BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech got a career-high 33 points from A.D. Vassallo, including some clutch shooting both from the field and the free-throw line in the second overtime, to help the Hokies outlast the career night of Duquesne’s Aaron Jackson and the Dukes 116-108 in double overtime in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament played Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum.
With the victory, the Hokies moved to 19-14 overall on the season and advanced to the second round where they will meet Baylor, a 74-72 winner over Georgetown, at Cassell Coliseum on Saturday morning at 11. Duquesne, making its first postseason appearance since the 1994 NIT, closed out its best season since the 1971 team went 21-4, finishing this campaign with an overall mark of 21-13.
“I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve never been a part of a game like that,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “That was a great basketball game as long as you weren’t Coach [Ron] Everhart [Duquesne’s head coach] or myself because it was brutal for us.”
The Hokies led by as many as 13 with seven minutes to go in regulation, but the Dukes used a 17-4 run to tie the game, and actually took a 78-76 lead after Melquan Bolding hit the first of two free throws with 28.6 seconds remaining in regulation. But Vassallo hit a floater in the lane with 13.1 seconds to go to tie the game at 78.
On the final possession of regulation, Duquesne’s Eric Evans drove into the lane. But his contested lay-up came up well short, sending the game into overtime.
The Hokies appeared to have the game under control in the first overtime, leading by six with under a minute to go. But the Dukes rallied again and tied the game at 94 on Jackson’s lay-up with less than two seconds to go.
In the second overtime, Vassallo scored 10 points and the Hokies made all 10 of their free-throw attempts in the final 1:18 to put the game away.
“I want to win a championship,” said Vassallo, who hit 10-of-19 from the floor, including 3-of-9 from beyond the arc, and all 10 of his free-throw attempts. “That’s what I want to do. I couldn’t get an ACC one and we’re not in the NCAA [Tournament]. Now, we’re going for an NIT. I want to play as many games as a Hokie as I can. Hopefully, we’ve got four more. I’m not worried about scoring and all the marks. I just want to keep playing.”
The 33 points snapped Vassallo’s previous career high of 30 set against Wisconsin earlier this season. The second-team All-ACC selection had scored at least 20 points or more in seven of Tech’s past 10 games.
Yet his performance probably paled in comparison to Jackson, who paced the Dukes with a career-high 46 points. He hit 15-of-25 from the floor, including 8-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc. He also hit 8-of-9 from the free-throw line and dished out four assists.
His performance was the fourth-best single-game performance in Duquesne history and the most ever by a Tech opponent at Cassell Coliseum.
“I told him it was incredible the way he played,” said Greenberg, who stopped Jackson after he fouled out with 23 seconds left in the second overtime and shook his hand. “He’s a fierce competitor. His toughness and competitive spirit impressed me, but it didn’t surprise me. I watched their last four games and that guy doesn’t quit. He is that good.”
Tech placed five players in double figures, led by Vassallo, who also grabbed 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season and the sixth of his career. Jeff Allen added 23 points and 10 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season and the 19th of his career.
J.T. Thompson and Dorenzo Hudson both finished with career highs for the Hokies. Thompson scored 21 points, while Hudson added 15. Malcolm Delaney chipped in 20.
The game marked the return of Everhart, a former Tech player and a 1985 graduate.
“The first emotion I have is that I’m terribly disappointed that we didn’t win the game because I felt we played well enough to do that,” Everhart said. “Secondly, it’s always tough to come back and coach where you played … to stand up and look at the banners you were a part of for four years [three NITs and one NCAA], that means something.
“I told these guys that having the opportunity to play in the postseason is special. I told them we have to have a special effort to get there. We gave a pretty good effort tonight.”
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