Louis and Liberty. VT's ball movement has been a defining feature of when their offense is at its best and was critical tonight. While VT did have a free-throw advantage (14-18 vs. 7-10), Duke's productivity inside the arc was critical making 25-36 (69.4%) inside the arc compared to 16-36 (44.4%) from inside the arc. On a night where the margin was razor thin, Duke's dominance inside the arc and in the paint made a big difference.
Kerry Blackshear was a force in the post with an 18-point, 16-rebound double-double that included going 8-11 at the free-throw line to counteract being 5-14 from the field. Ahmed Hill had one of his best games as a Hokie with 15 points and 6 rebounds on 6-13 shooting including 3-6 from behind the arc. Justin Robinson had his best performance in this year's NCAA Tournament with 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals along with shooting 4-8 from the field including 2-3 from three-point range.
Despite being dominated in the paint largely by Zion Williamson's efficiency and arguably the best game of Tre Jones' career, Virginia Tech gave themselves a great opportunity, showing great toughness and not being phased even when Duke seized momentum. The fact that the Hokies were able to turn a 73-66 deficit into a 75-73 one with three opportunities to tie or win the game says a lot about the character of this team and the resilience they showed time and time again.
That resilience and character is a big reason why Virginia Tech was able to put together a historic season where they earned the highest seed in school history despite missing Justin Robinson for the last 12 games before the Tournament. It's why the Hokies were able to handle not having two players they expected to have this season, Chris Clarke and Landers Nolley, and still take VT to a level no one has ever seen the Hokies at.
It's been the resilience and character that has defined how a program that finished four-straight years with a share of last place in the ACC has had four-straight winning ACC records and three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, both of which are firsts for the Hokies. It's been that resilience and character that helped the Hokies stay focused and, when the pressure of expectation likely rose with Liberty's 2nd half lead, helped them persevere and reach their first Sweet 16 since 1967.
Tonight that resilience and character showed in one of Virginia Tech's best performances of the season and though it wasn't enough against a team with a pair of special talents in Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, the Hokies showed that they were more than worthy of the stage and probably made some teams thankful that VT wasn't in their region. Tonight just simply wasn't the Hokies' night against a special Duke team that ranks among the greatest Coach K has ever had and was able to withstand the Hokies' toughest challenges and get a little more luck at the end of the game.
That happens sometimes but what the Hokies showed tonight was the character, resilience, and talent of a program worthy of being among the nation's 16 best and not being seen as a Cinderella, but as a team that expected to be on this stage.
Imagine that being even close to possible this time four years ago when VT went 2-16 in ACC play. That's a special program with character unlike any other, and it showed tonight with the result unfortunately being a loss.
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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