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Virginia Tech’s stay at the ACC tournament proves to be a quick one

Virginia Tech’s stay at the ACC tournament proves to be a quick one

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Few men’s college basketball programs possess as fully formed an identity as Florida State. And in great years and so-so ones, one thing is nearly always constant: to beat the Seminoles requires taking care of the ball.

Virginia Tech couldn’t do so in the second half of Wednesday’s 86-76 loss at Capital One Arena, earning a one-and-done exit in the second round of the ACC tournament and quickly extinguishing dreams of a four-wins-in-four-days redux of the Hokies’ championship run two years ago.

“We had some bad ones,” Coach Mike Young said after Florida State scored 25 points off 13 Virginia Tech turnovers. “It is persistent, and it is active, and we had a couple head-scratchers. That’s a credit to the Seminoles.”

Sean Pedulla scored 24 points and Tyler Nickel added 18 off the bench for the eighth-seeded Hokies (18-14), who shot 64 percent en route to a one-point halftime lead but unraveled at both ends after the break.

Former Virginia Commonwealth forward Jamir Watkins was a menace at both ends, scoring 34 points and collecting 11 rebounds and four steals to lead the ninth-seeded Seminoles (17-15) into a quarterfinal matchup Thursday against top-seeded North Carolina.

“I don’t know if we’ve had anyone clip us for 34 points this year,” Young said. “He was very good.”

In fact, it was the most points any player had scored against Virginia Tech in Young’s five-year tenure. Duke’s Luke Kennard was the last to manage 34 against the Hokies, doing so on New Year’s Eve 2016.

While defense wasn’t a defining trait for either team early, Florida State used takeaways in the early moments of the second half to build a 50-42 lead. But the Hokies had just one turnover in a stretch of more than 10 minutes in the second as they gradually got back into the game and even briefly claimed a 58-57 advantage.

“Just more of the same from the last time we played them,” said Pedulla, whose team split two regular season games with Florida State. “You have to be really strong with it, especially when you get into the paint. They live off of those turnovers and getting out in transition. It’s hard to do, but you have to do it if you want to win.”

The Hokies’ chances of doing so faded when Jalen Warley intercepted an MJ Collins pass and drove in for a layup. On the next possession, Primo Spears — who made a one-year stop at Georgetown last season and scored 10 points in his return to his old home arena — picked off a Pedulla pass to make it 63-58 and prompt Young to call a timeout with 5:01 left.

It did little to stop the Seminoles’ surge, and a Watkins steal almost two minutes later led to a Warley basket and capped an 11-0 run to secure the first double-digit lead of the day for either team.

“There’s no doubt we base our defensive philosophy on deflections, steals, turnovers,” Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said. “In order to be effective with it, you have to play with your hands and keep your hands up. That’s what we emphasized all week long.”

Even when Virginia Tech didn’t turn it over in the second half, points didn’t come with any ease until the scramble of the final handful of possessions. The Hokies shot just 35.7 percent in the final 20 minutes, including 2 for 13 from three-point range.

Much of it was a function of dealing with the big, rangy defenders the Seminoles have specialized in recruiting throughout much of Hamilton’s 22-year tenure.

“We contested shots better in the second half and we contained the dribbler better in the second half,” Hamilton said. “First half, they were blowing by us like the wind.”

Virginia Tech will miss consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since a nearly decade-long drought from 2008 to 2016, but its season might not be over. With relatively strong metrics for a team with its record and victories over Boise State, Clemson and Iowa State, the Hokies are a strong candidate to earn an NIT berth.

Count Young among those hoping it happens.

“To play in the postseason? Sign me up,” Young said. “We all want to play in the big one, but to coach these guys again and make a run at that thing? You’re doggone right. I’m never going to be too big for my pants that [I’ll decline an NIT bid]. It’s an opportunity to play in the postseason. I don’t care what anybody says. It’s not what all of us want to do, but it is still a great tournament and I’d like to do that.”

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