- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

ATLANTA | An opening ACC tournament date with Miami and a chance to knock off top-seeded North Carolina the next day - all with its postseason fate at stake.

Sure, Virginia Tech was there before. Now the Hokies have gone there again.

Eighth-seeded Virginia Tech was bounced from Friday’s quarterfinals at Georgia Dome after a jump-ball call went against it in the closing seconds, sending top-seeded North Carolina to a 79-76 victory and a spot in Saturday’s semifinals against Florida State.

And just like that, the Hokies (18-14) are glaring at nearly the same tenuous circumstances as a year ago, when a last-second loss to the Tar Heels doomed them to an NIT berth.

“Our theme for the last 24 hours was ‘Same story, different ending,’ ” coach Seth Greenberg said. “We got ‘Same story, same ending.’ ”

Tyler Hansbrough scored 28 points (18 in the second half) for the Tar Heels (28-3), but arguably his greatest contribution was the jump ball at the end.

After a timeout, Hokies guard Malcolm Delaney drove toward the basket. He passed to forward J.T. Thompson in the paint. Three Tar Heels players converged on Thompson, who couldn’t flip the ball out to A.D. Vassallo (26 points) on the wing.

“I went up and saw A.D. open, and I [tried to] pass it, but someone got a hand in from behind,” Thompson said.

That someone was Hansbrough, whose team had the possession arrow with 5.2 seconds left. Greenberg protested the call. He thought a foul had occurred, though he remained relatively mum afterward.

“What I saw doesn’t count,” Greenberg said. “It makes no difference. The only people who count are the people in striped shirts, and what they saw is what happened.”

The Hokies fouled Hansbrough on the ensuing inbounds play, and he made both free throws to increase the Tar Heels’s lead to 79-76. Vassallo missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer as Hansbrough came out from the post to get a hand in the face of the Hokies’ star.

The final margin matched North Carolina’s largest of the game but was bigger than last year’s ACC tournament defeat. Hansbrough connected on a baseline jumper in the semifinals last season with less than second left to clinch a 68-66 victory.

“It hurts this year,” Delaney said. “We controlled the game, the whole game. Last year we didn’t control the game. We didn’t play as good all year as we played today - even the wins at Wake, at Clemson. We stayed aggressive the whole game.”

In short, it was precisely what Greenberg wanted. The first half was up-tempo despite the absence of North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson. The ACC player of the year sat out with a jammed right big toe, and the Hokies never permitted Bobby Frasor to become comfortable.

Although play slowed a bit after halftime, Virginia Tech still pestered the Tar Heels. It was the sort of outing that could have catapulted the Hokies safely into the NCAA field - much like last year’s near miss, which prompted Greenberg to declare anyone who didn’t think his team wasn’t among the nation’s top 65 teams was “certifiably insane.”

There would be no verbal fireworks set off this time, just predictable frustration from a coach whose team again couldn’t finish off the Tobacco Road titan.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Greenberg said. “You guys can have some other village idiot give you a story.”

His case wouldn’t be as strong this time around, anyway. The Hokies reeled off some impressive road victories - notably at Clemson and Wake Forest - but lost seven of their last nine and posted a 2-9 record against teams with a top-50 RPI.

That’s likely a recipe for an NIT berth, even if Virginia Tech did come oh-so-close to finding its golden ticket - again.

“In my opinion, we made an argument, but it was the same last year,” Delaney said. “We’ve got the better wins than last year, and the games we lost were closer than last year. I don’t know. Going off last year, I don’t think we’re going to make it.

“Who knows? Anything can happen.”

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