Survive and advance. That’s exactly what the Virginia Tech Hokies did on Tuesday night in Greensboro, defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 67-64, in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The final game of the first round was close throughout, with the Hokies [19-13, 8-12] going into halftime with a narrow 33-32 lead.
The teams went back and forth over the first 14 minutes of the second half when it appeared Notre Dame [11-21, 3-17] was taking control. The Irish took a 58-53 lead with just over 5:30 remaining as the Hokies were struggling to make key stops on defense and hastily settled for 3-point attempts at least three times in that stretch.
However, things changed with 1:50 remaining when freshman guard Rodney Rice drilled a contested 3-pointer from the right win to cut ND’s lead to 62-61. The Hokies scored the next back and were up one when sophomore guard Sean Pedulla committed a foul on Notre Dame forward Matt Zona.
However, Pedulla took an elbow to the face and after a long conference, the officials ruled a Flagrant 1 on Zona. That was fifth foul and he was disqualified. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey sent in senior guard Trey Wertz — an 80% free-throw shooter, to replace Zona at the charity stripe. He made both. At the other end, Pedulla got two free throws, but the 87% free-throw shooter missed one and the game was tied at 64, but the Hokies had possession.
This is what happened next.
Watch the screen from Hunter Cattoor on the play. He cleared out two defenders, Mutts noticed and took it to the hoop for an easy dunk to give the Hokies a 66-64 lead. After a defensive stand, Pedulla was fouled with nine seconds remaining and headed back to the line. Frustratingly, he missed one of two, keeping the Fighting Irish alive.
Mutts then blocked a Notre Dame 3-point attempt, but knocked it out of bounds, meaning the Irish had one more chance with 1.9 seconds left. Notre Dame forward Nate Laszewski had a terrific look at the basket but it rolled out as time expired, giving the Hokies a thrilling win.
Next up for Tech is a date with No. 6 seed N.C. State Wednesday.
For the Fighting Irish, it was Brey’s last game as head coach after 23 seasons on the bench in South Bend.
Senior forward Grant Basile scored 20 points to lead the Hokies, while Mutts finished with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. Pedulla and Cattoor scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
While this Virginia Tech team isn’t the same as last year, it all began with a dramatic shot. Yes Darius Maddux’s was a game winner last March, but if the Hokies can get on a run, don’t forget Rice’s made 3 late in the win over Notre Dame.