College basketball rules March, a month rooted in drama, upsets, miracles and heartbreak. In Brooklyn, N.Y. on Wednesday, Virginia Tech experienced it all against Clemson.
It seemed as if all hope was lost for the Hokies. A 12-point lead with nine minutes left in regulation evaporated the final 90 seconds. In a span of 7:33, only one shot in 11 tries fell through the basket. Then in overtime, Clemson forward PJ Hall hit 1-of-2 free throws with 6.7 seconds left to give the Tigers a two-point lead.
But March is made of moments, and Darius Maddox had his – the second in 11 days for the sophomore from Bowie, Md. – in the Barclays Center.
Clemson head coach Brad Brownell called timeout to set up his defense, and Virginia Tech’s Mike Young rolled with a unique lineup out on the floor. Five guards – Sean Pedulla, Hunter Cattoor, Storm Murphy, Nahiem Alleyne and Maddox – that are all lethal from beyond the arc.
Young’s initial plan wasn’t to get the ball in Maddox’s hands. He actually wanted to see who Hall was matched up on and “set a flat ball screen with him and see if we could get two to the ball and spray the thing out.”
Instead, Maddox, who was cool, calm and collected, caught the inbound pass. He took six dribbles up the floor, the fifth one a behind-the-back move that put the ball in his left hand, guarded by Al-Amir Dawes.
Left wing, pull-up 3-pointer with 1.1 remaining. As cool as you like. Virginia Tech 76, Clemson 75.
Maddox called game. #Hokies pic.twitter.com/T2borJQHx3
— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) March 10, 2022
“I just took the ball, saw there was about five seconds on the clock and decided to make a move and make a shot,” Maddox said of his game-winner.
“Having said all that,” Young said of the play design and result, “we’re luckier than hell. We’re just lucky as – that’s basketball. That young man right there caught it and got in the air and banged a big shot, and we go home happy.”
Eleven days ago, Maddox hit a similar shot at Miami that turned out to be the deciding factor. That got the Hokies their first – and only, to this point – Quadrant 1 win.
With the season on the line, this time in the second round of the ACC Tournament, Maddox had ice in his veins again.
“He does it every other week,” Young said afterwards. “He did it like two weeks ago, so it’s [an] old hat for him.”
Tech’s been on the losing end of that moment already this season, back when Miami’s Charlie Moore hit a half-court buzzer-beater to stun the Cassell Coliseum crowd.
One could say the Hokies deserved it then and the Tigers deserved it when it mattered. But as the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Virginia Tech (20-12, 11-9 ACC) didn’t play perfect basketball by any stretch of the imagination.
After a pleasant first half, after which it led 43-32, Tech ran into some shooting woes. A clip that was 62.5% in the first 20 minutes sank to 33% in the second, and 6-of-8 mark from behind the arc became 4-of-16.
At the same time, the Tigers (17-16, 8-12) crawled back into the game. They stuck around and made it extremely difficult for the Hokies to pull away, outscoring them 34-23 down the stretch.
But unlike the first meeting between these two foes back on Saturday in Clemson, Young & Co. matched the Tigers punch-for-punch. The energy and physicality level needed to overcome such shooting droughts was present, and it started from the get-go. That kept them in the game, and ultimately willed them to victory.
“David N’Guessan helped us in that regard,” Young said of his team’s intensity. “I was able to get [Keve] Aluma off the floor for a couple more clicks. … Our minute distribution was very good. David N’Guessan was really good, really helped our team.
“I thought our team was more physical today. I thought Clemson was the more physical team on Saturday, and consequently they got us by a couple.”
Despite picking up four fouls quickly in the second half, David N’Guessan was a key to Tech’s success. He recorded nine points and corralled six rebounds, and he shot seven free throws, which alludes to his effort attacking the basket.
Maddox (eight points) was crucial off the bench, as was Pedulla (six). The reserves combined for 23 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals, and that production helped spark the Hokies.
Tech overcame 14 turnovers, 10 of which came in the second half. Weathering the storm is something this group is used to over the past 12 games, having won ten of them. And that togetherness was headlined by the three fifth-year seniors.
Arguably the best performance from the veterans came at the most crucial time. Keve Aluma had a double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds), Justyn Mutts came close (9 and 10) and Murphy dropped 15 points (and four assists) on five made 3-pointers.
Back in January, this Virginia Tech team might’ve dropped this game. Heck, that essentially happened a few days ago.
But this is March, and there’s no better time for players and their teams to prove – and surprise – themselves. Maddox and the Hokies did just that on day two in Brooklyn.
“I think that was kind of our problem early on in the season when teams would make runs back or we would lose a lead and wouldn’t be able to close games,” Murphy said. “We really have grown there, and we were talking a lot in huddles trying to just stay together, stay connected, help each other be on the same page, know what defense we’re in, know what offense you’re running, and try to use the clock to our advantage.
“Don’t panic, weather the storm, know we’re still right there, and at the end of the day, we’re going to win the game. And thanks to this kid [Maddox], we did.”
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5 guards all that are “lethal behind the arc”?? Huh?!! Maddox was when it counted for sure last night but that’s stretching things quite a bit. Happy as heck we won but it wasn’t due to “lethal” 3 point shooting from 5 guards. We were lucky to win..
Well, when you have the best 3-point percentage in the ACC and 4th in the country, most basketball people would say that’s pretty lethal….
Great TO win, but not mentioning the gag job in the final 5:45 of regulation only happens because the shot goes in
Up 59-48, Hunter Cattoor 0-3 FT trip sparked a 14-2 Clemson run and those 2 points were SEPARATE 1-2 FT made trips. Hokies recovered in final 1:00+ 5-4 to send it to OT, but that 4:00 minute stretch was ABYSMAL
Agree completely. VT was up 11 and could have pushed the lead to 14 or even 16 points (they had two turnovers on fast breaks on possessions surrounding the 0-3 FT trip). The team really struggled down the stretch when Clemson wasn’t playing all that great offensively. I guess the thing this edition of VT basketball hangs its hat on is defense. Although I would certainly have liked to see them be more aggressive going to the basket when the shots weren’t falling.
Hopefully they can play a more complete game tonight.
I don’t care if we were 0 for 25 in 3s, 0-20 in FTs, and shot 24% from the field, call it abysmal, but we won….Heck, you can call it any dang thing you want, but we won….be happy for a sec
David, that was a beautifully written article. I was surprised, though, that you made no specific mention of the dreadful FT shooting in the second half. Had the Hokies shot reasonably well from the FT line, heroics likely would not have been necessary.
Well, maybe just for once a writer decided to concentrate on the positives, instead of finding stuff to complain about. Let me know when a team plays a perfect game, season or anything. Wow, we steal one and “fans” still want to bitch…..geez
Good write up, David! Good look inside the win.
I love everyone was running past PJ Hall towards Maddox. How could he want to play fir Vlemson coach. Can’t stand the guy.
Girlfriend went there?
What’s the big deal w/Brownell? Seems like a reasonable guy. Is he in the same (low) league as Boeheim, who excused Buddy last night?
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