Despite magic late in regulation and a hard-fought performance, Virginia Tech’s time in Indianapolis was cut short with a 75-70 overtime loss to Florida in the round of 64.
“Getting here is a significant achievement, but we had a really good team that I thought could have advanced and moved along, but we didn’t today and that’s frustrating,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “We’ll seethe over that for a while, but at some point soon, we’ll turn our attention to what a remarkable team and group of people this was to coach.”
Down by one with less than a minute left in the extra period, the Hokies (15-7) switched Cordell Pemsl onto Florida (15-9) point guard Tre Mann. The Gators’ star stepped back to create space and dropped in a dagger three-pointer to make it a two-possession game and put the contest out of reach.
Tech was in a tough position throughout most of overtime, forcing Pemsl into the game as the Hokies’ only true big. On the first possession of overtime, Florida’s Anthony Duruji drove down the line and put Keve Aluma on a poster, drawing a foul and ending Aluma’s afternoon.
Just ninety seconds later, Colin Castleton spun to the rim for the Gators and drew the fifth foul on Justyn Mutts, ending the tournament early for Tech’s starting frontcourt.
“There are so many things you’re trying to take care of and manage and needless to say, those guys are so critical for us,” Young said. “I typically don’t start guys with four fouls heading into the overtime in an effort to steal a minute or two and get to the stretch. I chose not to, and that was a poor choice on my part.”
The Hokies needed some chaos just to get the game into overtime. After Nahiem Alleyne missed a possible game-tying three-pointer with ten seconds left in regulation, Florida went to the line to seal the game. However, Duruji missed both of his attempts and gave Tech one final shot to tie the game.
Aluma looked to his left as he crossed halfcourt before reversing over to Alleyne in the right frontcourt. The Hokies’ sophomore got another chance to tie the game, and this time he didn’t miss. Alleyne hit the right-wing trey over Mann and tied the game with under two seconds remaining.
It was a huge game from Alleyne overall as he put up 28 points. Down the stretch, he was the only Hokie who could find the bottom of the net, scoring Tech’s final 12 points of regulation.
“They were switching the bigs onto me a lot, so I knew that I had to take advantage,” Alleyne said. “I had to go to the rack, get fouled and keep making plays.”
Alleyne and Radford were the Hokies’ best offensive threats, especially in the second half. Radford scored 18 points on the day on 7-of-15 shooting. After halftime, Alleyne and Radford scored 27 of Tech’s 31 points, including all 18 in the final ten minutes of regulation.
The Hokies’ reliance on their duo on the wings allowed Florida to capture the lead in the second half. Tech spread out the scoring evenly in the first half and led by six at the break. However, the Gators kept chipping at the lead and eventually took over with five minutes left in the game. The Hokies were never able to regain the lead after that point.
“They have really good shooters, and they were also dumping it down to the post, so we had to dig down on them,” Alleyne said. “It was hard to dig and also get out to your man. We had a lot of ticky-tack fouls, too. We just have to do better.”
The offensive struggles for the Hokies began with the offensive woes of Mutts and Aluma. Tech’s starting big men combined for just 13 total points, including a scoreless second half and overtime from Mutts.
Aluma and Mutts also struggled to contain Castleton, who scored a career-high 19 points on the day. Overall, Florida had a phenomenal offensive day, shooting 56.5% from the floor. That clip is the highest the Hokies have allowed all season. Most of the Gators’ success came in the second half and overtime where they shot 14-of-23 from the floor.
“I thought we guarded really well, the pace that we were looking for and everything was in place,” Young said. “We didn’t move to the ball a couple of times, and then one thing led to another. We tried to tweak it a little bit, and they were just a little bit better in that area than we were when it mattered most.”
Florida will move on to face the winner of Ohio State and Oral Roberts in the round of 32 on Sunday afternoon. For the Hokies, they look ahead to next season, the third in the Mike Young era.
The Hokies’ only seniors on the roster are Pemsl and point guard Wabissa Bede. Barring any unforeseen transfers, Tech will be able to return 91% of its scoring for next season. With COVID-19 expected to be less of a factor for next year, a return to the Big Dance next year seems to be more than possible for Virginia Tech.
“We’ll be back next year for sure,” Alleyne said. “I definitely think we could have made a run in the tournament, but this definitely set a fire under all of us. We’re going to be back here for sure.”