Tech's flaws and fight were rarely more evident than in this 57-53 ACC tournament loss to Miami. The Hokies shot poorly from the field and foul line, couldn't withstand a stronger opponent on the glass and flinched at critical moments to conclude a 9-22 year.
And yet, with a lineup that at times included three freshmen and a walk-on, Tech never conceded.
"I love these guys," coach James Johnson said. "They work hard for me. They never quit on me. Not being able to come into practice tomorrow, to not watch film, not go back to the hotel and get ready for another game, that's going to hit me."
All of this magnifies an already excruciating decision for new athletic director Whit Babcock. With the program saddled with three consecutive last-place ACC finishes, two on Johnson's brief watch, does he make a coaching change?
Had Johnson won elsewhere, or previously at Tech, the answer would be a resounding no. After all, the last ACC coach dismissed after less than three years was Duke's Neil McGeachy in 1974.
But Johnson remains a novice, and if Babcock is virtually certain that he can hire a proven coach, then he owes it to the school, program and athletic department, and all their constituencies, to make the difficult and unpleasant decision.
That's what leaders do.
Yet if Babcock is unsure, if he concludes Tech may lack the cache and/or coffers, then Johnson's character, manner and potential merit another season.
If that strikes you as waffling, so be it. But rest assured, Babcock, who turfed four coaches in two-plus years as Cincinnati's athletic director, is vacillating on this as well.
Were Babcock already sold on Johnson, he could and should have said so. But apparently he is not, and a 22-41 record, 6-32 versus the ACC, is not comforting.
Which makes an upcoming sit-down between the two, their first extended conversation since Babcock took over last month, paramount.
"It definitely makes sense," freshman guard Devin Wilson said of questions about Johnson's job security, "but it's something you definitely don't want to hear. It's something we kind of try and block out. We just want to play basketball … with the coaches we have."
The players' affection for Johnson and his staff was best demonstrated on the court.
Wilson embodied the effort with nine points, five assists and no turnovers in 38 minutes. Playing his final college game, Jarell Eddie went the full 40 minutes and scored a game-high 16 points. Freshman Ben Emelogu grabbed four rebounds despite chronic ankle/Achilles' issues.
"There were times I had to pull back," Johnson said when asked about coaxing effort from his injury-depleted roster. "We're in a practice and we're diving on the floor and we're working hard, and I'd say, 'Hey guys, if we dive on the floor and we sprain one more ankle, man, we've got an issue out here. Effort has never been an issue, never been an issue.
"We didn't play as smart as we needed to play at times, and we didn't make shots like we needed to make at times, and we didn't make the plays we needed to make. But effort has never been (a question), and I knew that in talking to the guys … they would come out again today and play hard."
That they did. But the Hokies shot 26.1 percent from the floor in the second half and 52.9 percent from the foul line for the game. After an Eddie 3-pointer gave Tech a 52-51 lead, Joey van Zegeren missed inside, Wilson missed a challenged layup and 3-pointer, and van Zegeren clanged two free throws.
The late mistakes sentenced the Hokies to their seventh consecutive defeat and 17th in the last 18 games. Their 41 combined losses in the last two seasons are their most since the 1954 and '55 teams went 10-44.
"At the end of the day, we always kept fighting," said Wilson, the most promising of Tech's impressive young core, "which is one thing you can always give this team."
Johnson said he is "optimistic" that he'll return and that the nights before Babcock's decision won't be any more restless than usual.
"Add to the rest of the sleepless nights?" he said with a smile. "Get in line. I haven't slept much in a while, and the way this game ended tonight, I'm sure I won't sleep much (tonight) … either."