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NCAA basketball: Virginia Tech falls to Duke in ACC tournament semifinals, will await fate on Selection Sunday

By Mark Giannotto,

Virginia Tech could have removed any doubt as to whether it would make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 with a victory Saturday at Greensboro Coliseum. But when it comes to March Madness, Coach Seth Greenberg’s bunch never seems to make life easy on itself.

Less than 24 hours after a stunning turn of events propelled the Hokies into the ACC tournament semifinals, they lost to No. 5 Duke, 77-63, and must once again wait and see whether their nightmares on the bubble will come to an end on Sunday.

“We’re proud of our body of work, but certain things are out of our hands,” Greenberg said. “I would hope this team presented itself in a manner that they will be given an opportunity, with three seniors and what they’ve accomplished, to be in the tournament. But we don’t have any say in that. If we did, it’d be great.”

This year’s team seems better positioned than the past three to hear its name called by the selection committee thanks to the expanded field of 68 and a softer-than-usual bubble. Then again, the Hokies won a school-record 25 games a year ago and were still relegated to the National Invitation Tournament.

Virginia Tech entered Saturday ranked 61st in the Rating Percentage Index, a mathematical formula used by the committee to judge teams’ relative strength, and now has a 2-5 record against teams ranked in the RPI’s top 50.

After Saturday’s game, no player was willing to speculate on if this group would finally get over the hump and hear its named called on Selection Sunday. After three years of disappointments, they know better than to make any assumptions.

“I won’t believe we’ll be in until our name’s called,” said senior Malcolm Delaney, who along with classmates Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell, has never appeared in the NCAA tournament. “I’m not gonna go to bed thinking we’re in. I’m gonna think the worst and hopefully come out with the best tomorrow.”

Playing their third game in three days with just seven scholarship players, the Hokies never truly threatened after the Blue Devils went on a 13-4 run midway through the first half. ACC player of the year Nolan Smith, who injured his toe in a quarterfinal win over Maryland on Friday night, scored 10 consecutive Duke points during the surge and finished with a game-high 27 points.

Virginia Tech cut the deficit to six when sophomore Erick Green (17 points) hit a floater with just less than 18 minutes remaining in the game, but that was as close as it got. The Hokies finished with a season-low three assists against a tenacious man-to-man defense, and shot just 36.8 percent from the floor.

Delaney led the Hokies with 19 points, but made just 4 of 14 shots. Allen, meantime, had a miserable afternoon and finished with just two points and seven rebounds after fouling out with more than six minutes remaining.

Duke moves on to face rival North Carolina in Sunday’s ACC tournament final.

For Virginia Tech, though, thoughts of what went wrong Saturday quickly turned to what could transpire over the next 24 hours. Greenberg said he’s “gonna think the best,” but admitted that he didn’t expect to sleep much Saturday night.

Bell said he’ll avoid thinking about the selection committee altogether, and instead go home to his campus apartment and play video games until the team gets together on Sunday evening. With three years of sweating out Selection Sunday under their belt, these Hokies have learned that any expectations they may have don’t mean much at this point.

“None of us are on the committee, so we can’t make decisions. We just gotta see what the verdict is,” Bell said. “I feel that we could possibly not be in and we could possibly be in. I don’t know.”

UNC rallies past Clemson
to claim its spot in the final

One day after North Carolina needed a buzzer-beater and a dramatic 19-point comeback to win, the Tar Heels were at it again Saturday at Greensboro Coliseum. Down to Clemson by 11 points in the second half, North Carolina rallied to force overtime and then pulled away for a 92-87 victory in the other ACC tournament semifinal.

Freshman Harrison Barnes led the way with a career-high 40 points, including 14 in overtime. It was the most points a freshman has scored during an ACC tournament game.

Senior Tyler Zeller, who hit a game-winning layup as time expired in North Carolina’s 61-59 victory over Miami in the quarterfinals, sent Saturday’s contest into an extra session by connecting on a jump hook with 29 seconds remaining.

The Tar Heels became the first team in tournament history to overcome halftime deficits of nine or more points to win multiple games.

Demontez Stitt paced Clemson with 25 points, while North Carolina forward John Henson notched a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

DUKE VIRGINIA TECH 77 63

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