Wow. Wow. Wow.
Was that game more surprising than any other win this season, including the carolina win at the dean dome? You could make a great case for it.
The Hokies won a Big Ten slugfest and stole one from the illini tonight, 54-52. At the 8:18 mark of the second half, illinois was poised to execute the biggest upset of the first round (from a seeding perspective). They led the Hokies 47-34 after Brian Randle converted the second free throw of a 1 and 1. But, the Hokies stepped up the defensive pressure by going to a full court press. From that point on, Virginia Tech outscored the illini 20-5. Add to that, the Hokies scored the final 12 points of the game. The illini’s last point was at the 4:29 mark. We scored 37% of our points in the final 8 minutes of the game. Yes, Deron had the hot hand in the end, but we still missed easy buckets and free throws down the stretch. The difference was that the Hokies had a lot more scoring opportunities due to the defensive pressure. It forced turnovers and changed the pace of the game.
Depending on your perspective, tonight’s game was a defensive clinic or an offensive nightmare. I’ll choose to focus on the positive. I typed it in my in game commentary, and Coach Greenberg agreed in his post game press conference, but the illini played the best defense of any Tech opponent this year. The Hokies made 15 baskets tonight … that’s it. They were 35.7% from the field. Compare that to our season mark of 47% from the field. We tied our lowest scoring performance in the first half with 21. The 54 points tonight was the lowest amount of points that Tech has scored in a victory. Next closest … 63 in the December 17th win against wake.
The illini really did a fantastic job on the perimeter. Zabian Dowdell was held to 8 points tonight, and had no points in the second half. That’s right … we came back from 13 without a point from Zab. Jamon Gordon was held to 9 points. The illini defense did not force a large amount of turnovers (Tech had 9 tonight). They were very effective in forcing Tech to take poor shots. There were very little open looks for the guards tonight. Dowdell was 3 of 9, A.D. was 3 of 11, and Gordon was 2 of 6 from the field. The Hokies had five scoring droughts of over three minutes. The longest scoring drought was 4 minutes and 21 seconds, midway through the first half.
When the Hokies were on defense, they were equally as impressive, and down right phenomenal in that last 8 minutes. Tech held the illini to 42% shooting, which is right on par with our season average. illinois made only 3 buckets in the final 10 minutes. They missed 8 straight field goals to finish the game. The Hokies had a five minute stretch (from 8:22 to 3:24) where the illini only took three shots. In total, the illini committed 19 turnovers, 11 of which occurred in the second half. Jamon Gordon led the Hokies with 7 steals (that’s sick!). I really have to credit Coach Greenberg tonight with his timeout strategy. He called two timeouts just before the last two TV media timeouts to give his team the extra rest that was necessary to keep up the defensive pressure at the end of the game.
In addition to the defense, the illini’s poor performance from the charity stripe contributed to our comeback. They shot 8 of 15 from the line, including 1 of 5 in the final 8:18. A key moment in the final minutes came at the 4:37 mark when Deron Washington was called for an intentional foul. It was one of the worst calls that I’ve seen this year. The refs clearly blew it, but Brian Randle of the illini missed both free throws and the score remained 50-42. Maybe this bogus call was a good thing because Deron was en fuego from here on out (more on that later). The Hokies, meanwhile, were not too impressive from the line either. This must get better in order to advance. Tech was 18 of 28 from the line tonight. Both Zab and A.D. missed free throws down the stretch, which could have really killed us.
Coleman Collins had a solid game tonight for the Hokies, although the missed dunk in the final minute of the first half brought back the gw nightmare. Collins pitched in 13 tonight, and was 9 of 12 from the line. Credit those 12 attempts to Collins’ aggressive play down low, which forced 3 illini into foul trouble (Pruitt, Randle, and McBride each finished with 4).
Finally, this game could not have turned out the way it did without the hot hand of Deron Washington. The junior scored 14 points on 50% shooting. After the so-called intentional foul at the 4:37 mark, Washington scored 8 of the final 12 points. He had two huge three pointers, and then banked in a 10 footer with 47 seconds to go, which gave the Hokies their first lead since 17-16 in the first half. Washington made all three of his 3 point attempts tonight. He also had 3 rebounds and 2 blocks. Deron Washington is my player of the game.
This was not a typical 2006-07 Hokie basketball victory. I think most Hokie fans were in shock when time expired, but we survived and now we will advance for an opportunity to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1967. You gotta love it!