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April 7, 2011

March 29, 1995 - Virginia Tech wins NIT championship

By: Jimmy Robertson

By Chris Colston

(Reprinted from Vol. 12, No. 30 edition of the Hokie Huddler)

Shawn Smith drained two free throws with less than a second left in overtime to lift Tech to the NIT title over Marquette in 1995.

When years have passed and the beautiful memory of Virginia Tech’s National Invitation Tournament championship still glows, all the spins and angles of the game will seem unimportant. It will be the facts that stand the test of time, and here they are:

Virginia Tech captured its second NIT title in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night, March 29, 1995, before a crowd of 8,549. Tournament MVP Shawn Smith, a junior forward from Gastonia, N.C., hit two free throws with 0.7 seconds left in overtime to give the Hokies a 65-64 win over Marquette.

The Golden Eagles (21-12) had taken a 64-63 lead on an Anthony Pieper lay-up with 18.3 seconds left.

“Marquette defended the last play well,” said Smith, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds. “I looked up and time was going down. The best thing you can do is go to the hole. You’re bound to get fouled or something.”

Smith spun to the basket and took an eight-footer. Golden Eagle Faisal Abraham, ironically, a native Virginian, fouled him, although official Larry Lembo hesitated a split second before making the call. A Thursday New York Times photo showed Abraham got him on the left elbow and with the body.

“When a guy takes a jumper and the ball falls that much short, there has to be some contact,” Marquette coach Mike Deane said. “I think there was a foul. In this situation, you talk about advantage-disadvantage, and you put them in too big a disadvantage if you don’t call it.”

The free throws were no gimmes. Smith, only a 66 percent free-throw shooter, had missed his last attempt.

He kept his head bowed and stood off from the foul line before stepping to the line.

“I knew it was on my shoulders,” he said. “If I missed, I’d get blamed for the loss. If I hit them, I’d be a hero.”

He calmly sank the first one to tie it at 64. Then Marquette called timeout to let him think about the game winner. He wasn’t worried.

“At least then I knew I wasn’t going to lose it,” he said.

Instead, he thought about his late grandmother, Inez Smith, who died March 19 when the team was in Providence. In the postgame celebration, Smith told his teammates, “that was for her.”

“She meant the world to him,” said Shawn’s mother, Viola Smith. “I guarantee you she’s smiling right now.”

The Hokies (25-10) missed a chance to win the game in regulation. With 33.4 seconds to play, Marquette freshman guard Aaron Hutchins, a 72.9 percent free-throw shooter, tied the game at 57 with a foul shot, but missed his second attempt.

Tech freshman point guard Myron Guillory, who was averaging just eight minutes of playing time per game, was in the game because sixth man David Jackson had been struggling. Guillory – who played 19 minutes and nailed a key trey with 2:59 left in regulation – tried to find Smith in the post, but Abraham did a good job of fronting him. Tech chose not to call timeout. Guillory drove to the basket with time running down. His lay-up was short. Marquette got the rebound, and Pieper almost connected on a midcourt runner at the buzzer, hitting the front of the rim.

When they pull their tapes of the game to reminisce, most Tech fans will fast forward through the first half. The Hokies missed 15 of their first 17 shots and shot just 27.6 percent from the floor.

“That was one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen,” Tech head coach Bill Foster said. “We just encouraged our kids to hang in, hang in, hang in, because things couldn’t get worse.”

Despite its shooting woes, Tech led 21-19 with 3:10 left in the first half before Marquette went on an eight-point run and took a 27-21 lead at intermission.

The Golden Eagles led by as many as 10 in the second half, thanks to the quick guard play of Hutchins and Tony Miller, and the inside play of center Amal McCaskill.

Things began to turn Tech’s way when reserve Chris Crawford fouled out at the 3:56 mark. At that point, “we wanted to keep sticking the ball inside,” Foster said.

With 1:59 left, McCaskill fouled out.

“When he went out, we had an advantage as far as inside moves and post moves,” Smith said.

Ultimately, the difference was free-throw shooting – and not just Smith’s late ones. Marquette finished 6 for 16 from the line, while Tech was 20 for 26.

“It was a hard-fought, defensive game,” Deane said. “It was good to watch, but it wasn’t pretty. There was nothing intricate going on. We ran our sets, and they ran theirs. There wasn’t a lot of pressing. It was just two teams going head to head.”

Virginia Tech is now undefeated in NIT championship overtime games. It beat Notre Dame 92-91 for the title in 1973.