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Virginia Tech rallies to force OT, but falls to Florida, 75-70, in NCAA Tournament exit

Virginia Tech Florida NCAA Tournament
Colin Castleton #12 of the Florida Gators blocks Tyrece Radford #23 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during the second half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse. (Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images.)

A Nahiem Alleyne three with 1.4 seconds left saved Virginia Tech’s season, for five minutes.

The Hokies ultimately couldn’t overcome subpar performances from Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts, both of whom fouled out in overtime, as Florida knocked Tech out of the 2021 NCAA Tournament with a 75-70 win on Friday.

Aluma, who came in averaging a team-best 15.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, had a quiet seven points and seven rebounds, getting just six shots from the floor in 36 minutes.

Mutts, good for 9.6 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, had six points and five rebounds in 36 minutes.

Tech (15-7), which had just one win since Feb. 6 coming in, having only played three games in the past six weeks due to COVID-19 issues, came out looking no worse for the lack of wear, leading by as many as 10 in the first half before going into the break up 33-27.

Florida, in fact, would get its first lead since the opening minutes with 5:14 to go on a pair of Colin Castleton free throws that put the Gators (15-9) up 53-52.

They wouldn’t trail from there in regulation, and had a chance to put the game away after Anthony Duruji rebounded an Alleyne miss from three with seven seconds left.

But Duruji would miss both free throws, and Aluma found Alleyne open on the right wing for the game-tying three that sent the teams to OT tied at 64.

The extra session was tight. A Hunter Cattoor dunk got Tech to within one, at 71-70, with 48 seconds left.

Florida worked the clock, then got a dagger three from Tre Mann that pushed the lead to four with 25 seconds to go.

Virginia Tech forward Cordell Pemsl missed a 12-foot jumper with nine seconds left. Tech had to foul Scottie Lewis, who went 1-for-2 at the line to make it a five-point game, ahead of a Cattoor miss from three with a second to go.

“We were where we wanted to be, and were in good shape, and then we didn’t handle some things very well,” Hokies coach Mike Young said. “I thought Florida played well. They advance, and we go back to Blacksburg, and that’s hard to swallow.”

Alleyne had a career-high 28 points on 8-of-18 shooting, 4-of-10 from three. Tyrece Radford had 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and played all 45 minutes.

It was a nice run for this Virginia Tech team, which had been picked by the writers to finish 11th in the 15-team ACC in the preseason, and posted upset wins over Villanova and eventual ACC regular-season champ UVA on its way to a third-place finish.

As much as anything, the late-season COVID issues cut into the momentum down the stretch.

“I don’t know that anybody is satisfied with getting here,” Young said. “Getting here is a significant achievement and one that we’re proud of, but I had a really good team that I thought could advance and move along, and we didn’t today, and that’s frustrating.

“We’ll seethe over that for a while, but at some point soon we’ll turn our attention to what a remarkable team and group of people this was to coach,” Young said. “They were a team, and I’m proud of each of those guys. They gave us everything they had today. Came up on the short end of it, unfortunately, but it was not due to a lack of effort. I certainly am aware of that.”

Story by Chris Graham

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