CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Gotta get the rebound.
That was the only thought Virginia Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker had when the ball left the opponent’s hand.
Florida State’s Terance Mann had shot it with such a high degree of difficulty — sprinting toward the baseline, a defender at his side, his momentum carrying him away from the basket — that Alexander-Walker didn’t even consider the alternative.
“It bounced off [the rim] twice, and I’m just waiting for it to come out,” Alexander-Walker said. “Just come out of there.”
He shook his head.
“It went in,” he said.
Better now than next week. If you’re the Hokies, stinging from Thursday’s 65-63 overtime loss to Florida State, that’s the only approach to take. Better here, in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals at the Spectrum Center, than in Columbus or Columbia or Hartford or wherever the NCAA Tournament selection committee decides to send them.
Because a week from now, Mann’s game-winning shot with 1.8 seconds left winds up on “One Shining Moment.” So does the 3-pointer that Devin Vassell drilled with 4.5 seconds left in regulation that forced the extra period. That is the stuff that makes March what it is, and the Hokies were on the wrong end of it.
The only way the ending could have been more dramatic would have been for Alexander-Walker to make his shot from about 30 feet out at the overtime buzzer.
“I definitely thought it was going in,” Alexander-Walker said. “I shot it with supreme confidence. At a time like that, I was looking forward to that moment. I tried to run to it. It just didn’t happen.”
Alexander-Walker fell to his knees when the ball hit the rim and glass and bounced away. A Florida State assistant quickly reached down and helped him to his feet. The unspoken message: What do you have to be ashamed of?
Nothing, that’s what.
The Hokies fell behind by 13 points to a team that was bigger and deeper and better-rested than they were, and they rallied to grab a lead in the final minutes of the game. They showed resilience and emotion and resourcefulness — and then they got beat by two ultra-clutch shots. It happens.
“I don’t want to win so we can win,” Tech coach Buzz Williams said. “I want to win because that means we get to play again, and I’ve never seen in my career as a coach the connectedness and the effort that these guys play with.”
Kerry Blackshear Jr. embodied it late in the game. He scored Tech’s final six points in regulation, twice giving the Hokies the lead. When he scored in the paint while getting fouled with 18 seconds left, the mild-mannered big man roared.
“I think in an environment like that, having my family here, having a big play against a really good team and a team we just lost to last week, I was excited,” Blackshear said. “I was excited to make a big play for my team because I knew how much those guys work.”
Said Alexander-Walker: “He’s our anchor. … He’s our everything.”
And he’ll continue to be that when the Hokies embark on their next journey. ESPN had Tech projected as a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament heading into Thursday.
“It’s a new season,” Alexander-Walker said. “New conferences. New teams. It’s a whole different world. It’s kind of like you grow up in a small town, and then when you get to New York, you’re like, what the heck is going on? I think it’s just embracing the moment and having fun.
“We’re fortunate enough that we’ve made it,” he added. “We feel like we’ve done good enough to have a good seeding. Now it’s time to play. Postseason starts. Let’s go dancing.”
Another way to put that? Gotta get that rebound, against whomever it is.