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Virginia Tech’s Season Ends With 86-83 Disappointment Against No. 9 Seed Alabama

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The Hokies lose their second straight opening round game, and will have to wait another year for another opportunity.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Alabama Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Hokies’ last win was 17 days ago. They will have to wait another 200 days for their next chance at a victory, after yet another disappointing second half collapse. Virginia Tech has held a halftime lead in each of the last three games and ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard in all three instances.

Despite facing an upper echelon Alabama defense, Virginia Tech had their most successful half offensively in a month, scoring 43 points and going 7-of-9 from three. It was not as pretty on the defensive end, however. Alabama’s offense had been above average for much of the year, but easily generated open looks all game. In the first 20 minutes, the Tide shot 59.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three, a significant step up from their season averages.

The common theme in the last three games for the Hokies was their inability to maintain their hot shooting in the first stanza, while the opposition heated up as Tech simply lost all their momentum. Tonight, that theme was established as a formula. Alabama shot 60.3 percent from the floor in the second half, while the Hokies only shot 44.9 percent. In addition, the Hokies had some backbreaking turnovers and Kerry Blackshear Jr. found himself in foul trouble much too quick. Against a team with great length, the Hokies were simply outmatched. Virginia Tech’s lack of size was bound to cost them eventually, and it certainly was a contributor to the loss.

Alabama’s John Petty and Collin Sexton carried the Tide in the second half. Sexton had 20 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes, with some incredibly difficult and clutch baskets one would expect a player of his talent to make. John Petty came into today’s game converting on 36.2 percent of his threes, but decided to become an All-American floor spacer tonight. The freshman went 6-of-8 from three and scored 20 points. It just felt like every shot the Tide took was going in, no matter the difficulty. In a way, it was a repeat of the second Louisville game. Down the stretch, the Cardinals went 6-of-6 from three while the Hokies were ice cold and missed wide open looks at the basket.

While those stats paint a negative picture, all hope was not lost for the Hokies. Trailing just 72-70 after a PJ Horne layup, Tech had a chance to get a stop and score to tie it up or take the lead. A John Petty three and Collin Sexton fadeaway jumper quickly erased that opportunity. Down 77-72, Virginia Tech needed some sort of takeaway, which they got from Justin Robinson. The junior point guard found some space, drove into the lane and appeared to have scored a wrong-footed runner with bodies around him to make it a one possession game.

Then he heard a whistle. For a split second, the entire fanbase believed that Robinson had earned himself a free throw on top of the basket, eagerly waiting for the referee to signal a blocking foul.

And to everyone’s angst, the referee pointed towards the opposite side of the court, simultaneously ending Robinson’s season and eliminating any chance of a Virginia Tech comeback. You be the judge (h/t @TreadmillHorse).

Robinson held his head in disbelief, then emotion overcame him as he tried his best to keep his tears inside as he knew what had just unfolded. Perhaps the only two players more emotional than Robinson were Justin Bibbs and Devin Wilson, who finish their careers with a disappointing early exit. In his final game, Bibbs scored 17 points and went 3-of-5 from three. Wilson, meanwhile, finished the contest with a steal and a rebound to his name.

Virginia Tech’s shortened trip to Pittsburgh was caused by a multitude of problems, which were foreshadowed throughout the season. Despite an improved defensive intensity over the past month, the Hokies could not get stops when they needed them most and allowed Alabama to shoot 60 percent from the field. Good luck trying to win against that, even if you shoot 55.6 percent overall. Blackshear committed his fifth foul in his 19th minute of action, rendering an undersized team completely outmatched. The ball stalled on offense as the Hokies could not execute properly, and turnovers were an issue.

The referee may not have made the right call at the end, but the Hokies were in the bonus for the final 15 minutes of the game and failed to take advantage of it. The opportunity was there and for the third straight game, the Hokies waited too long to seize it. The players poured every ounce of energy they had this season into making it this far, and it is frustrating for them to fall short of what they wanted to accomplish this year.

Virginia Tech finishes the year 0-3, a weak ending to a season with marvelous highs but ultimately the lowest of lows.