Virginia Tech Sweeps Tar Heels
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Feb. 13 -- The fans at Smith Center shrieked Tuesday night after the ball had dropped through the hoop, but as the Virginia Tech basketball team streamed onto the floor in celebration, the emotion for those wearing Carolina blue was clearly horror, not joy.
After a wild scramble on North Carolina's final possession, Wayne Ellington released a desperation three-point shot. The shot went in, but came after the buzzer signaled the end to Virginia Tech's shocking 81-80 overtime victory that left players, coaches and spectators mentally and physically drained.
After 45 minutes culminating in Carolina's botched final possession, the Hokies had stunned the Tar Heels for the second time this season, taking a major step toward clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament and rejoining the chase atop the ACC standings.
"That was as good a team win as I've been around," Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg said. "There's such a thin line between winning and losing. Last year, we couldn't impose our will at the end of games. This year, we've been able to get a stop when we need it. Why, I don't know. Maybe the basketball gods are with us."
Zabian Dowdell was the hero for Virginia Tech (18-7, 8-3). He scored a career-high 33 points, six in overtime, and made 17 of 19 free throws. He provided the game-winning points with a pair of foul shots with 1 minute 27 seconds remaining.
"Zabian Dowdell just put us on his back," Greenberg said.
Tyler Hansbrough led Carolina (22-4, 8-3) with 22 points, but the one point he didn't score will be remembered: a missed free throw with 13 seconds left in overtime. The Tar Heels fouled Hokies guard Markus Sailes, a 44 percent shooter who promptly missed two to set the stage for the wild final possession.
Ty Lawson had seven seconds to create a memory. Instead he drove to the basket, where he was first stripped by Dowdell, recovered the ball and was stripped again by Deron Washington. The scramble knocked the ball out to the three-point arc, where Ellington heaved it in after the horn.
"I could barely watch," Greenberg said. "The only thing I was watching was the clock and listening to the crowd. When I looked up, I knew it was good that people weren't jumping up and down."
Said Lawson: "We were supposed to run a play, but they came and doubled, so that messed everything up. They were clogging the lane. I think they knew what we were going to do."
The Hokies had tied the score in regulation with a bizarre chain of events. Down one, Dowdell jumped in the lane looking like he would shoot, but he instead flicked an alley-oop pass to a soaring Washington. Perhaps the best leaper in the conference, Washington took off and was fouled by Reyshawn Terry, then landed hard on his back.
The clock showed 36 seconds, the crowd roared and rocked in protest and Washington, a 58.9-percent free throw shooter, lay on his back, writhing. He deemed himself too hurt to shoot the free throws, and the officials agreed. (Washington played all five minutes of overtime.)
Greenberg summoned freshman point guard Nigel Munson from the bench, who had made all four of free throws this season. He promptly misfired his first attempt off the back rim, but then swished the second to tie the score at 73.
North Carolina called timeout with 17 seconds left in regulation to set up a play for Lawson. He had punished the Hokies for the entire second half, Jamon Gordon saddled with four fouls and unable to guard him. But now Gordon, Virginia Tech's best defender, smothered him as he dribbled at the top of the arc. With four seconds showing, Lawson hoisted a three-pointer from two steps behind the arc that rimmed out, and the game headed to overtime.
The Hokies squandered an opportunity to claim momentum early in the second half. One minute in, Washington drove past Terry and elevated as Hansbrough rotated over to stop him. The official whistled Hansbrough for blocking, the center's third foul. Irate at the call, UNC Coach Roy Williams spun and punched the scorer's table, drawing a technical foul. For good measure, he then ripped off his jacket.
But Dowdell made only one of his technical foul shots before Washington missed both of his tries from the original foul, and Tech still trailed by three. The Hokies would take a one-point lead on back-to-back threes by Dowdell and Washington, but Carolina struck back.
The Hokies, though, struck last.