ATLANTA — With 15.2 seconds remaining in Virginia Tech’s ACC tournament first-round game Thursday night against Clemson, fifth-year senior guard Dorenzo Hudson stepped to the free throw line with his team ahead by three. The Tigers had just made a three-pointer, and who knew how much longer the exhausted Hokies could hold up against Clemson’s full-court press?
More often than not this season, Virginia Tech had come up short in such situations.
But Hudson made both free throws to seal the 10th-seeded Hokies’ 68-63 victory. Even though Virginia Tech overcame an injury suffered this week by its backup point guard and had two available scholarship players on its bench against seventh-seeded Clemson, the Hokies advanced in somewhat uncharacteristic fashion. They will face Duke, the No. 2 seed, on Friday in the quarterfinals.
“We talked to them all week about finishing and making one more play, one more stop, get one more 50-50 ball, take a charge, make an extra pass,” Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. “Just one more play. That’s the kind of thing that has eluded us this season.”
Thursday’s game marked the 16th time this season the outcome of a Hokies game was decided by five or fewer points. Entering the night, Virginia Tech (16-16) was 5-10 in those contests.
But the Hokies made 5 of 6 free throws during the final 77 seconds Thursday, while Clemson (16-15) shot 3 for 8 from the charity stripe during the same stretch.
“Coming into this first game, we figured everything was going to come down to one play,” said Hudson, who finished with 19 points. “I feel like right now we’re ready for them plays. We’re ready to step up to the line and make them free throws. We’re just going to try to stick with it and try to move forward.”
Virginia Tech may have to move forward without the services of freshman Marquis Rankin, the team’s backup point guard. Rankin injured his knee during practice Tuesday and did not play Thursday. Greenberg said he didn’t know whether Rankin would be able to compete against Duke.
Rankin’s absence placed an even larger weight on the shoulders of junior guard Erick Green, who responded by tallying a game-high 24 points and four assists in 34 minutes. Five Hokies logged at least 30 minutes Thursday.
Clemson ended the first half on a 14-3 run and entered halftime with a five-point lead. The Tigers made 5 of 9 three-pointers before the break, but made just 3 of 13 shots from beyond the arc in the second half.
Though the Hokies didn’t shoot as well as Clemson, they were more consistent. That kept them in contention until the closing minutes.
And then, for a change, Virginia Tech did not falter with the game on the line. Hudson and Green, who are roommates, made three-pointers on consecutive Hokies possessions. They followed that by making their free throws moments later.
“We’ve been talking about games coming down to the end,” Green said of his discussions with Hudson this week. “We both stepped up to the line. We both made good plays, and the leadership we showed tonight, I’m just proud of my team and coaches that we hung in there and dug down deep. We finished, and that was the main thing tonight.”