As improbable as the entire game between Virginia Tech and Florida State was Friday night in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, in hindsight it couldn't have happened any other way for the Hokies.
For the last four seasons now we've been used to this team not hitting the clutch shot or getting the right call at the right time in games it's needed to win in order to make the NCAA Tournament. Things just never went Tech's way in games like this. And for a couple of minutes, it seemed like all of those heartbreaks had been inexplicably trumped by Florida State's Derwin Kitchen.
His baseline jumper at the buzzer seemed to have buried Virginia Tech's title hopes for a fourth consecutive year. The loss, combined with other wins by bubble teams Friday, probably would have put the Hokies in the NIT again. They had been considered one of the last four teams in coming into the game and desperately needed a win over a team in the RPI's Top 50.
FSU presented exactly that opportunity. Unfortunately, the Hokies came out and shot 17.9 percent from the field in the first half, including 3-for-24 from the starting five. But thanks to tough zone defense and FSU turnovers they were still in the game, down by eight at the break.
In the second half, Tech played better but but seemed to get in its own way just when it seemed it was ready to get over the hump. FSU maintained its lead and with five minutes to play, Virginia Tech's Jeff Green, Malcolm Delaney and Victor Davila all had four fouls.
Just when things seemed to be at their bleakest, things started to go Tech's way that don't usually go Tech's way. The three players in foul trouble kept their composure and played smart basketball. None of them fouled out. Davila, an atrocious foul shooter, made two clutch free throws coming out of the Under-4 timeout. And Erick Green, who made just one of his previous 12 shots, buried an open jumper with under five seconds to play to finally give Tech the lead it had pined for throughout an ugly, sloppy, defensive basketball game.
Kitchen then ran down the floor, hit his shot and all those bad memories came back. Everything Tech had worked for and overcome in this game was gone in an instant. The buzzer went off, the ball went through the net and it was back to square one. Back to the anguish. Back to the NIT.
Just when the reality of it all started to sink in, the officials congregated around the replay monitor and eventually waved off Kitchen's basket. The ball looked like it was still in Kitchen's hand when the clock his zero, but it also looked too close to actually reverse the ruling on the court. It was a gutsy call and one that just usually doesn't go Tech's way.
Whether or not the ball was still in Kitchen's hand, whether or not Delaney stepped out of bounds on the furious last second play that ended with Green making his shot and whether either of these teams really deserved to win that kind of game is completely moot right now. The Hokies won in heart-stopping fashion and are more than likely in the NCAA Tournament.
They got their crucial win at the crucial time and now get to face Duke in the ACC tournament semifinal. Just playing the Blue Devils will improve Tech's strength of schedule and RPI, so it stands to reason they've done enough to warrant a spot in th bracket on Selection Sunday.
The Hokies, who played only six players against Florida State, could win their third game in three days and REALLY take it out of the committee's hands, but Friday's win should do it. It was a game that summed up Tech's season and, for a few moments between the initial call on the court and the final decision, summed up the careers of seniors Delaney, Allen and Terrell Bell. Now, thanks to Kitchen's shot being waved off, their careers will likely get to end in the NCAA Tournament.
Maybe things are finally starting to go these guys' way.
Next on Virginia Tech's basketball schedule: 3:30ish p.m. EST Saturday vs. Duke.
Check Tomahawk Nation for the FSU perspective of the game.