Okay, I need to get straight to the heart of this column right away: Sorry, Hokies. Sorry for doubting you. I quit on you long before you quit on
yourselves, or to be more accurate, long before Deron Washington quit. Long before you scored the last 12 points of the game to win 54-52, I wrote you
off and was just waiting for the season to end.
Honestly, I didn’t see the comeback coming. If there’s one thing the Hokies can’t do, playing a half court game is it. As the season has worn on
and the stakes have gotten bigger, the Hokies’ ability to perform in the kind of half court, slug-it-out games that dominate late-season basketball
has waned. And with 7:39 left in this game, VT was on their last legs, falling listlessly to an Illinois team that played the part of NC State,
without all the dead-on shooting.
Coleman Collins went to the line with Illinois leading 47-35 and Tech’s chances at their first NCAA tournament victory in 11 years all but gone.
Collins hit both free throws — whoopee — and the Hokies … started to press the Illini.
In my game notes, typed frantically on the ancient 8-year-old laptop that sat on my, well, lap for the duration of the game, I tapped out, ”
Hokies start pressing with 7:39 left, VT down 47-37 after two Collins FTs.” It was probably nothing, but you never know, so you have to jot down
all those potential game-changing moments, right?
Game-changing moments, indeed.
Illinois, over the last 7:39 of the game, fell apart in the face of that Hokie press. Everyone will talk about how Tech scored the last 12 points
of the game over the last 4:29, to turn an “insurmountable” 52-42 deficit into a 54-52 win. But this game was won with 7:39 left, when Seth
Greenberg finally decided to press a slowdown team with an injured point guard (sound familiar?), just to see what would happen.
What happened was this: Illinois collapsed, and Virginia Tech outscored them 17-5 down the stretch. In the last 7:39, the Hokies overcame a missed
wide-open dunk by Coleman Collins, his second missed dunk of the game. The Hokies overcame a bogus intentional foul call on Deron Washington, as if,
“Oops, I tripped the guy,” was ever intentional. The Hokies overcame four offensive rebounds by Illinois. The Hokies overcame their star
player, Zabian Dowdell, completely disappearing over the last seven minutes, his last contributions to the game being a missed free throw with 7:15
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