User ID: Password:

March 10, 2011

March 31, 1995 - Packed house, ESPN audience witness thriller

By: Jimmy Robertson

By Chris Colston

(Reprinted from Vol. 12, No. 29 edition of the Hokie Huddler)

Travis Jackson (center) was swarmed by Tech fans after he hit the game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Hokies over New Mexico State in a 1995 NIT game at Cassell Coliseum.

Travis Jackson’s ESPN SportsCenter Highlight goes something like this …

It’s the final seconds of the NIT quarterfinals, and the game’s tied. I’m not even supposed to be in the game, but Shawn Smith has fouled out. So I’m hangin’ around the 3-point line, and I’m open. I’m cool. And when Ace Custis passes me the ball with 3.4 seconds left to play, I shoot. The ball goes up soft as a feather and slides through the net. The cords dance back and forth as though caressed by a gentle wind. The ball’s in there. It’s good. And as the buzzer goes off, 9,523 Hokie fans mob me.

Meanwhile, back in Peterstown, W.Va., my grandmother is having one of her spells. Yeah. That’s my SportsCenter highlight.

Jackson’s trey with 1.9 seconds left gave Virginia Tech a 64-61 win and sent the Hokies packing for New York City. The victory kept alive this strange phenomenon: a trip to Madison Square Garden every 11 years for Tech. The Hokies won the NIT Championship in 1973 on Bobby Stevens’ last-second shot, 92-91. They made it to the NIT’s final four in 1984, losing to Michigan 78-75.

“All year long, we’ve been in position to win at the buzzer, but this is the one that counted,” Custis said. “If the game had gone into overtime, there’s no telling what would’ve happened.”

Jackson’s shot – he took it with 3.4 seconds left, and it went through with 1.9 seconds to play – turned Cassell Coliseum into a mob scene. “We didn’t have anything drawn up,” Jackson said. “Ace made a great pass, and I just took the shot. I like to shoot from there, and it felt good leaving my hands.”

New Mexico State (25-10) was out of timeouts, so it pushed the ball up the floor. Troy Brewer missed a prayer 3-pointer, and the place went bonkers. ESPN’s cameras captured the action, with Bob Carpenter doing play-by-play and Larry Conley the analysis.

“You always see people rushing the floor on TV,” Custis said. “We thought that might happen when we beat Tulane, but it didn’t. So this is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. I got under a pile of people on the floor, and let me tell ya, that pile was getting pretty heavy.”

March 31, 1995 - Hokie Huddler

Tech (23-10) led by 19 at halftime and as many as 20 in the second half, but the Aggies stepped up their defensive pressure to close the gap. The Hokies shot just 27.6 percent from the field after intermission. “We didn’t shoot well, and all of the sudden, we were giving up nine million offensive rebounds and dribble penetration,” Tech head coach Bill Foster said. “That game got close, and all of a sudden, there’s a question who wants to shoot the ball [for us].”

After a David Jackson leaner rimmed out, NMSU’s Brewer tied the game at 61 with 13 seconds left. Instead of calling a timeout, Foster opted to let his players play.

“We’ve called timeouts three times in the short seconds, and it hasn’t panned out for us,” Foster said. “The timeouts haven’t been good for us psychologically. And we might not have gotten the ball inbounds against this team. They might have gotten a steal and won.”

Before passing it to Jackson, it appeared Custis could have taken the shot himself. “I saw there were four seconds on the clock,” Custis said. “I saw Travis and let him shoot so I could get the rebound. If I took the shot, he was too far away to get the rebound. The worst thing that would happen was the game would go into overtime.”

Ironically, Jackson wouldn’t have been in the game to be the hero unless Shawn Smith had fouled out with 3:05 to play.

“If Smitty hadn’t fouled out, Travis wouldn’t have been in,” Foster said.

It just must have been fate.