BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 17 -- When the buzzer sounded just before 11 p.m. Thursday night, and after Virginia Tech forward Carlos Dixon had leaped high in the air to grab the rebound on Duke's last missed shot, he turned to his right and heaved the basketball high into the rafters of Cassell Coliseum.
Rarely has Virginia Tech experienced a basketball victory as thrilling as this 67-65 upset of No. 7 Duke in front of a crowd of 9,847. Then again, this is only the Hokies' first season in the ACC and, until Thursday, they hadn't won a game at home that mattered this much. So after Blue Devils guard Daniel Ewing's three-point attempt bounced off the front of the rim with less than two seconds left, and Dixon outleaped Duke forward Shelden Williams for the rebound, Virginia Tech's students stormed the court and swarmed the Hokies' players at midcourt.
Duke guard Sean Dockery, right, struggles to keep the ball from Virginia Tech forward Coleman Collins.
(Steve Helber -- AP)
Several minutes later, the public address announcer unwittingly described the excitement when he requested, "Whoever has Zabian Dowdell's jersey, will you please return it? It's the only one we have."
Dowdell, the Hokies' leading scorer, made the game-winning shot on a three-pointer with 16 seconds left. But Virginia Tech got huge contributions from Dixon, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, and especially from center Coleman Collins, who pushed around Williams for much of the night, scoring 14 points and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds.
"This is just one of those special nights," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. "It was just a great team win. When you're trying to build a program like we are, it's something to hang your hat on."
With its second victory over a nationally ranked team this season, Virginia Tech kept alive its slim hopes of earning an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament. More than that, though, the Hokies established themselves as more than football champions of their new conference. After losing at Duke by 35 points on Jan. 30, the first of four losses in the Hokies' past five games, Virginia Tech beat the Blue Devils for the first time since an 85-71 victory on Dec. 2, 1966.
"We haven't arrived just because we won tonight," Greenberg said. "But this is a step towards gaining legitimacy."
The Hokies (13-10, 6-6 ACC) moved into a fourth-place tie with Miami and Maryland in the ACC standings. Duke (18-4, 8-4) lost its second game in a row and fell two games behind first-place Wake Forest. Virginia Tech will host the Hurricanes on Saturday, plays at North Carolina State on Feb. 26 and at Clemson on March 1, before ending the regular season against Maryland here on March 5.
With an RPI rating of No. 135 going into Thursday night's game, and after playing a non-conference schedule that included losses to Virginia Military Institute and St. John's, the Hokies probably need to finish with a winning record in the ACC to receive serious at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament. They could receive an automatic NCAA bid by winning next month's ACC tournament at MCI Center.
"We've surprised a lot of people this year," Collins said. "We're not going to stop anytime soon."
With the score tied at 62, it seemed the Hokies had blown a great opportunity to win the game when Collins missed two foul shots with 1 minute 11 seconds remaining. But Duke's J.J. Redick missed a jumper on the Blue Devils' next possession, and Virginia Tech reserve Jeff King, a tight end on the school's football team, grabbed the rebound with 56 seconds left.
With 34 seconds to play, Dixon missed a running floater that bounced high off the backboard, but guard Jamon Gordon tipped in his miss, giving the Hokies a 64-62 lead with 32 seconds left. But then Redick, who grew up in nearby Roanoke, Va., nailed a three-pointer from the left wing, putting the Blue Devils ahead 65-64 with 23 seconds remaining.
Greenberg didn't call a timeout after Redick's shot, and his players frantically raced up the court. With 16 seconds left, Dowdell caught a pass from Dixon and pulled up and connected on a three-pointer from the right wing, giving the Hokies a 67-65 lead. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski didn't use his last timeout, either, after Dowdell's three-pointer, and Ewing missed a three-point attempt with seven seconds remaining.
Blue Devils forward Shavlik Randolph grabbed the rebound, but Gordon tied up the basketball, forcing a jump ball. The possession arrow on the scorer's table pointed toward Duke's bench, sending moans throughout the stands. Duke called a timeout, and then Virginia Tech used its last timeout, too. In the final four seconds, the Blue Devils ran a set play for Ewing to shoot another three-pointer, but he missed at the buzzer.
"We just played hard," Greenberg said. "We had so many guys step up and do things that were special."
No Hokie played bigger than Collins, a sophomore from Stone Mountain, Ga., who consistently matched Williams, one of the country's best front-court players. Williams scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots, and Redick scored 19 points on 7-for-16 shooting.
"He's a great player," Collins said of Williams. "He's going to be in the NBA next season so I won't have to worry about him anymore. I'm glad I got a chance to play against him."