He started off the game on the bench. But in a game in which Virginia Tech wasn’t shooting at its best, it was better late than not at all.
Sophomore Chris Clarke had a later entrance into the game than usual, but still managed to be arguably the difference, especially in the second half. He finished with his fourth double-double of the season, 11 points and 11 rebounds and the Hokies got a big defensive stop in the final seconds to hold on for a 62-61 win Wednesday night over Georgia Tech.
Senior forward Zach LeDay and senior guard Seth Allen each had 17 points to lead Virginia Tech. Collectively, though, the Hokies shot just 40 percent from the floor, 24 percent from three-point range.
"We made big plays down the stretch," LeDay said. "We made tough plays. We were diving on the floor and we didn't wanna lose. They made some big shots at the end, but we contested all of 'em. And we ended up making free throws. That ended up being our shoot-around and that ended up being the game in the end."
It was a sloppy start for Virginia Tech, which made three turnovers in the first five minutes. And by the 13:10 mark, Georgia Tech had a 12-4 lead, using multiple defenses, from a 1-3-1 zone to a trap and man-to-man.
"You just never get in a rhythm," coach Buzz Williams said. "I agree with what Josh (Pastner) is doing. It's just choppy and even as you guys are maybe watching it, but there's not a lot of flow. And when you saw flow, from us, it was when we were able to get a stop and score in transition."
The abysmal start was due in part to the delayed appearance from Clarke. Williams after the game it was due to Clarke’s tardiness to the team shoot-around today. But the Hokies got a jolt immediately after he checked in with 12:40 left in the half. Clarke had back to back fast break layups followed by free throws that cut the deficit to 17-15.
"Obviously, we knew what we were missing," Bibbs said. "he's a talented player. He can just do whatever he wants on the floor. It just looks easy for him. When he got in, it was a good push for us and we needed it."
The Yellow Jackets got back out in front, 24-18, with 6:38 to go in the half. But Virginia Tech finally retook the lead using a 10-3 run, capped by a three-pointer by junior guard Justin Bibbs. Georgia Tech, however, took a 29-28 advantage into halftime.
The Hokies shot just 35.7 percent in the first half, but had an 18-14 rebound advantage. Georgia Tech conversely shot 45.8 percent from the floor.
Allen put Virginia Tech back in front two minutes into the second half. He went up and under on the baseline for a lay-in to go ahead 33-32. Allen the responded to a Yellow Jackets three-pointer with a three of his own. A runner by LeDay upped the advantage to 38-35.
Back to back threes by Allen and Bibbs had the Hokies up 44-39. Virginia Tech then began to get some breathing room. After LeDay muscled in a tough shot, was fouled and hit the ensuing free throw, Clarke made a tough lay-in of his own. That capped an 11-3 run that had the Hokies ahead 49-40 with 11:13 to play and forced a Georgia Tech timeout.
That allowed the Yellow Jackets to regroup a bit. They got back in it with a 6-0 run, until sophomore guard Justin Robinson drew a charge on a fast break.
Georgia Tech briefly took a 59-58 lead with 1:32 to play. But it was a tough layup, in traffic, by Allen that put the Hokies up for good, 62-61 with 15 seconds to play.
"We watched a lot of film of how they guard and how their verticality is," Allen said. "So I knew I could get a shot to the rim and maybe force help so we could get a tip-in off the rim, an offensive board or just make the shot."
The Yellow Jackets got a pair of looks, one of which caromed off the backboard, but couldn’t put the ball in the basket. The other failed attempt came at the buzzer by Quinton Stephens, courtesy of a missed Robinson free throw, but the ball caromed off the rim.
"It's such a fine line," Williams said. "The margin is so thin. I'm not saying that we're good, I'm not saying that we're great. I just think the margin is so thin."
Now 14-4, 3-3 in the ACC, Virginia Tech heads to the road for four of its next five games. The Hokies will start Sunday at Clemson, for a 6:30 pm tip-off.