Notre Dame was the one coming off a long road trip and a game less than two days ago. But through much of the first half, you wouldn’t have guessed that.
Despite an ice cold stretch in the first half that created a big hole, Virginia Tech slowly dug itself out. But while the Hokies took a late lead, they couldn’t complete the comeback, in a 76-71 loss to Notre Dame, ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press.
"We had every opportunity to stop, quit, whatever the word may be," coach Buzz Williams said. "And I think we had every opportunity, down the stretch to win it. Very rarely are you able to say that in the same game."
Virginia Tech grabbed what would be a brief, one-point lead with 1:52 to play. A combination of eight missed free throws, as well as a mental error with under a minute to play by sophomore guard Justin Robinson proved to be too much to overcome. Robinson had the ball stolen as he let the ball roll on the floor after an in-bounds. The result was a Fighting Irish layup that put the game away.
"I just saw the ball roll and then I got my feet taken out," Robinson said. "I don't really know what really happened after that besides him making a layup. But I mean, we can't change it. So it's something we've gotta learn from, watch and just get over it."
Virginia Tech (13-4, 2-3 ACC) scored the first four points of the game, on a pair of layups by Clarke and Robinson. Then, it was if the Hokies went into a funk.
Notre Dame used a 21-2 spurt to storm out to a 33-14 advantage with 7:48 to play in the opening half. That run included 9-of-11 shooting from the floor.
"I would say it was just one of those nights," Clarke said. "Because a lot of the shots we were shooting, those are a lot of the shots we usually make."
After the 7:35 media timeout, though, Virginia Tech showed some life. An 8-0 run was a good start. A three-pointer by Allen and layup by sophomore guard Ahmed Hill then knifed the deficit to 37-27.
The Hokies got to within 39-31 at halftime. Overall, the first half numbers didn’t look quite so bad, thanks to their run to close the half. Virginia Tech shot 46.2 percent from the floor, but hit only three of 10 from behind the arc. The Fighting Irish shot 5-10.
The Hokies pulled to within 42-37 in the first two minutes of the second half, following a steal inside midcourt and uncontested layup by junior guard Justin Bibbs. But a 10-1 Notre Dame run gave it a comfortable 54-40 advantage by the 12:49 mark, on a layup by Steve Vasturia.
Virginia Tech, though, gave it another run. It answered with a 9-0 stretch that was capped by a pair of layups by Clarke. The latter came on a rebound and coast-to-coast sprint that had a sold out Cassell Coliseum crowd on its feet.
"We didn't rattle when we were down 19," Allen said. "We've been down 20, 19 before and come back and won games. It's just all about body blows and throwing base hits and not trying to get home run plays all the time. You've gotta just keep playing hard and keep making the simple plays and you'll get back into it."
Back to back three-pointers by Robinson cut the deficit to 59-57 and forced a Fighting Irish timeout with 6:45 to go. The Hokies tied it at 59 after another layup, by Robinson.
But it wasn’t until just under two minutes to play that Clarke gave Virginia Tech the lead it had been chasing. His layup and free throw after a foul, but the Hokies up 67-66. It was their first lead since the 14:01 mark of the first half.
Robinson, though, was caught sleeping though, with under a minute to play. As he let the ball roll up court after an in-bounds, the ball was stolen by Notre Dame's Matt Farrell and finished with a layup by T.J. Gibbs. And Virginia Tech couldn’t come back any more.
"We felt like we were the tougher team, then we gave up some cheapies at the end" Robinson said. "But overall, I liked our fight. I think we learned from that, even though we lost."
The Hokies are back at home for the third of a three-game home stretch on Wednesday. They’ll host Georgia Tech in a 9 pm tip-off.