The Hokies played one of their grittiest games of the year, but ultimately fell to BYU 80-77 in front of 12,379 fans in the Marriott Center on Friday night. Virginia Tech finished the season 20-15, while the Cougars improved to 25-10 and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals.
After playing an overtime game against Princeton on Wednesday night, the Hokies traveled to Provo on Thursday and had very little time to prepare for Friday’s contest. They fell behind 7-0, and then 20-11, and they looked exactly like many expected them to: a team that traveled to a different time zone with basically no time to prepare.
However, Tech battled back, and it turned into one of the best and most entertaining games of the season. There were a total of 11 ties and 14 lead changes, and were it not for an uncharacteristically bad night from the free throw line and three-point range, the Hokies might have pulled it out.
Virginia Tech outrebounded a bigger BYU team 45-34, they blocked eight shots, and held the Cougars to 42.1% from the field. However, the Hokies shot just 5-of-23 (21.7%) from three-point range and 12-of-21 (57.1%) from the free throw line. The cold shooting night could possibly be attributed to playing in a different time zone just two days after the overtime win over Princeton, but no matter how you look at it, it was probably the difference in the game.
Zach LeDay had the best overall game for Tech with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, while Seth Allen led the team in scoring with 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting. Kerry Blackshear had 13 points and seven rebounds, but he missed two late free throws and had a pair of critical turnovers over the final 1:01 that helped BYU seal the game. Nevertheless, Blackshear made numerous critical shots in the second half that kept his team in the game.
The Hokies took their final lead of the game 73-71 at the 5:31 mark on a Justin Bibbs three-pointer. As it turned out, that was Bibbs’ only three-pointer of the game, as the normally reliable shooter went just 1-of-6 from the outside. BYU took the lead back 75-73 at the 4:21 mark on a Chase Fischer three-pointer, and the Cougars were able to close the game out thanks to some help from the Hokies.
Over the final 3:07 of the game, Virginia Tech had two key turnovers that BYU turned into four points, and they also missed a pair of free throws. Nevertheless, on the whole it was a very good performance from the Hokies, whose backs were against the wall after traveling from Blacksburg to Provo, Utah and playing a game that started less than 48 hours after the end of their opening round win over Princeton.
Buzz Williams’ second season in Blacksburg was a huge turnaround. The Hokies finished with 20 wins for the first time since 2011, and this marked their first postseason appearance since that season as well. They improved from 2-16 in the ACC in 2014-15 to 10-8 this year. That’s just the third time in the history of the ACC that a team has improved by eight conference wins from one year to the next.
Virginia Tech’s only senior is Shane Henry, and he played only four minutes in the final game of his career. Every other player on the roster is eligible to return, including Ahmed Hill, who missed the entire 2015-16 season with a partial tear of his patella tendon. Tech will likely be picked to finish in the top five of the ACC next season, if they can hold onto head coach Buzz Williams. Oklahoma State fired head coach Travis Ford on Friday, and Williams is reported to be one of the Cowboys’ top targets. Stay tuned.