By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007
BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 21 -- If the NCAA tournament committee is forced to choose between Maryland and Virginia Tech at the end of the season, if both teams settle in the middle of the ACC, the margin may be the thrilling game the Hokies and Terrapins played Sunday night.
The committee will not see how close the margin was. It will not see how close potentially winning shots came to falling for both teams. It will not see the violent swings and exhilarating runs.
It will only see the 'W' next to Tech's name and the 'L' next to Maryland's.
In a game that might have significant ramifications come Selection Sunday, No. 23 Virginia Tech defeated Maryland, 67-64, in overtime at Cassell Coliseum. The back court of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, as it has all season, shined for the Hokies, scoring a combined 35 points, a game-high 19 coming from Dowdell.
"Coach told us this was separation Sunday," said senior forward Coleman Collins, who scored 11 points to go with 14 rebounds. "That's the mind-set we had. We felt this was a good win, a statement win. It puts us on different ends of the spectrum."
After the game, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg grabbed a courtside microphone and addressed the crowd, which consisted almost totally of students.
"I want to thank all you tonight," Greenberg said. "This was your win. Thank you."
It was a win the Hokies needed. Tech did not play well out of conference before taking the ACC by storm. Meantime, Maryland (15-5, 1-4) has shriveled after sterling early season victories, putting them nearly even in postseason standing. Since the teams won't play again this season unless they meet in the ACC tournament, Virginia Tech (14-5, 4-1) took the edge if an NCAA tournament bid from the ACC comes down to these teams.
"We're just looking forward to Georgia Tech," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "If we continue to play the way we played tonight, we'll be fine."
Maryland is being haunted by an inability to win on the road. The Terps are 4-15 in their last 19 conference road games, including three losses this season in three tries. Virginia Tech remained unbeaten at home and added another victory to its growing tournament résumé as it tries to make the tournament for the first time in 10 years.
Maryland scored the first points of overtime on a Mike Jones floater, but Virginia Tech took control from there, opening a five-point lead, all but two of Tech's eight overtime points coming from Gordon and Dowdell.
The final sequence typified the gritty game. Down by three, Jones tried a floater with seven seconds left, but it bounded off the back rim and settled on the floor. Markus Sailes knocked the ball out of the scrum to Dowdell, who dribbled out the four remaining ticks and heaved the ball skyward.
"This game was not a whole lot of X's and O's," Greenberg said. "This game was just about guts and grits."
Virginia Tech took a 58-50 lead with 6 minutes 22 seconds remaining, and it seemingly had control of the game. But Maryland stormed back with an 8-0 run that began with a three-point play by Greivis Vasquez and ended with four straight points by senior D.J. Strawberry. On the first basket, he called for the ball, then blazed by A.D. Vassallo to pull Maryland within one. He made a pair of free throws to give Maryland its first lead since 15:11 remained. Collins tied the score by making 1 of 2 free throws after James Gist fouled him as he tried to dunk.
Gordon almost gave Tech the lead with 10 seconds left, but his jumper from the top of the key, just inside the arc, barely rimmed out. Maryland raced the ball back upcourt, and James Gist tried a hook shot at the buzzer that clanged off the side rim.
Virginia Tech officials anticipated loads of empty seats because frozen rain glazed roads with ice here and throughout southwest Virginia. Wanting to avoid the image of an empty gym broadcast nationally, they invited students to the game for free, which caused a raucous atmosphere.
At one point in the first half, Maryland's Eric Hayes was caught holding the ball as the shot clock ran out, and the buzzer could barely be heard above the roaring students. Vasquez riled them up in the second half by waving his arms as they derided Strawberry; they responded by chanting "Vas-Quez" instead and booing when the cocksure freshman dribbled up the floor.
"With 2,500 people and inclement weather, we don't win that game," Greenberg said. "They were playing for their fellow students. [The students] were the difference, without a doubt."