BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg hopes there is a time in the not-so-distant future when he can spend the majority of his postgame news conferences discussing a last-minute shot made by his young Hokies. But on Wednesday night, he got another painful reminder that this season could be filled with near misses.
Just three days after Virginia Tech made a late jump shot to score its biggest win of the season, the Hokies watched another close game slip through their grasp in the waning seconds, losing to BYU, 70-68, in a rare January nonconference matchup at Cassell Coliseum.
Virginia Tech got two opportunities to tie or win in the closing moments after senior Dorenzo Hudson and freshman Dorian Finney-Smith forced a turnover off an inbounds pass with 9.8 seconds remaining. But guard Erick Green had a layup attempt blocked by BYU’s Noah Hartsock and freshman Robert Brown missed a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded.
The Hokies (12-8) have lost five of their past six games. In four of those defeats they have had a chance to win only to see a last-second shot clank harmlessly off the rim.
“When you’re having a special season, all those two-point games go your way,” Greenberg lamented afterward. “Unfortunately at this point, we haven’t been as fortunate as we’d like to be.”
The Hokies’ failure in the clutch dampened what was an entertaining closing sequence to the game. In the final six minutes of the second half, there were three lead changes and six ties as both teams made big baskets down the stretch.
Virginia Tech took a six-point lead with just more than 11 minutes left, as forward Victor Davila (12 points, four rebounds) took advantage of the fact that his BYU counterpart, Brandon Davies (17 points, five rebounds), was saddled with four fouls. But the Cougars came charging back behind Hartsock, who scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half.
BYU responded with an 11-0 run and its lead soon swelled to as much as six. But the Hokies proved resilient. Hudson, Green, Brown and forward Jarell Eddie – who finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds for his first career double-double – all connected on game-tying baskets in key moments.
No shot, however, proved more important than a three-pointer by BYU’s Brock Zylstra with 26 seconds left. It was his first basket of the game, and gave the Cougars a 69-66 lead they would not relinquish.
That the Hokies trailed most of the game was due in large part to a horrendous start to the first half. Virginia Tech began the night by missing its first 16 shots and didn’t get its first basket until 10:17 remained until halftime.
By that point, the Hokies found themselves with a 12-point deficit and it felt like “there was a lid on the basket,” said Hudson, who finished with a team-high 14 points. But Virginia Tech was able to claw its way back into the game, using runs of 9-0 and 8-0 to enter halftime down by just four points despite shooting 25.8 percent from the field.
“We continued to defend and that kept us in the game,” Greenberg said. BYU (18-5) shot just 33.3 percent from the field, including 5 of 24 from three-point range.
But it was those sorts of statistics that only made Hudson shake his head. The Hokies shot 64 percent in the second half and even outrebounded the bigger, more mature Cougars. But they also committed 15 turnovers, which BYU turned into 23 points, and missed seven free throws.
And yet it all came down to a final shot, a scene Hudson is familiar with since he nailed the deciding basket when Virginia Tech upset No. 19 Virginia this past Sunday. That, though, seemed like a distant memory after another close loss.
“We’re just one possession away from being a great team,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll make one one day.”