In what appears to be a developing trend for the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team, the Hokies got off to a sloppy start, rallied in the second half, but came up short, losing to Florida State 74-68 in Tallahassee on Saturday night. Tech trailed by as many as 14 points in the first half, cut the lead to two on several occasions late in the game, but ultimately ran out of time when the Seminoles hit their free throws down the stretch.
The loss spoiled a terrific free throw shooting performance by the Hokies. Tech came into the game shooting just 66.1%, but finished the game 23-of-27 from the line, good for 85.2%. Florida State was shooting 66.2% coming into the game, and also shot well on Saturday, hitting 80% of their shots from the charity stripe. The Seminoles were 28-of-35.
Virginia Tech got off to a slow start, turning the ball over numerous times and falling behind 8-0. In their first four possessions, the Hokies turned the ball over three times and attempted just one shot, an 18-footer by center Coleman Collins. After the quick FSU start, Zabian Dowdell nailed two consecutive three-pointers for Tech, making the score 8-6.
Florida State promptly went on a 10-1 run and took a commanding 18-7 lead on an Alexander Johnson dunk with 10:55 remaining in the first half. On Tech’s next possession, Jamon Gordon sank a runner in the lane to make the score 18-9 with 10:36 remaining. It would be the last field goal a Virginia Tech player other than Wynton Witherspoon would hit until Gordon hit another jumper with 14:46 left in the game. So the Hokies went 15:50 with only Witherspoon, a sophomore guard who might take a medical redshirt this season, hitting a basket. Tech mixed in some free throws during this span, but Witherspoon single handedly kept his team in the game.
Witherspoon entered the game with under five minutes remaining in the first half, and ran off ten points in the final 3:08 before halftime. His first shot was a three-pointer which cut the FSU lead to 26-17, and on the ensuing possession he got a steal, gave the ball up to Jamon Gordon, who fed Witherspoon for an easy layup. After FSU’s Al Thornton extended the lead to 28-19, Witherspoon hit another three-pointer with 2:22 remaining to cut the lead to 28-22. Coleman Collins would later add two free throws, and then Witherspoon tipped in a missed shot by Zabian Dowdell to cut the lead to 28-26 with 1:28 left.
After Witherspoon’s tip-in, the Hokies turned the ball over twice, and the Seminoles went on a 6-0 run and took a 34-26 into the intermission. Turnovers were a big problem for the Hokies in the first 20 minutes of the game. They committed 17 during the game, and 12 came in the first half, which led to many uncontested dunks and layups by Florida State.
The Hokies would cut the lead to four to start the second half. Coleman Collins hit one of two free throws, and Witherspoon later hit a layup, was fouled, and converted the free throw for a three-point play. The Hokies trailed 34-30 with 18:27 remaining in the game. Florida State would extend their lead back to seven on an Alexander Johnson three-pointer with 16:44 left in the game, taking a 37-30 lead. The lead later increased to eight, 40-32 on two free throws by Johnson with 15:17 remaining. The Hokies would cut that lead down to three, but then the Seminoles went on a 13-3 run to go back up 55-42 with 10:09 left in the game. It appeared that Virginia Tech’s comeback was running out of steam.
But Wynton Witherspoon responded with another three-pointer that cut the lead to ten, and later converted another three-point play on a layup and free throw. The free throw would be the last time Witherspoon would score during the game. It brought the Hokies within seven, 57-50, with 8:36 remaining. Witherspoon finished with a career-high 19 points, shot 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-5 from three point range, and grabbed three rebounds. He also had two assists.
The game would be swing back and forth from that point. The Hokies were able to cut the lead to two after Deron Washington hit two free throws with 1:03 left in the game. They were Washington’s only two points of the night, and he did not have a rebound in 30 minutes of playing time. Jason Rich answered Washington’s free throws with a tough jumper in the lane with 42 seconds remaining, extending Florida State’s lead to 68-64.
Zabian Dowdell answered with two free throws to bring the Hokies back to within two, and Tech fouled Isaiah Swann on the inbounds pass with 37 seconds left. Swann entered the game hitting just 5-of-14 free throws on the season, but he calmly hit both, taking the lead back to four. Dowdell found Coleman Collins for a easy dunk on Tech’s next possession, but Ralph Mims canned two more free throws with 24 seconds remaining. The Hokies would turn the ball over on their next possession and Florida State would hit two more free throws to seal the deal, winning 74-68.
The Hokies were beaten on the boards, being outrebounded by Florida State 32-21. The Seminoles also had ten offensive rebounds, while Tech managed just four. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon had five rebounds apiece for the Hokies, while Coleman Collins, who entered the game as the ACC’s third leading rebounded, had just four.
Virginia Tech drops to 10-5 overall, and 0-2 in the ACC. The Hokies now must return home on Tuesday to take on a talented North Carolina team fresh off an impressive victory over NC State. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 and the game will be televised by ESPN2.