With the emotions of Senior Day serving as the backdrop, the Virginia Tech Hokies (22-7) and Florida State Seminoles (24-6) engaged in an epic clash with the final double-bye in the ACC Tournament on the line. To the victor goes the spoils, and it was Florida State leaving the court victorious, yet again, 73-64 in overtime. Wow, what a basketball game.
Virginia Tech scored on its first three possessions. However, an all-Senior starting lineup for FSU was, at least initially, up to the challenge. PJ Savoy hit two threes in the first three minutes with Mann adding a third, and it looked like we might have a shootout on our hands.
The Seminoles hot shooting came to a screeching halt, however, as the Hokies’ defense ratcheted up several notches. In fact, Tech held FSU scoreless for 6:08. This included a shot-clock violation, another late-clock heave, and several forced turnovers on drives to the basket.
Meanwhile, VT displayed tremendous ball movement, leading to open shots inside the paint and out. And the Hokies were hot. On the rare occasion Tech missed, they managed to grab multiple offensive rebounds, leading to corner threes.
When the first half horn sounded, FSU walked to the locker room trailing 33-19 (in a 28 possession half) and searching for answers. Indeed, it was the most confused I’ve seen an FSU offense look in several years. The Seminoles struggled mightily from the field in the opening stanza, shooting 7-26 (26.9%) and just 3-16 (18.8%) from three. Many of these shots were not even close to within the flow of the offense, and in fact were more like desperate heaves at the basket as the shot-clock ran down.
Credit goes to Virginia Tech on several fronts. First, for a swarming, half-court defense that often extended beyond the three-point line, as well as brilliant double-teams and help-defense on Mfiondu Kabengele. Second, VT didn’t allow any of FSU’s patented lobs at the rim, or even dunks in general as they protected the basketball and didn’t even allow FSU to run after missed shots. But perhaps the biggest shock, for the first time in a long time FSU appeared to not be able to match the physicality of the opponent down low. The Tuck was lifeless.
That all changed in the first five minutes of the 2nd half.
Phil Cofer opened the scoring with a made three, followed by a pair of Kabengele free throws. Then it was FSU’s turn to crank up the defense, finally forcing VT into some turnovers and forced shots. This led to an and-1 for Trent Forrest, a Kabengele layup, and a roof shaking alley-oop to Cofer. By the under-16 media timeout, Florida State had closed the margin to 39-34, and it was game on. In fact, for the first 10 minutes of the half, FSU held VT—the 8th best offense nationally—to 0.5 points per possession.
The Seminoles continued to execute at a ridiculously high rate on offense, using crisp ball-reversals, with Kabengele passing out of double-teams to set up open threes and lanes to the hoop. With 12:06 remaining, the game was level at 41.
From there, two top-15 squads exchanged body-blows like prize fighters in a heavyweight title bout.
With less than five minutes to play and FSU clinging to a one point lead, David Nichols drilled a three with the shot-clock winding down to put the Florida State up 55-51. A shot-clock beating dunk on the next possession by Terance Mann put FSU up 57-51 and the Hokies were on the ropes.
But Virginia Tech, despite losing Kerry Blackshear to fouls, fought back. Ty Outlaw nailed a three, and Ahmed Hill hit a big-time fadeaway jumper. Two made free throws later, and it was suddenly a one point game with less than a minute to go.
FSU missed a three and bodies went crashing for the rebound. No whistle blown. Tech came down and turned it over, with Mann grabbing the loose ball. The crowd came to a hush and the senior calmly stepped to the line and drained two free throws. 61-58 FSU with 27.4 seconds left. After a timeout, Hill rained in a three off the dribble to knot up the score at 61 apiece. Eight seconds remained when FSU emerged from its huddle ready to inbound the ball. Mann’s three rimmed out and free-basketball commenced.
Neither team scored on their first possession, but Ahmed Hill put VT up 62-61 by splitting a pair of free throws. Cofer split a pair on the other end, and it was 62-all.
A Cofer layup, off a pretty feed from Forrest, put FSU up 64-62, a lead the ’Noles would maintain until a step-back three from M.J. Walker with just more than a minute to go sent the Tucker Center into a frenzy, forcing Buzz Williams to call a timeout.
FSU forced another stop out of the timeout, and Forrest hit a pair to give FSU a 69-62 lead with 50 seconds left. Tech got a layup on the other end, but Forrest stepped back up to the stripe and hit two more. Another fantastic defensive set by FSU forced another miss, and Kabengele gobbled up the rebound. The big man rattled in two free throws—FSU was 19-22 from the stripe on the night—and that was that.
For the overtime period, FSU held the vaunted Hokies’ offense to a minuscule 0.30 PPP. Leonard Hamilton’s depth made the difference.
The ACC’s top 6th man, Kabengele, FSU’s leading scorer on the season, led the way for the ’Noles, once again, with 17 points (13 in 2nd half and OT) and 9 rebounds. Mann added 14 in his final home game, while a 5th year player, Cofer added 11 (all after intermission). Walker hit three 3s and finished with 11, as well.