ON BASKETBALL

NCAA basketball: For Virginia Tech, a moment of madness

Saturday didn't go well for Manny Atkins, right, or the rest of Seth Greenberg's team, but Friday's finish should put them in the NCAAs.
Saturday didn't go well for Manny Atkins, right, or the rest of Seth Greenberg's team, but Friday's finish should put them in the NCAAs. (John Mcdonnell)
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John Feinstein
Sunday, March 13, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C.

Someone call Tom Hanks.

Not only is there crying in basketball, it has gone off the charts even before midnight strikes on Selection Sunday.

Just when it looked as if Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech were going to be turned into National Invitation Tournament pumpkins for a fourth straight season, the clock at Greensboro Coliseum struck zero a few minutes before midnight on Friday. In one of the wildest scenes of an already crazed week of college basketball, Greenberg went from crying in disbelief to crying for joy in a matter of about two minutes.

First, he sat on the bench, head in hands, completely stunned after it appeared that a baseline jumper by Florida State's Derwin Kitchen had beaten the buzzer to give the Seminoles a 53-52 win over the Hokies in the ACC quarterfinals.

Yes, it had apparently happened again. In 2008, it was North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough at the buzzer in the ACC semifinals. In 2009, it was a controversial call in the final seconds in the quarterfinals against (you guessed it) North Carolina. In 2010, it was another quarterfinals debacle, with Miami's Durand Scott turning into Phil Ford in the final minutes.

In each case, the Hokies arguably came up short of reaching the NCAA tournament by the margin of defeat in each of those games (respectively: two, three and five points). They had become America's bubble team - college basketball's answer to the rabbit in the old Trix commercials. Every time they reached for their NCAA tournament bid, someone came along at the last possible second to snatch it from them, saying, "Silly Hokies, NCAA bids are for Tar Heels and Blue Devils."

So when Kitchen's shot Friday bottomed the net and referee Bryan Kersey signaled that it had beaten the buzzer, it looked as if Greenberg's life as college basketball's answer to Job would continue for at least another season. He no doubt would have been reduced to giving his annual speech to reporters insisting he wasn't going to campaign for a bid before spending 15 minutes campaigning for a bid. Then, on Sunday night, he would sit with his team and watch 11 Big East teams go into the bracket, as if Virginia Tech's former league was saying, "Glad you left us now?"

But then, just when Greenberg was trying to figure out how to find his composure to go shake Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton's hand, fate - and replay - intervened.

So while the Seminoles celebrated and the Hokies fought back tears, Kersey and crewmates Mike Eades and Bernard Clinton went to the scorer's table to look at the replay. Most people in the building were convinced the shot would count when it went in. But when the replays began to pop up on the scoreboard, it became evident fairly quickly that Kitchen had been a 10th of a second late. Not two-10ths late. One-10th late. The ball was still on his fingertips as the clock hit 0.0.

The officials weren't about to make a decision until they were certain, so they checked all available camera angles and looked at the best one several times.

"It probably took two, maybe 21/2 minutes," Virginia Tech sports information director Bill Dyer said. "But standing there it felt more like 20."


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