A second half collapse of epic proportions sent No. 7 seed Virginia Tech home early from the 2018 ACC Tournament. The Hokies led by 21 points in the second half, but somehow managed to lose to No. 10 seed Notre Dame 71-65 on Wednesday night in Brooklyn. Tech dropped to 21-11, and though they are still a lock for the NCAA Tournament, their seeding could be damaged to a certain extent. The Fighting Irish improved to 20-13, and their NCAA Tournament hopes remain alive.
With 10:57 left in the game, Chris Clarke made a three-point jumper to put the Hokies up 54-37. They were dominating the game, and the Irish looked tired and lifeless. At that point, ESPN’s statistical formula gave Virginia Tech a 98.2% chance of winning the game. But it wasn’t to be, as Notre Dame started heating up, and the Hokies got cold. Tech also let a few questionable calls affect them mentally, and though many Tech fans are screaming at the officials following Wednesday’s result, the bigger issue was Virginia Tech’s reaction to those calls.
The biggest call came with exactly eight minutes remaining in the game. Up 54-47, Chris Clarke was whistled for a charge, and immediately after the call Notre Dame point guard Matt Farrell grabbed the ball out of Clarke’s hands. Clarke responded by giving Farrell a slight shove, which sent the Notre Dame senior point guard falling through the rows of cameras behind the basket. When asked whether or not Farrell flopped after the game, Clarke was blunt.
“He’s a flopper and he flopped really hard, sold it to the ref and it’s a tech,” Clarke told Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “But it was dumb on my part to even retaliate, to try to get the ball. I wasn’t surprised. I saw the show he put on after I tried to get the ball.”
Nevertheless, Farrell couldn’t have flopped without the slight shove from Clarke. Farrell hit his two technical free throws, and the Irish got the ball, got fouled, and hit two more free throws, turning Tech’s 7-point lead into just a 3-point deficit.
Notre Dame finally regained the lead with 2:02 remaining. Bonzie Colson, who was clearly tired and shot just 4-of-14 from the field in his fourth game back from injury, threw up a three-pointer over good defense from two Tech defenders as the shot clock was winding down. It banked in, giving the Irish a 60-59 lead. The body language of Virginia Tech’s players seemed to drop at that point, as Notre Dame completed the huge turnaround.
Despite being somewhat lucky on the banked shot, and despite the tough call on Chris Clarke, head coach Buzz Williams placed the blame squarely on Virginia Tech.
“Just completely fell apart the last 15 minutes defensively,” Williams told Mark Berman of the Roanoke Times.
Notre Dame’s comeback was the opposite of what most considered to be likely with the Hokies holding a 21-point lead with 15:07 remaining. The Irish played a 40 minute game against Pitt on Tuesday, winning by just three points and playing just seven players in the process. They looked tired heading into halftime, particularly Bonzie Colson. Tech led 34-21 at halftime, and outscored them by a further eight points early in the second half. At the 15:07 mark, it was 47-26, and it remained at that score until Matt Farrell hit a three-pointer with 13:56 remaining. The Hokies had a huge advantage at that point, from everything to the 21-point lead, to the fact that Notre Dame played the previous day while Tech got a bye. But it didn’t matter.
Not only did the Hokies struggle a bit defensively, but they couldn’t score. After they went up 54-37 with 10:57 left, they missed 15 of their next 16 shots, which allowed the Irish to get back into the game. Justin Robinson, who scored 15 points, summed it up the best after the game: “We just fell apart,” he told Mark Berman.
For the game, Tech led for 29:19, and much of that time was spent with a double digit lead. The Hokies will head back to Blacksburg with a bitter taste in their mouth. However, they are a lock to be selected for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will air at 6pm on Sunday night, and Virginia Tech will hold a Selection Show party in Cassell Coliseum that is open to all fans. Gates open at 5pm.