Virginia Tech suffered a tough 69-68 defeat at the hands of Miami on Saturday afternoon. The loss dropped the Hokies to 21-10 overall and 10-8 in ACC play. The Hurricanes improved to 22-8 overall and 11-7.
The defeat locks Virginia Tech into the No. 7 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament. Had they won the game, their chances of a double bye and being seeded No. 3 or No. 4 would be have been very strong, but it wasn’t to be. They will play on Wednesday night at 7pm, against either the No. 10 seed (Notre Dame) or No. 15 seed Pitt.
This was a game of runs, and Miami had the ball last. With the score tied at 68, Miami freshman point guard Chris Lykes was fouled by Justin Robinson on a drive to the basket and awarded two free throws with three seconds remaining. He made the first free throw, missed the second, and Chris Clarke’s halfcourt heave was no good. Lykes didn’t appear to be fouled very hard by Robinson, and in any case most officials swallow their whistles in late-game scenarios, but that wasn’t the case in Saturday’s game.
Nevertheless, the Hokies have only themselves to blame. They led by as many as 12 points, but got sloppy with the ball before halftime, allowing the Hurricanes to cut the lead to 39-32 at the intermission. Tech was still in good shape, but they played poor defense to open the second half, with Miami going on a 15-3 run to take a 47-42 lead with 15:17 remaining. During Miami’s run, the Hokies did not play good defense, and though Tech was also in an offensive rut, it was the Hurricanes’ ability to score that got them back into the game.
Tech settled down after that, and later rallied from a 9-point deficit to take the lead 68-66 on a pair of Chris Clarke free throws with 1:13 remaining. On Miami’s ensuing possession, Lonnie Walker made a big time fadeaway jumper from the baseline against good defense to tie the game at 68 with 55 seconds remaining. Kerry Blackshear then missed an open three-pointer with 44 seconds, and Ahmed Hill pulled down the offensive rebound.
The Hokies got the ball to Justin Bibbs, who drove the lane as the shot clock was winding down. He spun into a scoring position, and had a decent look at the basket, but his shot was short, there was a scrum for the loose ball, and it bounced off his fingertips out of bounds. Miami took over with 13 seconds on the clock, and that’s when Lykes was fouled by Robinson to close out the game.
Virginia Tech lost this game partly because of poor defense early in the second half, and partly because of their turnovers. The Hokies committed 15 turnovers, including an uncharacteristic six by Robinson, though he did have 18 points and six assists as well. Those turnovers spoiled a 46.9% shooting performance that included a 9-of-20 (45%) mark from three-point range. Tech also handily beat Miami on the boards 33-26, including a 10-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. Saturday’s game was just the second time this season that the Hokies have lost after holding a halftime lead, with the other coming on December 16 at Kentucky.
Despite the disappointing end to the regular season, the Hokies are still a lock for the NCAA Tournament, and they can improve their seeding with a good run in next week’s ACC Tournament. We’ll have an ACC Tournament preview early in the week.