Virginia Tech may face another must-win tonight in ACC Tournament title game
A couple of minutes ago, it seems, Virginia Tech got a buzzer-beating three from Darius Maddox to sneak by Clemson, and now the Hokies are in their first-ever ACC Tournament championship game.
“I didn’t even know that was the first time in history. It’s a blessing,” Maddox said after Tech dominated North Carolina Friday night in the tournament semifinals, 72-59, to get a matchup with Duke in tonight’s title tilt.
It may very well still be a must-win for Virginia Tech, which made the trek to Brooklyn on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and might yet be on the outside looking in.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi isn’t the official gatekeeper, but it’s significant that the guy who popularized the term bracketology has Virginia Tech as his First Team Out at the start of the day on Championship Saturday.
Storm Murphy said after the win over Clemson on Wednesday that the Hokies were a desperate team. No reason to change that mindset.
“No question, we’re going to stick to what we’ve been doing the last couple games, because that’s what’s been getting us wins,” Maddox said. “We’re a hungry team, and we’re just going to go out there and fight like we did yesterday, today, and the day before.”
“I think, just because we’re desperate doesn’t mean we’re not confident,” senior Keve Aluma said. “Everybody in the locker room works hard and is in the gym, and I think everybody is super confident. We just know we’ve got to win.”
The confidence showed Friday night. North Carolina had won six straight coming in, the streak beginning with a 65-57 win in Blacksburg back on Feb. 19, and the Tar Heels had eviscerated Virginia, 63-43, a night earlier in Barclays.
An Aluma three with 20 seconds left in the first half gave the Hokies a 32-26 lead at the break, and then Tech came out of the break on a 9-0 run that extended the lead to 15 less than two minutes into the second half.
It would never get closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Just like that, it was over.
You might wonder what coach Mike Young had to say that fired up his guys during the break.
“You’d be underwhelmed if you heard our halftime. I mean, you would,” Young said. “They understand the significance of that first four minutes. Man, we had an edge to us all night defensively. We had a good pop. I thought we were a little too dependent on Keve and (Justyn) Mutts in the first half. We weren’t bad offensively, but we weren’t great. Three turnovers in the first half was significant. They had three offensive rebounds, which was significant. But I thought our defense really carried us. I thought we made a couple of shots, but our defense carried us in that 9-0 run to get some separation and make a little hay.”
North Carolina shot just 36.7 percent from the field, and was an ugly 3-of-26 from three, 0-of-12 in the second half.
Maddox led the Hokies with 20 points in 29 minutes off the bench. Aluma chipped in 18.
Virginia Tech shot 43.9 percent from the floor and hit 9-of-20 from three.
The offense seems to be hitting on all cylinders. The Hokies are averaging 1.169 points per possession in Brooklyn, a tick ahead of their already impressive 1.137 PPP on the season, which ranks 23rd nationally.
“Yeah, we can screen better. We can move and hit multiple sides of the floor. We’re going to need to do that against Duke in their pressure. We can make even more shots. That would make me happy. I wouldn’t fret about that,” Young said. “I do think we can play a little bit better on that end, but we are in a good rhythm. We’re playing good basketball on that side of it.”
The key, to Young, will be on the defensive end.
“We’ll win tomorrow if we can defend and we can rebound,” Young said. “Can we defend Duke? Can we rebound with (Paolo) Banchero and A.J. Griffin and those others? Tall order, but we’ll get back tonight and begin our preparations. Look forward to coming over tomorrow evening.”
Story by Chris Graham