BLACKSBURG, Va., March 5 -- A few minutes before Virginia Tech tipped off against Maryland at Cassell Coliseum on Saturday, Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg pulled aside sophomore guard Jamon Gordon. Earlier this week, Gordon threw away a pass that led to Clemson's game-winning dunk as time expired in the Hokies' 66-64 loss.
"Coach, this has been the longest three days of my life," Gordon told him.
"Yeah, but it's great you have another chance," Greenberg said.
Gordon, a sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., certainly made the most of that chance, scoring a career-high 23 points in the Hokies' 86-76 victory over Maryland in front of a crowd of 9,847. Gordon made 8 of 17 shots, including 3 of 4 three-point attempts, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists and two blocked shots.
"The last play of the game from the other night has been going through my mind so many times," Gordon said. "Every time I close my eyes, I see [Clemson guard] Shawan Robinson stealing the ball and [forward] Sharrod Ford dunking. I just wanted to go out and bounce back and help my teammates. I told them I was going to do something special."
What the Hokies (15-12, 8-8 ACC) accomplished Saturday was pretty special. They beat Maryland for the first time in 54 years and ensured themselves of a .500 record in league play and a first-round bye in this week's ACC tournament at MCI Center. Virginia Tech, picked to finish 10th in its first season in the 11-team conference, will finish either fourth or fifth in the ACC standings (the Hokies will finish fourth if Wake Forest beats North Carolina State Sunday night; fifth if the Wolfpack wins).
"Before the season, everybody was doubting us," said senior forward Carlos Dixon, who scored 20 points in his final home game. "I knew we were better than last place."
Virginia Tech will play either Georgia Tech or North Carolina State in Friday's ACC tournament quarterfinals. The winner of the ACC tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
"The last two days, all I have been hearing is, 'Virginia Tech is fading,' and, 'When Maryland wins, they'll be in the NCAA tournament,' " Greenberg said. "I don't think anyone thought we had a chance to win, except those kids in the locker room."
Even after beating the Terrapins (16-11, 7-9), the Hokies probably still face long odds in receiving an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. At the very least, Virginia Tech probably needs to win at least one game during the ACC tournament. Since 1985, no team with fewer than 16 victories has received an NCAA at-large bid. Eleven teams with 16 victories have gotten at-large bids since 1985; Villanova in 1991 and Georgia in 2001 -- both with 16-14 marks -- had the worst records among at-large teams.
Since 1992, only three teams that finished 8-8 in the ACC didn't receive NCAA at-large bids. But the Hokies played the weakest nonconference schedule among ACC teams this season and suffered two bad losses -- 72-68 at Virginia Military Institute on Dec. 4 and 75-65 at St. John's on Dec. 8. Greenberg points out that sophomore center Coleman Collins, the team's top low-post threat, was injured and played sparingly in those games.
Still, the Hokies had a Ratings Percentage Index ranking of No. 117 after beating the Terrapins; no team ranked worse than No. 74 in the RPI has received an at-large bid since 1994.
Maryland Coach Gary Williams said Virginia Tech is worthy of consideration for an at-large bid.
"They should have a shot," Williams said. "If in some conferences you're talking about getting seven teams in, then Virginia Tech should have a shot."