BROOKLYN — Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson’s strategy almost worked Saturday night.
With his team getting run off the floor by No. 1 Michigan State on Friday night, the second-year coach sat two of his top scorers, senior Jarell Eddie and freshman Ben Emelogu, for much of the second half in hopes of saving their legs and at least winning one game during the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
And when the duo delivered a late lead down the stretch against Seton Hall, it appeared as if Johnson’s plan might just pan out. Except it all went horribly wrong in the final minutes of regulation.
The Hokies didn’t finish off what they started at Barclays Center, losing to the Pirates 68-67 behind a series of missed chances that left Johnson shaking his head in disbelief.
“It was a game we should’ve won,” he lamented.
After trailing most of the second half, the Hokies grabbed a two-point advantage with less than five minutes to go after Eddie and Emelogu combined to score 12 consecutive points.
The duo capped the sequence when Eddie completed a pretty fast-break feed for an easy Emelogu dunk.
The Hokies (3-3) then went ahead, 61-57, on an Eddie jumper with 1 minute 44 seconds remaining. That, though, would be Eddie’s final field goal of the night, and disaster soon struck.
The issues began when forward C.J. Barksdale, who made his first start of the season, missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then, with 27 seconds to go, Eddie was caught in a dribble hand-off by Seton Hall, freeing forward Fukuan Edwin for a three-pointer that gave the Pirates a 62-61 lead.
Johnson said after the game his team “fell asleep” on the play. Seton Hall (4-2) shot just 34.5 percent for the game and had as many three-pointers (10) as two-point field goals.
Still, Eddie (game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds) had a chance to get the lead back but failed to convert a tough runner off the glass with 12 seconds left. His biggest miscue came moments later.
Following two free throws by the Pirates, Eddie’s ensuing inbounds pass tipped off the hand of point guard Devin Wilson for Virginia Tech’s 14th turnover.
Seton Hall leading scorer Sterling Gibbs, a former Maryland commitment who was held to just four points on 0-for-8 shooting, then hit two free throws to ice the game.
Emelogu (18 points) hit two three-pointers in the waning moments, but the damage had been done. After the game Eddie called the failed inbounds pass a “miscommunication.”
“I don’t know what [Eddie] was thinking,” Johnson said. “But it was a play we should’ve been able to make.”
Virginia Tech registered the first eight points and built a 10-point lead, but Seton Hall battled back thanks to the sharp shooting of guard Jaren Sina.
The freshman scored 10 points during an 11-0 run, and the Pirates had a 38-36 lead at the half.
Once Virginia Tech made the long walk back to the locker room 20 minutes later, it was another freshman — Emelogu — who consoled Eddie with an arm around the senior’s shoulder. Emelogu reminded his teammate that everyone makes mistakes, although even he had to admit “it was just a bad time for a mistake to happen.”
“We had that game,” Eddie said. “We just let another one slip through our fingertips.”