College Hoops Friday Recap: Perennial Bubbler Finally Gets a Break

March 12th, 2011
It's almost become an annual occurrence in college basketball: Seth Greenberg's Virginia Tech Hokies in their customary spot on the bubble. And they looked to be headed in that direction tonight against Florida State in the final quarterfinal of the night in Greensboro, trailing 27-19 at the half and shooting a brutal 17.9% from the field. The Seminoles outscored Virginia Tech 16-6 in the paint and 14-7 in bench points in the first half, and guards Malcolm Delaney and Erick Green combined to shoot 1-for-15. Florida State's defense hasn't been as good since star Chris Singleton went down with a broken foot six games ago but it's still formidable, and it proved to be more than a handful for Virginia Tech in the first half. If not for unsung hero Manny Atkins, who scored seven of his 14 points in the first half, Florida State likely wins the game in a walk.

"One thing I should say is Manny Atkins and that three he made in the corner, the ball was in the air for about 15 seconds," serif Greenberg. "He was phenomenal. He played so hard, and he had quite an accomplishment today."

The Hokies made an early charge in the second half but Florida State was able to hold them off for the time being, even pushing the margin out to 10 with just over 13 minutes left in the game. But Delaney and Green finally got going offensively, scoring 16 points combined in what was an offensive explosion when compared to the first half. Virginia Tech assisted on nine of their twelve made baskets in the second half, turning the ball over just three times. Florida State on the other hand turned the ball over 11 times, leading to 11 points for the Hokies and helping kickstart their struggling offense.

"We had a stretch there at the end of the first half where we were up 12 points and had three bad possessions in a row and I think they cut it to eight or seven," said Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton. "And we had another stretch there in the second half where we had a 10?point lead and we made three straight turnovers." (quotes courtesy of the Atlantic Coast Conference)

The outcome came down to two shots: one that counted and one that didn't. Delaney found Green for the jumper that put the Hokies ahead 52-51 with under five seconds left in the game following yet another Florida State turnover. But the Seminoles had one final chance to win and they seemingly took full advantage of it as Derwin Kitchen knocked down a fadeaway jumper from the right side as time expired. But upon video review the officials decided that the ball was still on Kitchen's fingertips, waving the shot off and touching off an emotional scene that included some tears from the head coach. And given the path that the Hokies have traveled over the last three years, in addition to this injury-plagued campaign, one couldn't blame Coach Greenberg one bit for shedding a few tears of joy (and maybe even relief).

Next up for the Hokies will be Duke, who pulled away from Maryland late thanks to the play of Kyle Singler. But the Blue Devils did lose point guard Nolan Smith late in the second half due to a toe injury, and whether or not he plays tomorrow afternoon has yet to be determined. Getting Smith back is crucial for a team that's still without Kyrie Irving (he did his rehab on the floor before the game, prompting many to wonder if he'd play), but at the very least maybe this weekend can be a catalyst to get Singler out of the slump he was mired in over the last three weeks of the season.

On the other side of the bracket Clemson picked up an important victory over Boston College in a game some saw as a "separator" in terms of the final at-large spots in the NCAA Tournament field. The Tigers were ready to go from the opening tip while the Eagles struggled offensively, and the final score of 70-47 wasn't the expectation after BC's win over Wake Forest on Thursday. Clemson moves on to play North Carolina, who finally woke up late in the second half to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as time expired against Miami. Kendall Marshall found an open Tyler Zeller underneath the basket and the junior scored as time expired, capping either a thrilling comeback or an amazing choke job depending on one's point of view. But the story of the day will be Virginia Tech, who did an awful lot to solidify their NCAA Tournament status. Exactly what they were unable to do in previous seasons.

Other Notable Happenings

1. UConn goes where no Big East Tuesday team has ever gone and Louisville rises to the challenge in the nightcap.
Kemba Walker has officially turned Madison Square Garden into his own personal stage this week and his most recent act helped the Huskies do something that no team seeded from 9-16 has done in the Big East (in the years since all 16 teams have been invited to New York): win four games in four days. Walker finished with 33 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the 76-71 overtime win over Syracuse, helping the Huskies become the first team since Pittsburgh in 2008 to win four games in four days. But once again it's not just Walker making things happen. Jeremy Lamb knocked down a pair of huge shots late in the game and finishing with 11 points, and Alex Oriakhi added 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Huskies out-rebounded the Orange 45-37.

But achieving the "impossible": winning five games in five days will depend on how well they do against a Louisville team that's given then fits. Notre Dame was in control of the game in the first half, leading by 14 at the break despite Ben Hansbrough not being as effective offensively as usual. In the second half the Cardinals rose to the challenge, slowing down everyone to get the game to overtime where the Irish had as many turnovers as made field goals (2). With Preston Knowles (20 points) and Peyton Siva (15 points, seven assists) leading the way this is a deep group that's far surpassed the preseason expectations. And to win the Big East title in this season would be a monumental achievement, but the same goes for UConn as well.

2. Michigan State and Penn State grab crucial victories in Indianapolis.
Two Big Ten teams in need of victories did so against highly regarded ranked opponents on Thursday night, with Michigan State whipping Purdue and Penn State simply having one more stone to throw than Wisconsin in the ultimate basketball rock fight. Kalin Lucas was ready from the opening tip, scoring a game-high 30 points and handing out three assists in addition to showing the level or leadership teams expect of their seniors this time of the year. Michigan State turned the ball over just eight times and limited the Boilermakers to 3-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc defensively (37.3% overall) while out-rebounding them 39-25. The Spartans' opponent in the Big Ten semifinals: Penn State, who got out to a fast start against Wisconsin then hung on as the game slowed to a crawl in the form of a 36-33 final.

Talor Battle was the leading scorer with a whopping nine points, but all that matters for Ed DeChellis' team is the fact that they live to play another day. The Nittany Lions need help to make their way into the field of 68, but it's much better to do so on your own terms as opposed to hoping that touting a resume gets through to the selection committee. That makes the matchup between Penn State and Michigan State more important to the Nittany Lions, who may need to win the conference tournament to get into the field. But there's a chance, and that's exactly what they hoped for going into tonight's contest.

3. Chaos occurs in the afternoon in Atlantic City, and the expected finalists in Conference USA do what they have to do.
Xavier's won the last five Atlantic 10 regular season titles but they haven't been successful in the conference tournament, last winning the event in 2006 when the tournament was played in Cincinnati. Boardwalk Hall: not so kind, and that trend continued as a pair of Luke Fabrizius free throws gave rival Dayton a 68-67 win to advance into Saturday's semifinals. The win marks the first time since 1981 than the Flyers have beaten Xavier anywhere outside of Dayton, the epitome of a one-sided rivalry. Dayton's opponent: 12th-seeded Saint Joseph's, who refuse to go down without a fight.

Phil Martelli notched win number 300 on Friday, ending the NCAA Tournament hopes of Duquesne in a 93-90 overtime thriller. Charoy Bentley found Ronald Roberts underneath the basket in the final seconds of regulation, showing a level of poise this young team would not have shown earlier in the season. Either Dayton or Saint Joseph's will be playing in Sunday's conference final, and despite the likely status as a big underdog to either Temple or Richmond, these are two teams playing with confidence. Bid "thief" nothing; should either underdog win the automatic bid they will have earned it.

4. The NIT gains two more teams that will have to use their automatic berths.
Those two entrants come from the MEAC and SWAC, as both conference tournaments saw their top seeds fall on Friday night. Bethune-Cookman was locked up by Morgan State, shooting just 38.8% in their 61-48 loss to the Bears. Todd Bozeman's team will play in its third consecutive conference final on Saturday, and if they get another 22-point, seven-rebound performance off the bench from Kevin Thompson the Bears could very well be headed back to the NCAA Tournament. Leading scorer C.J. Reed shot 4-for-17 in the loss, but the Wildcats' inability to shoot (3-for-13 3PT) did them in. SWAC regular season champion Texas Southern was far and away the best team in the league (16-2 record) but it did not matter to Alabama State.

The Hornets won 73-66 with Ivory White leading five players in double figures with 17 points, and Alabama State out-rebounded the Tigers 34-21 in a game that had just 68 possessions for each team and a combined 32 turnovers (ASU finished with a turnover percentage of 27.9% and still won). Alabama State will take on six-seed Grambling State in Saturday's title game, with the Tigers being the ultimate "Cinderella" as they went 8-10 in conference play and have knocked off both the two and three seeds in this tournament. Can they knock off the four as well? Anything's possible, even if the regular season champions enjoy show themselves to be superior to their competition by a solid margin throughout the course of the year.

5. Alabama mounts a furious rally to beat Georgia and get another shot at Kentucky.
Georgia's issue in many of their close losses this season: the lack of a floor general who can make the right decisions late in games. That bit them once again on Friday afternoon, and the end result could be a trip to the NIT. Leading Alabama 49-36 with six minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs went more than three minutes without a basket as the Crimson Tide made their charge. Chris Hines eventually tied the game at 53 on a layup with four seconds remaining, then the real hijinks began. Instead of calling a timeout after the basket Georgia head coach Mark Fox waited until there were eight tenths of a second remaining on the clock.

Don't even worry about the fact that Dustin Ware banked in a three-pointer that would have won the game, the game management issues down the stretch had just as much to to with their downfall as anything Alabama did. Going to overtime simply delayed the inevitable, with Alabama scoring the final six points of the game to pick up a critical win for the NCAA Tournament hopes. Anthony Grant's team gets another shot at Kentucky, a team they've beaten this season, while the Bulldogs make the short trek back to Athens wondering what could have been. And should they not hear their name called on Selection Sunday, those thoughts will be all the more painful.

Top Five Games

1 (tie). Virginia Tech 52, Florida State 51 and North Carolina 61, Miami (FL) 59

2. San Diego State 74, UNLV 72
A D.J. Gay driving basket with just under five seconds remaining proved to be the difference for the Aztecs as they earned a third shot at BYU tomorrow. Kawhi Leonard led the Aztecs with 18 points and eight rebounds while Chace Stanback led UNLV with 22 points. Tomorrow's Mountain West title game is the first matchup of 30-win teams this season.

3. Saint Joseph's 93, Duquesne 90 (OT)
The Hawks capped a wild afternoon in Atlantic City (Dayton knocked off Xavier in the first game) with a three-point win over Duquesne, likely ending the Dukes' hopes of going to the NCAA Tournament. Carl Jones led the Hawks with 28 points and seven assists, and Bill Clark and Damian Saunders scored 21 points apiece for the Dukes.

4 (tie). Connecticut 76, Syracuse 71 and Louisville 83, Notre Dame 77

5. Ohio State 67, Northwestern 61 (OT)
Unfortunately for the Wildcats the game turned for good on a technical foul called on Luka Mirkovic in overtime. The Buckeyes survive, moving on to play rival Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Jared Sullinger finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds, and John Shurna led Northwestern with 23 points.

Five Notable Performances

1. G Jimmer Fredette (BYU)
52 points (22-37 FG) and four assists in the Cougars' 87-76 win over New Mexico in a Mountain West semifinal.

2. G Kemba Walker (Connecticut)
33 points, 12 rebounds, six steals and five assists in the Huskies' 76-71 overtime win over Syracuse in a Big East semifinal.

3. F Jared Sullinger (Ohio State)
20 points and 18 rebounds in the Buckeyes' 67-61 overtime win over Northwestern in a Big Ten quarterfinal.

4. F Kyle Singler (Duke)
29 points and nine rebounds in the Blue Devils' 87-71 win over Maryland in an ACC quarterfinal.

5. G Carl Jones (Saint Joseph's)
28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and three steals in the Hawks' 93-90 overtime win over Duquesne in an Atlantic 10 quarterfinal.