GREENSBORO, N.C. —- Seth Greenberg had a feeling Virginia Tech would be part of something special deep into the night Friday in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
He and his depleted Hokies never would have guessed how his intuition would come to pass.
The Hokies took their first lead of the second half on Erick Green with 4.7 seconds left, then watched as Florida State guard Derwin Kitchen‘s apparent buzzer-beater was waived off to collect a bizarre 52-51 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“This team, they were due,” Greenberg said. “They were due.”
Sixth-seeded Virginia Tech (21-10) will meet second-seeded Duke in Saturday’s semifinals.
Regardless of how it unfolds, it probably won’t be nearly as memorable as the Hokies’ latest attempt to bolster their NCAA tournament profile —- a topic of never-ending discussion for four years running in Blacksburg.
There’s no telling if toppling the third-seeded Seminoles (21-10) will be enough to nose Virginia Tech into the field. But if it is, a riveting closing sequence will get much of the credit.
The Hokies led only briefly in the first half (at 4-3), turning in an ugly performance as Greenberg juggled a six-man rotation that never expanded. Florida State led by as many as 11, but Virginia Tech finally tied it on Manny Atkins‘ 3-pointer with 3:05 remaining.
The Seminoles soon regained the lead, and nursed a 51-50 edge after a Malcolm Delaney free throw with 41.5 seconds to go. The Hokies appeared content to let Florida State work the clock rather than foul, but Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton opted for a timeout with 25.1 seconds left.
Jeff Allen stole the inbound pass out of Michael Snaer‘s clutches, and the Hokies called timeout to set up an 18-foot jumper by Erick Green —- who was 1-for-12 before the go-ahead basket.
“We work on that a lot,” Hamilton said. “I actually was getting ready to call timeout. I was counting 1,001, 1,002 and if it got close I was going to call it the timeout. Unfortunately, he put the ball over his head and got the ball tied up before I could call a timeout.”
Still, the Seminoles had a chance. Kitchen scampered to the right corner, uncorking a shot over Green that sailed through to set off a celebration on the relieved Florida State bench.
“I thought I got it off in time,” Kitchen said. “I mean, 4.7 seconds, that’s a lot of time to go the length of the court.”
Except he didn’t unleash it on time, not according to officials Bryan Kersey, Mike Eades and Bernard Clinton. The three huddled around a replay monitor along with alternate Dwayne Gladden as angst built among the remnants of the sellout crowd.
A few minutes passed. No answer came. Finally, the basket was nullified, and bedlam on the opposite end of the floor ensued.
“Those last seconds kind of scared me at the end,” Green said. “I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t even look at the screen. I just turned my head and put my head down and waited to see what the call was going to be.”
Delaney did. He’s lived through three miserable ventures into March. He knows all about coming so close in 2010, enduring a massive meltdown in 2009 and getting nudged out of the field when North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough drained a last-second shot in the 2008 ACC semifinals.
It almost turned into a amalgam of all three seasons, the Hokies losing three of four —- the last in excruciating fashion —- to fall just shy of the NCAA tournament.
“I would have cried if we’d have lost that game,” the senior guard said. “It would have reminded me when we played North Carolina.”
Perhaps this is finally the Hokies’ year, their chance to savor Selection Sunday rather than rue it until another season began.
Then again, Greenberg knows all too well he cannot consider anything certain.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen Sunday,” he said. “We’re just going to try to play the best we can tomorrow and I hope we can find a way to win tomorrow. Sunday is Sunday. We’re going to try to stay firmly in the present.”
As Friday morphed into Saturday and Greenberg scrambled from celebrating an unconventional victory to bawling in a postgame television interview to enjoying a tension-free sparring session with scribes, staying in the moment meant marveling at the Hokies’ good fortune when such scenarios so often spit out undesirable outcomes in the recent past.
“These kids did everything humanly possible to have a chance to win that game,” Greenberg said. “For a team that’s been so close so many times to finally have the basketball gods smile on them a little bit, it’s pretty cool.”
—- Patrick Stevens