CHARLOTTE — Virginia Tech’s 65-63 overtime loss to Florida State on Thursday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament can be distilled to one thing: The Hokies could not hit deep shots.
The ACC’s second-best three-point shooting team missed its first 11 attempts from behind the arc and fell behind by 13 points in the first eight minutes of play, forcing it to go from perimeter-oriented to drive-first. Though the Hokies traded buckets with the Seminoles for most of the game, they couldn’t answer in the final moments.
Seminoles freshman guard Devin Vassell drilled a corner three-pointer to tie the game at 56 with four seconds left in regulation and send the teams to overtime for the second time in as many weeks. Then guard Terance Mann lofted in a difficult running jumper with less than two seconds remaining in overtime for the winning points.
“He made a great drive,” Hokies guard Ahmed Hill said. “I just tried not to foul.”
The Hokies (24-8), seeded fifth in the ACC tournament, lost to fourth-seeded Florida State (26-6) for the fifth consecutive time, including last week’s 73-64 overtime loss in Tallahassee. Coach Buzz Williams fell to 2-7 against FSU in five seasons at Virginia Tech.
The 16th-ranked Hokies made just 4 of 19 three-pointers for the game. The No. 12 Seminoles, meanwhile, are rolling into Friday’s semifinal matchup with top-seeded Virginia, having gone 13-1 since Jan. 22. Despite forcing 17 turnovers and blocking three shots, Virginia Tech fell short.
Guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the Hokies with a game-high 21 points, while Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 17 and Hill had 16. Vassell had 14 points for the Seminoles, who got at least two points from all 10 players who saw game time.
“They were aggressive, and it was a physical game,” Alexander-Walker said. “They made shots down the stretch.”
There was little offense from either team, both of which are locks to play next week in the NCAA tournament. The dearth of scoring suggested the matchup featured two football schools that squared off for the national title in 2000.
The Seminoles led 26-24 at halftime. Virginia Tech, a day after blowing out Miami behind 11 three-pointers, shot 0 for 11 from deep in the first half. So during the intermission, Hokies coaches and managers stationed themselves in the paint. They fed the starters on the wings and corners with passes. Nearly every shot they took, one after the other, was a three-pointer.
“I think they had beautiful contests,” Hill said of the Seminoles’ defense. “They knew that we could shoot threes; they kind of played it. They wanted us to drive and go into their bigs. Their bigs are so tremendous at blocking shots.”
After halftime, Hill provided a slight spark from deep. He led a few driving, determined possessions that helped the Hokies eventually take their first lead of the second half at 54-53 with 1:17 to play.
On one possession, Alexander-Walker drove and kicked to Hill, who caught, shot — no hesitation, no second-guessing — and swished a three-pointer to cut into the lead.
The Hokies played with more emotion then elegance. Their reserves bounced up and down on the bench, begging for a foul call.
“We probably get more bench warnings than anybody,” Williams said. “It’s not for mal-intent. It’s just that’s kind of how we do things when it’s just us. But the utmost respect for Florida State, for sure, but also for the effort and care and love that our guys play with.”
The Hokies battled back to tie the game down the stretch. “Get over the hump,” Hill said while defending on the perimeter, the clock winding down. “Get over the hump,” he said again, as if he realized his teammates hadn’t heard him the first time.
Two defensive possessions later, he clapped his hands. “We need a stop.” Two passes went by, and Phil Cofer drilled a corner three-pointer to give Florida State a 53-50 lead. Blackshear scored six consecutive points over the next two minutes but missed a free throw with 18 seconds left that would have completed a three-point play and created a four-point lead. When Vassell tied it at 56 with his three-pointer from the same spot as Cofer’s, Virginia Tech players were left stunned, their shoulders slumped.
The Hokies won 12 regular season ACC games for the first time since they joined the league in 2004. But they are 7-5 since they lost starting point guard Justin Robinson to a left foot injury Jan. 30. He wore Hokies maroon and black pants on the bench, often standing to holler instructions and encouragement.
They said afterward they are not disheartened with the loss. They would await their place in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday. They muscled and fought against the Seminoles. For the most part, they stymied and frustrated a dynamic and balanced offense, playing without Robinson, their senior leader.
It’s unclear whether Robinson will return for the NCAA tournament. He participated in practice this week and will be reevaluated Sunday. Either way, the Hokies have a week to reflect and regroup with the season on the line.
“It’s a moment of a lifetime,” Alexander-Walker said.