On an emotional night inside Cassell Coliseum, Virginia Tech bested Miami 84-70 to finish the regular season at 23-7 (12-6). Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists, while seniors Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw shot a combined 10-14 from three point range.
"Last game, everybody's going to play as hard as they can, and our team was trying to make sure the seniors have a good night," said Outlaw. "We were talking amongst each other in the game, and me and Ahmed got a little competition going."
The night started out on a sentimental note as seniors Ty Outlaw, Ahmed Hill, and Justin Robinson were all honored. It became even more emotional when Robinson got the ceremonial start despite his foot injury. He checked out to a standing ovation immediately after the opening tip.
"I wanted to make sure that as best we could, we honored him and his family while at the same time not making too much of a show," said head coach Buzz Williams.
For the first 6 or so minutes, the Hokies seemed to be letting the emotions of the night affect their play. Miami went on a 9-2 run to take a 16-8 lead with 14:12 to go in the first half.
"We kind of came out flat," admitted Hill. "I think once we started hitting some shots, everything started going our way. We started letting our offense help our defense."
To say everything went the Hokies' way for the next three minutes is an understatement. Between the 13:08 and 10:10 marks, Virginia Tech went on a 14-2 run highlighted by 3 triples from Outlaw.
Even after the Hurricanes ended that run with a couple of free throws, the Hokies' shooting still did not cool off. By the 4:38 mark, Virginia Tech had outscored Miami 32-6 since the Canes took that early 8 point lead.
Virginia Tech's defense got a bit lazy towards the end of the second half, but they still led 45-31 at the break.
Miami was able to cut the deficit to 11 early in the second half, but the Hokies scored on the next three possessions to push the lead out to 54-38. After that, the Hurricanes never really threatened again.
The Hokies continued their hot perimeter shooting in the second half. Ahmed Hill was 5-5 from beyond the arc on the night, and Virginia Tech shot 53.8% as a team from three.
"We just wanted to kind of put it away early and enjoy the night," said Hill. Thanks in part to his 17 points (along with 19 from fellow senior Outlaw), Virginia Tech was able to go through the second half without too much stress about the outcome.
Towards the end of the game, the focus shifted towards Nickeil Alexander-Walker. When he collected his 10th rebound with 6:46 to go, he was just two assists shy of becoming the first Hokie ever to record a triple double in ACC play.
"I didn't know until there was a minute left," said Alexander-Walker. "It was kind of good, but at the same time it's like, 'I only have a minute. What can I do?'"
Alexander-Walker came up just shy of the triple double, but his 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists made for an impressive night nonetheless.
"I get the credit, but a lot of my teammates do the work," said Alexander-Walker of his 10 rebounds. "I thank for my teammates for that, opening it up and getting me the opportunity to get on the weak side."
In the last minute of the game, Outlaw and Hill were able to check out of the game for one last time in Cassell to a rousing ovation. Robinson was one of the first to congratulate them when they got to the bench.
"I'll have a great story for my kids one day, to let them know I had a great run here at Tech in Cassell, and I finished it off the right way," said Outlaw.
To head coach Buzz Williams, it is not just the development on the court, but also the maturity off the court, that means so much to him.
"The experience of those relationships will last forever," said Williams of the connection he has with the three seniors and their families. "Looking back on it, I wish I had been able to quantify what this experience would do for their lives. That's the coolest thing."
When all was said and done, Virginia Tech defeated Miami 84-70 and sent the seniors out of Cassell on a high note.
Key Stat - Virginia Tech Shoots 14-26 From Three
Ever since Justin Robinson went down in the Hokies last matchup with Miami, Virginia Tech has struggled on offense. Even in the big win against Duke, the Hokies' three-point percentage was not all that impressive. That finally changed today.
Of the Hokies' 29 made baskets, 14 of them were from beyond the arc. They also had 19 assists on those 29 baskets, which led to open look after open look. For maybe the first time since Robinson's injury, Virginia Tech knocked those looks down.
Next up for the Hokies is the ACC tournament, which begins on Tuesday. According to Ty Outlaw, this team is not scared of whoever they may face.
"We don't think there's anybody we can't beat," said Outlaw after tonight's game. "We know anybody can be beat, including us, but our confidence is supreme."
The Hokies are locked in as the 5 seed in the ACC Tournament, so they will get a single bye on Tuesday and play the winner of the 12/13 matchup on Wednesday. That game will tip off at 2 p.m. in Charlotte, NC.
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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