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March 16, 2007

Hokies sneak away with late win over Illinois

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Virginia Tech waited 11 years - and most of its first-round game against Illinois - to win another NCAA tournament game.

After trailing by as many as 13, the Hokies beat Illinois 54-52 on Deron Washington's banked runner in the final minute Friday night in a first-round game in the West Regional.

Illinois (23-12) led by 10 with just over 4 minutes left, but didn't score in the last 4:28 as the Hokies had the last 12 points.

After trailing 52-42, the Hokies (24-11) pulled to 52-50 with Washington hitting a 3-pointer, Coleman Collins making two free throws and Washington shooting another 3 from the right corner with 2:25 left.

While the Fighting Illini continued to have problems at the offensive end, the Hokies suddenly had all the answers.

After Jamon Gordon's free throw and a miss by Illinois, the Hokies trailed 52-51 with just under a minute left. They moved the ball around the perimeter before Washington drove the lane and let fly with a 14-footer that bounded off the backboard and fell in with 45.5 seconds left.

A.D. Vassallo added a free throw after two more Illinois misses, giving the Illini one last shot.

They passed around the ball before settling for Brian Randle's jumper from the left corner with 7 seconds left. The ball caromed back toward him and he got the rebound, but was fouled by a diving Washington with 4.9 seconds left.

Randle, a junior shooting just 57.7 percent at the line for his career, then missed the front end of the bonus situation. The ball rolled loose in a scrum, Randle picked it up and tried to get off a shot while a defender also had his hands on it.

Virginia Tech ended up with possession with one-tenth of a second left, tossing a pass to midcourt to seal the win.

Washington led the Hokies with 14 points, and Collins added 13.

Warren Carter led the Illini with 15 points, and Rich McBride had 14 before leaving in the final minutes with an ankle injury.

After Randle made a shot with 4:28 left, the Illini missed their last seven and had three turnovers.

The Illini had won their last nine NCAA first-round games.

Virginia Tech struggled down the stretch, losing three of their last four games and going 5-6 over the last 11 heading into the NCAA tournament.

The game wasn't pretty, but it was somehow a perfect fit for a game played in a Big Ten locale.

Illinois came out of the blocks throwing its weight around under the basket to take a lead, then relied on its bruising defense the rest of the way.

The Illini led 29-21 at the half before the Hokies opened the second half on a 6-2 run. Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was then whistled for a technical foul when he argued about contact on a loose ball, and McBride converted both free throws and later added a 3-pointer.

Reserve Trent Meacham made a 3-pointer from the top of the key before Carter hit a short turnaround shot - and suddenly, the Illini were on top 46-34 with under 9 minutes left.

Against Illinois' brawny defense, that margin seemed to be more than enough.

The loss cost the Big Ten a perfect 6-0 start in first-round games.

The Hokies persevered despite shooting just 36 percent from the field and missing 10 free throws.

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