As Ahmed Hill shuffled through a hallway early Saturday morning underneath the stands at Capital One Arena, gazing into the nothingness before him, he had to be thinking about it. The curl he ran, down two to Duke with 1.1 seconds showing on the clock. The way he made Zion Williamson, a transcendent talent in an unprecedented physical package, look like a toddler who scattered his Legos all over the floor, confused and jumpy. The way Justin Robinson, who he would call his “brother” and mean it in every sense, lobbed him the ball.

And the way it hit the rim. The way it hit the rim and bounced away. The way it hit the rim and bounced away as the horn sounded. Duke 75, Virginia Tech 73. If you’re Ahmed Hill, how could you stop that from playing on continuous loop in your mind?

Hokies suffer cruel loss to Blue Devils to end their season in Sweet 16

“I just tried to get my eyes locked on the rim,” Hill said, “and it just bounced to the left.”

Thirty minutes later, there was disbelief in his voice. This East Region semifinal in the NCAA tournament will be remembered — as almost all Duke games have been this season — for the unique feats Williamson pulled off, a jump-to-the-rafters alley-oop dunk on a pass from Tre Jones that seemed headed for the fifth row foremost among them. There is no character like him in his sport — the sport of college basketball — and there hasn’t been for years. That he gets to play another game, Sunday against Michigan State with a spot in the Final Four at stake, is a gift.

But let’s not forget that with single tick left on the clock, Robinson and Hill and the Virginia Tech coaching staff had Williamson and the Blue Devils beat. Flat-out beat.

“I’m not even going to lie to you,” Williamson said. “When he caught it, I said, ‘Ah, we’re about to go to overtime.’ I mean, I don’t know what happened.”

“He missed,” said his teammate and classmate and roommate, RJ Barrett.

“Ignore him,” Williamson parried back. “He just missed it.”

That kind of volley between teammates, with smirks and smiles, can live for Duke, because Duke lives, and improbably. Williamson’s college career survives till Sunday. Barrett’s college career survives till Sunday. To the fortunate — even the outright lucky — go the long exhales, followed by laughter.

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“They were so damn good to coach,” Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski said. He gets to do it another couple of days, at least.

This was, of course, the second game in a row in which Duke watched a ball on the rim with the clock perilously near zero, only to have it fall away. On Sunday, it was Aubrey Dawkins of UCF, whose tip-in would have beaten the Blue Devils. It missed. Just like Hill with the lob, somehow it missed.

“Sometimes [it’s] the old thing: The operation was a success, but the patient died,” Krzyzewski said. “And their play was a success, but it didn’t work.”

It didn’t work. So what died were the collegiate careers of Hill and Robinson, two kids Virginia Tech Coach Buzz Williams used to build a program in Blacksburg out of, essentially, nothing. Put on pause, for a moment, whether Williams is leaving for Texas A&M or not. Hill is a senior. Robinson is a senior. When that ball fell off the rim, Hill slid to the ground on his back with his arms extended in exasperation. Robinson, maybe a dozen feet away, buckled at the knees, bordering on the fetal position.

That play is now part of NCAA tournament history. It doesn’t come close to revealing the history Hill and Robinson share.

“We roomed every time on the road,” Robinson said. “There was a lot of nights where we sat up and jus talked about life, especially when I was injured and couldn’t play. Just trying to keep his head right. He was trying to keep my head right. Just him being there for me is something I’ll never forget. Being able to go through this journey and battle with him for four years, is something I’ll never forget.”

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Krzyzewski pointed out that his Blue Devils, up two but without a field goal since the three-minute mark, actually made two stops in the final 30 seconds before Robinson’s lob. The first came when Hill missed a three-pointer. The next came when the Hokies’ other senior, Ty Outlaw, missed a three-pointer. The Hokies came this far to get exactly those players the shots they had.

“I thought it was perfect,” Williams said. “Ty Outlaw shoots one. ’Med shoots one. And both passes came from 5 [Robinson’s jersey number]. . . . If we were to replay it again right now, I would call the exact same things because of my faith and trust in those guys.”

Robinson, the tough and clever point guard, missed a dozen games earlier this year with a foot injury. The Hokies could have crumbled on the court. Robinson could have crumbled off it. Neither did. Hill helped both.

“He would always tell me: Just worry about now,” Robinson said. “It was hard. He knew it was hard for me to sit out. We talked every night about the process, when I’m hoping to come back, the process I’m going through. Just him being a big brother to me is something I’ll always love him for.”

So when Hill couldn’t convert Robinson’s pass, when the Hokies lost, it was Robinson who had to prop up Hill.

“I told him after the game, ‘It’s not over. Our careers aren’t over,’” Robinson said. “We both have a bright future ahead. At the end of the day, I’ll take the blame for it, say the pass was off-center.”


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“Justin threw a great pass,” Hill said. “I just came up short.”

These are teammates, in the best sense, tussling over whose fault this career-ending loss should be. In that half hour after they could barely pull their bodies off the court, Hill and Robinson and Outlaw all shuffled aimlessly through that hall underneath the stands, covering up their sniffles with their jerseys.

“The closest brothers that I get to have,” Hill said. “We gonna probably be talking forever about our lives, best mans at each other’s wedding, things like that.”

Those will be the times when they look back at their time in the Sweet 16, and maybe even smile. Early Saturday morning, though, they could only go through that lob play, and go through it again, and go through it again. The ball could have gone in. By a fluke, it didn’t. And those Hokies seniors have no more games to play.

Read more from Post Sports:

Sweet 16 recap: Relive all the action from Friday’s Sweet 16 games

Freshmen carry Spartans past LSU and into the Elite Eight

‘He’s a killer’: Virginia’s Kihei Clark might be small, but he delivers big plays

Sally Jenkins: Auburn rises above dirty business of college basketball with a beautiful game

Jerry Brewer: Kyle Guy, shooting through a slump, is the heart of brainy Virginia

‘Bro, you famous’: Meet the 400-pound kid who went viral for guarding Tacko Fall

CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson survives in a land of giants: ‘My height just makes me tougher’

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