GREENSBORO, N.C. — The last close game ended like so many previous ones for this Virginia Tech men’s basketball team. There were glimpses indicating the Hokies could be far better than the ACC’s worst team and other cringe-worthy moments that left Coach James Johnson bewildered on the sideline.
This time, the perfectly executed inbounds play from point guard Devin Wilson with 9.5 seconds to go turned into failed free throws by sophomore Joey van Zegeren. And Wilson’s own intentionally missed foul shot with 5.7 seconds remaining came just before senior Jarell Eddie’s potential game winner from point-blank range didn’t draw iron.
“It’s a familiar feeling,” Eddie said after No. 15 seed Virginia Tech lost to No. 10 seed Miami, 57-53, in the first round of the ACC tournament.
The defeat leaves the Hokies (9-22) with losses in 17 of their final 18 games. It will go down as the worst season the program has endured since 1954, when Virginia Tech finished with a 7-20 record.
But after the Hokies lost by single digits for the fifth time in nine games, much of the talk didn’t center around late-game lapses or an offense that failed to eclipse 60 points in all but one of its final 12 contests. Instead, the scrutiny focused on Johnson’s job security.
He is 22-41 in two seasons at Virginia Tech, and new Athletic Director Whit Babcock has yet to make a decision about his future. Babcock politely declined comment as he left Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday. Johnson is expected to meet with him in the coming days.
“I’m optimistic that I’ll be back and I’ll be the head coach here at Virginia Tech, and I look forward to coaching these young men and us moving forward,” Johnson said during his postgame news conference.
On Wednesday, though, the Hokies hoped to extend their season, and the ACC tournament bracket pitted them against the one conference team they beat this season. Virginia Tech defeated Miami in South Florida to begin league play back in December and also scored a 52-45 victory over the Hurricanes in Blacksburg, Va., last month.
The Hokies, who were without guard Adam Smith (calf) and forward C.J. Barksdale (Achilles’), then shot 54.5 percent from the field and committed no turnovers in the first half.
“We wanted to win one for our coach and ourselves,” van Zegeren said. “We felt as though we had something to prove to people because we were the last seed. We wanted to show people that we’re not done yet, and we came in with confidence and motivation.”
Miami (17-15) stayed close behind the all-around skills of guard Rion Brown (15 points), the timely athleticism of senior Erik Swoope (14 points) and the three-point shooting of freshman Davon Reed (14 points). An 8-0 run early in the second half propelled the Hurricanes to a 49-42 lead with less than 10 minutes remaining.
But Wilson (nine points, five assists) wouldn’t wilt, even with van Zegeren limited by foul trouble, and Eddie (game-high 16 points) gave Virginia Tech the lead back at 52-51 on a three-pointer with 3 minutes 22 seconds left.
Soon, though, Swoope responded and misfortune struck the Hokies again.
Van Zegeren, a 36.6 percent foul shooter, failed to connect on two free throws with a chance to regain the advantage. Then Wilson’s planned free throw miss ricocheted off the rim, to the wrong side of the basket and into Eddie’s hands less than five feet from the basket with the Hokies down by two.
A year ago he forced overtime at North Carolina State on a similar play. This time he couldn’t.
“It was a tough season,” said Eddie, his eyes and nose red from tears. “Tough way to go out.”