After losing to Louisville Saturday, some Virginia Tech fans began to worry about whether the Hokies would make the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, #5 Duke came into Cassell Coliseum on a five-game winning streak as they started to live up to the scary potential that many believed they had at the beginning of the season. This week set up as an opportunity for Duke to make a big national statement that they were ready to live up to their preseason #1 ranking.
However, the Hokies had other plans.
In a game that will remembered for a long time, Virginia Tech stunned #5 Duke 64-63 thanks to a Chris Clarke putback with 4.1 seconds left. The win guaranteed that the Hokies will finish above .500 in ACC play for the third-straight year, improving their ACC record to 10-7 and their overall record to 21-9.
The win also guaranteed that the Hokies will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament for only the third time in program history and first time in over 30 years.
Duke led for over 35 minutes in this game while the Hokies were down 2-3 possessions for much of the second half and were down by as much as 15 in the first half. The Hokies never die attitude showed down the stretch with Chris Clarke finishing the game off by scoring the Hokies' final 6 points including the game-winner that will be remembered for a long time.
After struggling at home from the free-throw line throughout ACC play, VT was much improved today going 15-19 (78.9%) from the charity stripe. The Hokies also protected the ball significantly better than Duke with 12 turnovers compared to 18 turnovers for the Blue Devils.
VT did struggle on the glass getting outrebounded 37-23, but they did outscore Duke in the paint 28-26 despite the five-star frontcourt talent for Duke. Kerry Blackshear, PJ Horne, Chris Clarke, and Devin Wilson all deserve plenty of credit for this stat due largely to have effective they were defending Duke's big men without the basketball to make it almost impossible at times to get a pass that wasn't a turnover.
Virginia Tech's defense was impressive down the stretch with VT not giving up a made field goal in the final 7 minutes of game. VT's defense has taken its game to the next level and if VT can re-find their touch from three-point range, they will be very dangerous in the NCAA Tournament.
Chris Clarke may have had only 8 points, but 6 of those came at the biggest moment along with his steal and a couple of his 5 rebounds that helped make the difference. Clarke has always been known for his high motor and in the biggest moment, Clarke's work ethic shined from his big dunk to the game-winning putback. Tonight, Clarke's work ethic made the difference and gave him a moment that Hokie fans will remember for a long time.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the Hokies with 17 points and 2 steals on 7-14 shooting from the field including 3-8 from three-point range. NAW hasn't had the season that many hoped, but he had a great game tonight including his strong first half that helped keep the Hokies in this game.
Justin Bibbs didn't have a great shooting night, but the senior wing found ways to make a difference with 14 points and 3 assists. Meanwhile, fellow senior Devin Wilson didn't have any points but had 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 rebound in what was a quality 18-minute performance from Wilson in his final game in Cassell Coliseum.
Kerry Blackshear stepped up to the challenge outscoring Marvin Bagley III with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Justin Robinson dealt with an unknown lower leg injury that slowed him down in the first half, but Robinson found his rhythm in the second half and stepped his game up finishing with 11 points, 5 assists, and only 2 turnovers.
PJ Horne has earned a regular spot in the Hokies' rotation playing 17 minutes tonight and having 4 rebounds, 1 point, and 1 block. Ahmed Hill spent most of the night on the bench and finished with only a missed three-point attempt while Wabissa Bede and Tyrie Jackson did not play.
There is no doubt that this is a game-changing win for Virginia Tech that guarantees the Hokies will make their return to March Madness. To already be a consistent NCAA Tournament team in the fourth season of the Buzz Williams era is a tremendous statement about the incredible job Buzz Williams has done.
Tonight, Virginia Tech put the exclamation point on their NCAA Tournament ticket with their third win over a team currently in the top 10, eliminating the few remaining doubts.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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