BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech men’s basketball collapsed in the final minutes on Saturday to drop a tight game to No. 20 Notre Dame 76-71 inside Cassell Coliseum.
The Hokies led 67-66 with 1:52 remaining in the game, but made critical errors on their next two possessions. After allowing Notre Dame to regain the lead, Seth Allen and Justin Robinson both committed turnovers that turned into four quick points for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish led 72-67 with 41 seconds left and never relinquished the lead.
“It stings a lot,” Robinson said. “We think we should’ve won, we could’ve won. At the end of the day, God has a plan for everything so we’re just trying to build off of that and get better tomorrow.”
Robinson’s turnover was especially deflating. Down three, Chris Clarke rolled the ball in to save the clock from running. Robinson let the ball roll too far down the court before bending down to pick it up, and Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell dove it to steal it. Farrell passed it to TJ Gibbs, who scored.
“I saw the ball and I just saw my feet get taken out,” Robinson said. “I don’t know really how the ref saw it, but it’s just something I’ve got to learn from.”
Clarke after the game took responsibility for the turnover.
“I guess I rolled it too far for (Robinson),” Clarke said. “That was a big blow. It really changed the game.”
Virginia Tech’s missed free throws also proved costly in the final minutes. The Hokies finished just 10-18 from the line, including a few in the final few minutes.
“You have to make them,” said Virginia Tech Head Coach Buzz Williams. “Do we practice them, yeah. Has it been an issue? I think it was an issue twice in non-conference, but you have to be able to make them.”
Clarke continued his hot scoring stretch on Saturday with 21 points on 7-11 shooting. Clarke also grabbed nine rebounds, dished five assists and recorded two blocks and two steals. Allen scored 16 points, Robinson scored 14 points and Zach LeDay finished with 10.
Steve Vasturia led the Fighting Irish with 20 points, going 8-14 from the field. Both Farrell and Bonzie Colson scored 14 points.
Notre Dame to blitzed the Hokies early with hot shooting and good defense. The Fighting Irish used a 21-2 run to take a 33-14 lead with 7:48 remaining in the half. In that stretch, Notre Dame was 5-7 from the three-point line and shot roughly 70 percent overall from the field.
In that same stretch, Virginia Tech couldn’t buy a basket. “I would say that there were some live-ball turnovers that turned into transition baskets off one pass for them,” Williams said. “The second thing I would say is, we were trying to score on the first side too often and against their team toughness, their team defense, you can’t do that.”
After the under-eight media timeout, Allen ignited the Hokies with eight straight points, including two threes. Virginia Tech would finish the half on a 15-6 run to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 39-31 at halftime.
“Just locking in,” Clarke explained the Hokies’ run. “They were scoring a bunch of easy baskets in the first segment of the first half. We just knew we had to change something or we were probably going to get blown out.”
Notre Dame took control of the game again in the second half, taking a 52-39 lead with 14:28 left to play. Tech clawed right back with a 14-3 run and tied the game with 6:23 remaining after a Robinson layup.
“We had every opportunity to stop, quit, whatever the word would be, and I think we had every opportunity down the stretch to win it,” Williams said. “Very rarely are you able to say that in the same game.”
Tech and Notre Dame traded baskets for the next few minutes, but the Hokies took their first lead of the game since the 14:01 mark in the first half after Clarke capped off an and-one. That’s when Tech’s two turnovers changed the complexion of the game.
“If you’re going to be in the mix with real teams in those games, those types of possessions you can’t have,” Williams said.
A win on Saturday would’ve given Virginia Tech a quality win at home against a ranked ACC team. Instead, Notre Dame is now 16-2 overall and 5-0 in the ACC, with three road wins.
“I think they’re better than the 20th-ranked team in the country,” Williams said. “They lost to Villanova on a neutral site, lost to Purdue on a neutral site. There’s been eight road wins at this moment in time in the ACC, and three of them are by Notre Dame. I think it speaks to their toughness, I think it speaks to their coach, I think it speaks to their talent, I think it speaks to their discipline.”
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech now drops to 13-4 and 2-3 in the ACC. The Hokies will host one Georgia Tech (10-6, 2-2, pending a game tomorrow night at NC State) on Wednesday at 9 p.m. before embarking on a two-game road trip against Clemson and North Carolina.
The loss also ends Virginia Tech’s 15-game win streak at Cassell Coliseum. The last time the Hokies had lost at home was Jan. 27, 2016 when Louisville defeated Virginia Tech 91-83. Saturday’s loss also came in front of a sellout crowd.
“It’s annoying,” Allen said. “We take pride in winning games at home. We had a really good crowd, and it’s unfortunate and sad that we let one get away.”