The Virginia Tech Hokies lost 86-83 last night in PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Tech junior point guard Justin Robinson led the Hokies with 19 points, while Alabama freshman standout Collin Sexton scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half to lead the Crimson Tide to victory.
Tech led 43-41 at halftime after shooting 68% (17-25) and 7-9 (77.8%) from 3 in the first. In contrast, the Tide were 16-27 (59.3%) from the field and 5-10 (50%) from downtown in the first half.
The Hokies also shut down Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton, a future NBA Lottery Pick, in the first half, limiting him to one made basket, just three points. Buzz Williams’ squad kept Sexton under wraps for the first half but they let John Petty out of the bottle, as he went 3/3 from behind the arc and led Alabama with 9 points at halftime.
Things were looking up for Virginia Tech as the second half started, including the fact that Kerry Blackshear Jr. had played limited minutes in the first half with two fouls.
Yet, something changed. The Crimson Tide, under head coach Avery Johnson, seemed to come into the second half more focused and ready to play tougher defense on the Hokies.
While Alabama shot 60.9% from the floor in the second half, including just 3-8 (37.5%) from 3, the Hokies couldn’t get anything going, resulting in shooting 13-29 (44.8%) from the field and just 2-9 (22.2%) from behind the arc.
This was a classic 8-9 matchup with there being 10 ties and 10 lead changes while the largest lead was seven points for either team.
As a fan, one of the most frustrating things to see was the amount of fouls called, with 40 total fouls, 22 for Tech and 18 for Bama. In one minute of the second half, the Crimson Tide were called for 6, yes six, fouls in just one minute. That’s when it started to go downhill, although you could make the case that the referees calling the first foul 22 seconds into the game was when it started.
There were many calls that could’ve gone either way, but one that changed the game the most was with 48 seconds left. Justin Robinson drove into the lane for Tech, splitting defenders Petty and Sexton, released the ball from his hands, and Bama defender Herbert Jones slid a few inches to his left to get in the way of Robinson. Here’s a link of the play:
— Treadmill Horse (@treadmillhorse) March 16, 2018
It was a 4 point game at this point, Alabama leading 78-74. As Robinson’s floater went through the basket, the referee called a charge. Tech went from having a chance to be down one point, 78-77, if they called a blocking foul, to being down 79-74 after they called a charge and Buzz Williams got a technical.
Buzz slapped the towel he was holding on the scorer’s table, sending papers flying, and the refs awarded a technical. Bama made 1/2 free throws, got the ball back, and was up five, not even mentioning that the charge was Justin Robinson’s fifth foul of the ballgame.
At this point, Blackshear Jr. was already out of the game after fouling out with a little over five minutes to go. The Hokies had already been playing P.J. Horne for a decent amount of the game so they’d have some size, but now Bede, who picked up three fouls from playing earlier in the game, had to finish the last few seconds of the season.
Sexton was fouled three times and made all six free throws, with Clarke picking up a foul and Bede picking up his fourth and fifth, fouling out of the game. Devin Wilson shot the last shot of the season, rolling around the rim before Tyrie Jackson tipped it in as the buzzer sounded.
Tech shot well in the first half but the Alabama defense proved to be too much at times in the second half, while Bama was getting plenty of good looks on their offensive end and they wouldn’t go away. Sexton played a fantastic second half, showing why he is going to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft, and Tech looked outmatched in parts of the second half. However you look at it, it was a frustrating way to end the basketball season.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker provided Virginia Tech with 15 points while Justin Bibbs scored 17 points in his final game as a Hokie. Robinson had 7 assists to go with his 19 points while Bede, playing 10 min, added 9 points. Blackshear Jr. added 8 points in the 18 minutes he played, while Hill and Clarke had 4 points each and Horne had 5. Jackson scored 2 points, the final bucket of the game.
It was a heartbreaker in Pittsburgh, five minutes away from Wilson’s hometown. In his five seasons at Tech, Wilson played in 129 games, starting 80 of those games, scoring 659 points, and playing a total of 3,298 minutes. Wilson was the last player on the team who played under former coach James Johnson.
As for Justin Bibbs, the senior from Dayton, Ohio, finished his career as a Hokie. In his four seasons, he played in 128 games, starting 117 of those, and he scored 1,457 total points. Bibbs played a total of 4,059 minutes in a Tech jersey and was a James Johnson recruit like Wilson, even though he never played for him.
Both Wilson and Bibbs had incredible careers at Virginia Tech with insane ups and downs, but this is where the rollercoaster pulls into the station and they get off the ride. I know I speak for the entirety of Hokie Nation when I say thank you to Justin and Devin for everything they’ve done to turn this program around. They have completely changed this team and I’m so thankful that they decided to come to Tech and commit to Buzz and his system through their entire career.
As for the team, a 22-12 season isn’t bad at all. Yes, a win last night would’ve taken the program to even greater heights, but that time will come.
With three talented recruits coming in next season including Landers Nolley, the retention of all players besides Wilson and Bibbs, and the returns of Khadim Sy and hopefully Ty Outlaw to the court, the team is in prime position to do something no other Virginia Tech team has done: make the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons.
Unfortunately, the Hokies haven’t won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 2007, when they were a 5 seed and beat Illinois in Columbus, Ohio. Last season, Tech fell short against 9 seed Wisconsin in Buffalo. This year, Tech fell just inches short of Alabama in Pittsburgh. But, the program is on the rise. Fans just have to keep believing in the system. We will be back.