|Rhode Island 67, Virginia Tech 63|
|Hokie Central's Game
This was a wild one in which ultimately, Rhode Island had too much firepower for Tech. In particular, the Rams had too much Tyson Wheeler.
In the first half, the first ten minutes or so were unremarkable. With 6:27 to go, Rhode Island led 16-13. At that point, guard Tyson Wheeler went out of the game for Rhode Island, and Tech went on a tear. Even the return of Wheeler couldn't slow Tech down, and with under 20 seconds to go, the Hokies completed an 18-4 run and were leading 31-20.
With five seconds to go, URI hit a shot to cut the lead to 9, and Tech's Jim Jackson inbounded the ball. Tyson Wheeler slashed in front of it, stole it in the corner, and heaved up a spinning 18-footer that had PRAYER written all over it.
You know how it goes for Tech in tournaments. Of course the thing went in. 31-24 at the half.
Rhode Island turned up the pressure in the second half, and although Tech didn't exactly play poorly, the Rams are a great team when they get wound up. Tech's last significant lead was a 36-26 margin with about 18 minutes to go, and that's when the Rams, and Tyson Wheeler, took off.
I was typing up the play-by-play on my message board, and I got pretty tired of typing the name "Wheeler" over and over. That guy is all over the place, offensively and defensively. He's the glue that holds the Rams together, and behind his resurgent second half play (he had stunk up the court in the first half), Rhode Island went on a 31-13 run that saw them take an 8-point, 57-49 lead with five minutes to go.
After that, it got interesting for a while. Tech chipped away at the lead, and Rhode Island's last large lead was at 61-54 with about 3 minutes to go. Minutes later, the Hokies would put together two straight steals to close the gap to 63-61, and after the Rams' Michael Andersen made one of two free throws (Rhode Island shot only about 60% from the stripe for the game), it was a three point game, 64-61.
The two teams traded turnovers, and when Brendan Dunlop fouled Tyson Wheeler with under a minute to go, it looked grim. Amazingly enough, Wheeler missed both free throws, and after Troy Manns dropped in a layup with 28.5 seconds to go, it was anybody's game, 64-63.
With the shot clock off, Tech went for the steal, but the Hokies couldn't get it, and they fouled URI's Dean with 16.6 seconds to go. Dean only made one, and with the Hokies in possession and 15 seconds to go, it was just a two-point game, 65-63.
Troy Manns brought the ball down and drove into the left-hand side of the lane. He levitated, got a good open look at the basket from 8 feet away ... and missed. Ace was unable to corral the rebound, and the Hokies were forced to foul with 4.6 seconds to go. When Rhode Island made both free throws, the deal was sealed.
Later, Troy would apologize to his teammates and Hokie fans, saying that the shot he missed was his favorite shot, one that he makes all the time. That, of course, is a ridiculous apology to make, because Troy played a great game and led the Hokies with 18 points, much as he has led them since Ace's injuries started to catch up with him.
As for Ace, he went out in Ace style - 16 points and 14 rebounds. Coach Foster worked the game until the bitter end. All in all, although I hate losing in the tournament and knowing that the season's over, at least they all went out the way they came in - scrapping and clawing to the bitter end.
Tech's record is now 15-16, and they are eliminated from the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Barring a fit of insanity by the NIT, the season is over.
Unofficial Atlantic-10 Basketball Web Site
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