Virginia Tech snaps nine-game losing streak with road win over Florida State
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- With his team holding a nine-point lead with less than four minutes to play, Virginia Tech coach James Johnson huddled his group and relayed a simple message: Make plays and finish.
That's something the Hokies had not been able to do during their longest losing streak in more than a decade, but they heeded their coach's message Sunday night at Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies sank 17 of their final 18 free throws in the closing 2:37 to hold off Florida State 80-70 for their first win since Jan. 19.
Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, led the Hokies (12-15, 3-11 Atlantic Coast Conference) with 26 points and broke the 20-point mark for 25th time this season. The Hokies snapped a nine-game losing streak, their longest skid since dropping 10 straight in the 2001-02 season.
"We just kept grinding away and kept trying to get better every day," Johnson said. "We figured these guys had worked so hard. They deserved it. We figured it was going to come. And we finally finished one off."
Okaro White scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Seminoles (14-13, 6-8), who lost for the fifth time in seven games.
Virginia Tech opened the second half on a 14-3 run to build its first double-digit lead of the game. Marquis Rankin, Marshall Wood and Robert Brown all knocked down 3-pointers during the run as Tech took a 42-29 lead with 15:34 to play.
Florida State pulled within 53-49 after Aaron Thomas connected with Kiel Turpin for an alley-oop basket with 7:05 left. But Green scored the next five points to help the Hokies regain a 58-49 edge with 6:18 left.
"I thought that's where we had our biggest breakdowns," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "I thought that's where we executed the work during that stretch there. They were taking the ball to the basket to get three-point plays and we took four or maybe six shots that were perimeter shots. We could have done a much better job of taking it to the basket against them."
The Seminoles got within six with 2:14 to go, but the Hokies sealed the win by hitting 17 of 18 free throws in the final 2:37. Florida State, which entered the game as the ACC's top free-throw shooting team, went 13 for 23 from the line.
"Sometimes when you're not on top of your game psychologically, you lose a little confidence there at the free throw line, and things are running through your mind," Hamilton said. "Whereas when things are going well, you're feeling good, you're concentrating, you're focused. This is one of the better free-throw shooting teams we've had, but that kind of happens that way."
C.J. Barksdale set a career high in scoring for the second straight game, finishing with 17 points for the Hokies. Brown added 11. Devon Bookert scored 14 points for the Seminoles.
Florida State slowly built an early lead as the Hokies struggled to find any sort of offensive flow. A Michael Snaer free throw with 7:15 left in the first half gave the Seminoles a 17-11 lead, but the Hokies got back into it thanks to an unlikely contributor.
Brown, mired in a two-month slump, hit three floaters in a span of less than two minutes, helping Virginia Tech surge into the lead. Christian Beyer scored underneath on a pass from Barksdale, capping an 8-0 run that gave Virginia Tech a 23-21 lead with 2:35 left in the half.
"I felt good coming into this game, and my teammates still had confidence in me to keep playing," said Brown, who was 13 for 55 from the floor in his previous six games. "The first couple fell, and it started feeling pretty good."
During the run, the Florida State bench was hit with a technical after coach Leonard Hamilton argued a traveling call. Green converted both free throws after the technical. The Hokies scored on six straight possessions near the end of the half and took a 28-26 lead into the break.
NOTES: The only ACC player ever to lead the nation in scoring was South Carolina's Grady Wallace, who averaged 31.2 points during the 1956-57 season. ... Rankin made his second straight start in place of the slumping Brown. Walk-on Will Johnston replaced Jarell Eddie, the Hokies' second-leading scorer, in the starting lineup. ... Rankin left the game in the second half after falling ill. Rankin vomited several times at halftime, Johnson said, but he still started the second half. ... Florida State was without reserve guard Terry Whisnant II, who was attending his grandmother's funeral.
Distributed by Internet Broadcasting and The Sports Xchange. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.