for this game

Washington, Virginia Tech rally for win

Mar 17, 2007 - 7:23 AM COLUMBUS, Ohio (Ticker) -- The wait was well worth it for Deron Washington and Virginia Tech. But it wasn't without much anxiety.

Washington scored five of his 14 points in the final two minutes as the fifth-seeded Hokies dug in defensively in the second half en route to a 54-52 victory over No. 12 seed Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's West Region.

With the win, Virginia Tech (22-11) advanced to face fourth-seeded Southern Illinois in Sunday's second round. The Salukis defeat No. 13 Holy Cross, 61-51.

Coleman Collins scored 13 points for the Hokies, who outscored the Fighting Illini, 12-0, in the final 4 1/2 minutes to secure the victory. Illinois had trouble scoring in the second half, connecting on just two field goals in the last 10 minutes of the game.

"It's just another example of the resiliency of our basketball team," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "It's a team that hasn't lost more than two in a row all season."

"You feel like you're a part of something that's kind of bigger that yourself and this was one of those games coming down the stretch, down by 10," Collins said. "This is another one of those crazy comebacks that tell people about."

After a promising season, Virginia Tech earned its highest seed in school history and its first berth to the tournament since 1996. The Hokies finished third in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference, twice defeating the East Region's No. 1 seed, North Carolina.

However, the Hokies struggled for much of the game on Friday, trailing for more than 34 minutes until Washington's bank shot made it 53-52 with 45 seconds left, highlighting the late burst.

Washington admitted afterwards that he never meant to bank the shot.

"We just needed a little run," Washington said. "I kept getting open and was seeing the guards and everybody and was kicking it out and having them knock it down, and that one I wasn't trying to bank it, but I'll take it how it comes."

Despite the blazing finish, Virginia Tech finished 36 percent (15-of-42) from the field. Collins credited the Illini for a lot of the Hokies' offensive struggles.

"They definitely play with the physical style that Big Ten teams are known for," he said. "It's one of the better defensive teams we've played against this year."

After A.D. Vassallo's free throw extended the cushion to two points, Virginia Tech held on despite a wild final sequence.

Illini forward Brian Randle missed a 3-pointer from the left corner but tracked down the long rebound before he was undercut by Washington, sending him to the free-throw line with a chance to tie the game with five seconds left.

Randle missed the front end of the 1-and-1, and Virginia Tech took possession after forcing a jump ball with less than a second remaining.

Washington was 5-of-10 from the field, including 3-of-3 from the arc, and Collins shot just 2-of-4 from the floor but converted 9-of-12 foul shots.

Senior point guard Jamon Gordon played an excellent floor game, collecting 10 points, seven assists and seven steals for the Hokies, who had actually come into the tournament on a down note. They had lost three of their last four games and went 5-6 in their last 11.

For the Illini, the loss summed up a season where they struggled protecting leads.

"We've led nine of our 12 losses, led eight of them down the stretch and just couldn't finish games," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said.

Warren Carter scored 15 points for Illinois (23-12), which shot just 41 percent (19-of-46) from the field in having a nine-game winning streak snapped.

Sloppy play by the Illini cost them the lead down the stretch. They committed three turnovers and missed their last eight shots from the field.

"We didn't take care of the ball the last four minutes," Illini guard Calvin Brock said. "We panicked when all we had to do was take care of the ball and slow the game down."

Overall, Illinois shot 42 percent (19-of-45) and committed 19 turnovers.

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    ILLINOIS 29 23 52

    Mar 16 9:20 PM
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    Illinois vs. Virginia TechMar 16 9:13 PM
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    Illinois vs. Virginia TechMar 16 9:10 PM

    NCAA BB (12) ILLINOIS 29

    Mar 16 7:55 PM