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Hokies Watch Possible NCAA Bid Curtailed by Tigers

Clemson 66, Virginia Tech 64

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2005; Page D01

CLEMSON, S.C., March 1 -- Clemson put Maryland on the NCAA tournament bubble by beating the Terrapins twice. On Tuesday night, the Tigers probably knocked Virginia Tech out of the tournament with a stunning comeback in the final 10 seconds of their 66-64 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum.

After the Hokies went ahead, 64-61, on senior Carlos Dixon's two foul shots with 16 seconds to play, Clemson's Olu Babalola made a three-pointer from the right wing with 9.4 seconds left to tie the score at 64. Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg didn't use his last timeout, and guard Jamon Gordon frantically dribbled up the floor.

After dribbling to the middle of the lane, Gordon tried to make a bounce pass to Dixon on the left side of the lane. But Gordon threw the ball right to Clemson guard Shawan Robinson. Robinson dribbled the other way, racing not only the Hokies but the game clock, and fed a halfcourt pass to senior forward Sharrod Ford. Ford, from Gwynn Park High School, dunked with two-tenths of a second left, sending the crowd of 7,400 into a frenzy.

Robinson "had the ball at halfcourt and I saw that everybody was around him and there was nobody with me," Ford said. "I was yelling for him to give me the ball. I saw the clock and I knew I had to get the ball off quick, so I just went up. It was a dunk or nothing."

The officials reviewed replays to make sure Ford dunked before the buzzer and ruled his shot good.

The loss was a devastating blow to the Hokies (14-12, 7-8 ACC), who probably needed to win their last two regular season games -- they host Maryland on Saturday -- to receive serious at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament. Now, the Hokies probably will have to win the ACC tournament at MCI Center to receive the conference's automatic bid to the NCAAs. Clemson (15-13, 5-10) is assured of at least a .500 record, making it eligible to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

"We're staring at fourth place and a bye in the ACC tournament," Greenberg said. "We were about 15 seconds away from that happening. It can still happen. You never know."

But Virginia Tech will have a tough time recovering from this loss, especially Gordon, who was crying in the locker room after the game. The sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., said he never saw Robinson before he made the pass.

"There was nothing there," Gordon said. "It was a dumb pass. I should have just shot it. I just made a dumb decision."

Greenberg said he didn't do a good job preparing his team to play defense during the final minute. The Hokies took a 62-60 lead on guard Zabian Dowdell's three-pointer from the right corner with 53 seconds left. Clemson Coach Oliver Purnell called time out with 48 seconds to play, and then the Hokies fouled Ford, who made one of two foul shots to make it 62-61. Dixon was fouled with 16 seconds left and calmly made two free throws.

Less than seven second later, the Tigers drove inside the lane, and kicked a pass back out to Babalola. The senior from London made his 13th three-pointer of the season, after missing 14 of his last 16 attempts from beyond the three-point arc.

"I take full responsibility," Greenberg said. "I didn't do a good job communicating to our kids during the timeout of keeping the ball in front of them. Coming back the other way [after Babalola's three-pointer], we wanted to push the ball, that's what we do."

The Hokies never got off a shot before Gordon threw away the ball.

"I knew somebody was behind me and if he shot it, I knew I had to box out," Robinson said. "Dribbling up the court, I knew there was enough time for us to get off a play. I looked up at the scoreboard twice. When I looked up the second time, I saw Sharrod and threw it to him."

Virginia Tech, which rallied from a 12-point deficit during the second half, wasted a strong effort from Dixon, who scored 25 points on 7-for-18 shooting. Freshman forward Deron Washington and Dowdell had 12 points apiece. Ford, playing in his last home game at Clemson, scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Coincidentally, Virginia Tech beat the Tigers, 59-57, on Jan. 15 after Clemson point guard Vernon Hamilton threw away a pass with six seconds left. Dixon intercepted the pass and broke away for a game-winning dunk in the closing seconds.

"We did the same thing to them," Dixon said. "It doesn't feel very good."

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