March 13, 2009
Tech drops close one to No. 1 Tar Heels at ACC tournament
By Jimmy Robertson
12F
Virginia Tech (18-14) 423476
(1) North Carolina (28-3) 433679
  • Atlanta, Ga., Georgia Dome - 26,352
  • High Points: 26 - A.D. Vassallo
  • High Rebounds: 10 - A.D. Vassallo

ATLANTA – Virginia Tech forward A.D. Vassallo misfired on a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer, and the Hokies dropped another heartbreaker to North Carolina in an ACC tournament, falling to the top seed and No. 1 Tar Heels 79-76 in a quarterfinal match-up played Friday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.

The loss marked Tech’s fourth straight to the Tar Heels, including a semifinal match-up last season in which North Carolina won on Tyler Hansbrough’s baseline jumper with less than a second remaining. Tech fell to 18-14 overall this season and now await its postseason destination.

“Our theme for the last 24 hours has been ‘same story, different ending,’” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said after the game. “Unfortunately, we got the same story and the same ending.

“I’m really proud of our guys. I thought we competed really hard and did a lot of very good things to put ourselves in position to win. We just weren’t able to finish.”

The Hokies, who led for most of the game, took a 76-75 lead with 52.5 seconds remaining when Vassallo rebounded his own miss and laid it in. That bucket set up a rather breathless final minute.

On the ensuing possession, Hansbrough – who scored North Carolina’s final six points – bulled his way inside for a lay-up with 36 seconds remaining to give the Tar Heels a 77-76 lead. The Hokies then called a timeout with 31.2 seconds to go to set up a play.

Tech ran the clock down and then Malcolm Delaney, using a screen from J.T. Thompson, drove to the basket. Delaney then tried to get the ball to Dorenzo Hudson, but Thompson actually grabbed it and tried to make a pass to an open Vassallo on the wing.

But three Tar Heels converged on Thompson in what turned into a bit of a scrum and the Tech side clamored for a foul call. But Hansbrough got a hand on the ball, forcing a jump ball, and the possession arrow pointed toward North Carolina’s way.

“I didn’t see Zo [Dorenzo Hudson] behind me, so I grabbed it and then saw A.D. wide open,” Thompson said. “I tried to throw it to him because there were at least three people around me. I felt someone reach from behind and grab at the ball. I was hoping for a foul, but they [the officials] called a jump ball.”

Thompson thought he got hacked on the play.

“I do,” Thompson said.

“What I saw doesn’t count,” Greenberg said about the call. “So it makes no difference. The only people that count were the guys wearing striped shirts.”

Forced to foul, the Hokies fouled Hansbrough, sending him to the line with 4.6 seconds left. Hansbrough hit both free throws to give the Tar Heels a 79-76 lead.

Following two North Carolina timeouts, Tech’s last gasp came when Vassallo got the ball on the wing. With Hansbrough in his face, he launched a 3-pointer that didn’t come close and the Hokies lost their eighth game this season by four points or less.

“I put a little too much on it,” Vassallo said. “I thought I had a good look. He [Hansbrough] didn’t try to jump and block it. I put too much on it and I was hoping I was far enough back because I had taken a step back. I was hoping it would go in somehow.
“I was hoping it would be like the Syracuse-Connecticut thing [the six-overtime affair in the Big East tournament] where I could hit the last shot and keep it going. I wanted one more, get a crack at it and see what would happen. But it didn’t happen.”

Vassallo and Hansbrough dueled it out and both enjoyed sensational games. Picking up the slack in place of an injured Ty Lawson – the ACC player of the year who missed the game with a toe injury – Hansbrough scored 28 points, hitting 9-of-17 from the floor and all 10 of his free-throw attempts. He also grabbed eight rebounds for a North Carolina team that out-rebounded Tech 44-33.

Vassallo, saddled with foul trouble for much of the game, still scored 26 points, hitting 10-of-22 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and the fifth of his career.

Delaney added 17 points and a career-high 10 assists for the Hokies, while Wayne Ellington scored 16 points for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in both polls, moved to 28-3 overall and advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, where they will meet the winner of the Georgia Tech-Florida State match-up.

“I wish it would have been a better ending, but I can’t fault those kids,” Greenberg said of his team. “I can’t fault them. You’re not going to play at your very best every night. If people did, then those guys would be undefeated.”

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