In the Spotlight’s Glare, Hokies Refuse to Wilt

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With
10:45 left in this game, everything was going according to plan. Coming out of half time, the Hokies had outscored
Virginia 25-12 to stretch a narrow 3-point half time margin to a 62-46 cushion. The Hoos were rattled, the Hokies were
rolling, and it was time for the Cavaliers to go quietly into that good night.

The Hokies had just poured a 7-2 run on the Hoos to build that 16-point lead. With Cassell Coliseum rocking, the
Cavaliers were expected to follow the same script they had followed two years earlier in Blacksburg, when they faded
down the stretch and gave up in a 73-55 Virginia Tech win.

But the 16-point lead put the Hokies in a strange position: leading in a blowout. Heading into Thursday night’s game,
the unasked question bothered me: What would Virginia Tech do as a frontrunner, a favorite, in the glare of the
spotlight? It seemed as if every ACC columnist and a generous sprinkling of national writers had buzzed this week about
Virginia Tech’s unexpected ACC wins. The Hokies had snuck up on three ACC teams in their last three outings, but with
all eyes upon them, in the favored role, would they get it done?

The answer is yes, but not without making their fans sweat a little first. Within just two and a half minutes, the
Cavaliers had ridden three-pointers by J.R. Reynolds and Devin Smith to an 8-0 run that cut the Hokie lead to just 8
points, 62-54. And with 8:04 left, the game was on.

Those last eight minutes seemed to take forever. The Hokies spread the floor and played stall ball, and gradually UVa
crept back into it, whittling the lead to three points three times, at 70-67, 72-69, and 74-71. Twice the Cavaliers had
possession with that 74-71 score, and twice they failed to cash in. Not until Jamon Gordon flushed a breakaway dunk with
7 seconds left to go to make it 77-73 could Hokie fans relax.

Down that fateful 8-minute stretch, the Hokies made their mistakes. They missed four free throws. They got a little...