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ACC Tournament: Surprising Virginia Tech stays hot to beat Wake Forest

Head coach Buzz Williams of the Virginia Tech

Head coach Buzz Williams of the Virginia Tech Hokies in action against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the second round of the ACC Basketball Tournament at the Barclays Center on March 8, 2017 in New York City. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

When Buzz Williams opted to leave the Marquette program he’d taken to six NCAA Tournaments in seven seasons and take the post at Virginia Tech, the college basketball world shook its head. He was leaving a spot where basketball is king to land in a place where it will never rise above football and must compete against ACC elites.

“The whole nation said ‘what a dumb move,’ ” Williams said. “I love it.”

Smart and resourceful with a good eye for gritty talent, Williams builds teams where the product is greater than the sum of its parts. On Wednesday night, the Hokies got 31 points and 15 rebounds from Zach LeDay and 18 points from Seth Allen in a 99-90 ACC second-round win over Wake Forest. Both LeDay and Allen come off the bench.

“It’s an unspoken symbolism of what we want the culture of our program to be about,” Williams said. “The example they set for their teammates . . . it’s not about them.”

Maybe that’s how it has to be with this Tech team which uses a seven-man rotation. The Hokies are at their best when they are a true ensemble, which is what they were in the second half as they scored 62 points. Tech was down at the half 44-37 after Greg McClinton’s 80-foot football-style pass went through the hoop at the buzzer.

In the second half, it shot 62 percent from the field and 54 percent on three-pointers, its forte.

“We had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio at halftime,” Williams said. “The threes we took in the second half? I think six of the seven were assisted. So that tells you how we were playing, right?”

Ty Outlaw had 14 points, including four three-pointers, all in the second half, for Virginia Tech (22-9), which will meet second-seeded and 16th-ranked Florida State at 7 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.

Bryant Crawford scored 21 to lead Wake Forest (19-13), which could spend Selection Sunday perspiring. Its resume is good with a 34 RPI and not a single bad loss, but as coach Danny Manning said “sometimes it’s not very logical.”

LeDay and Allen are transfers from South Florida and Maryland respectively. After their first choices didn’t work out, they needed a second-shot which is exactly the kind of player Williams wants. LeDay said Tech was a first choice. Allen canceled the rest of his campus visits after meeting Williams. He says this team — its trip from last place to the NIT and now toward the NCAAs — “is a culmination of their stories.”

“The intent of their heart is pure. Zach’s not trying to do 31 and 15 because he’s 31 and 15. Zach just doesn’t want to go home. I love that,” Williams said.

So why exactly did Williams take this gamble? His reply: “It’s demented. It’s perfect.”

New York Sports