They bathed in ice, exuded confidence and never backed down.
But Virginia Tech's Hokies had little hope in Saturday's ACC tournament semifinal versus Duke.
Not after Friday night's late theatrics. Not with just six players in the rotation. Not against the reigning national champion.
Duke 77, Tech 63.
Presume you're not surprised. Presume the maroon-and-orange faithful aren't venting.
Yes, the Hokies had some bounce early, converting five of their first 10 shots and loitering within 2-4 points. They even led, for 30 seconds, at 10-8.
But that was adrenaline and pride talking. Adrenaline from Friday's wrenching 52-51 victory over Florida State, the pride of a team determined to earn the program's first NCAA tournament since 2007.
Tech trainers insisted on ice baths for all to regain legs for Saturday, but eventually, Tech figured to fade.
Three games in as many days juggling the fire that is a short bench are tough enough. When the Day 3 opponent is Duke, the task borders on impossible.
Sure enough, the Hokies missed 12 of their next 16 shots. They trailed 39-28 at halftime and had one assist on nine field goals.
At that stage, no one in the building, not the most fervent Tech fan or Duke hater, envisioned anything other than the tournament's first Duke-Carolina final since 2001 — the Tar Heels survived Clemson in overtime in the opening semi thanks to freshman Harrison Barnes' 40 points.
Not to suggest the Hokies quit. Far from it. Malcolm Delaney, Erick Green and Co., don't have that in them.
They harassed the Blue Devils (29-4) into 15 turnovers and contested them on the boards (35-33 deficit).
"You saw the first two games," Green said, referring to the Hokies' ACC tournament wins over Georgia Tech and FSU. "If we stick together, we can win, we can beat anybody. … You saw the Duke game (in Blacksburg). We were like family out there."
But there was resignation Saturday, not only on the court but also on the bench. Sure, Tech bested Duke two Saturdays ago, but that was with a full-throated home crowd and high stakes.
"I thought we played hard," coach Seth Greenberg said. "I'm not sure we played as well as we've been playing."
The Hokies shot 36.8 percent and had a season-low three assists, half their previous low. Most telling, Tech missed 14-of-16 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
Long jumpers require fresh legs, and the Hokies didn't have them.
"Let's face it," Greenberg said, "third game in three days, guys played a ton of minutes, (but) there was no quit."
The Hokies (21-11) might have fared better had Nolan Smith's toe injury been as serious as many feared when Maryland's Cliff Tucker inadvertently stepped on it during Friday's quarterfinals. But after a skittish shooting start, Duke's senior guard flashed his ACC Player of the Year form at both ends.
Despite his game-high 27 points and six assists, Smith was most impressive on defense, shadowing Delaney, his fellow all-conference guard. Delaney scored 19 points but missed 10-of-14 shots, 5-of-6 from deep.
The lone downer was All-ACC forward Jeff Allen. He contributed a season-low two points, fouled out for the first time since Dec. 23 and was whistled for a technical foul for swinging an elbow.
No matter the Hokies' postseason destination, Allen needs to be smarter if they're to make noise.
That destination is most likely the NCAA tournament, but the disappointment of the last three years makes players and coaches alike loathe to assume.
"I won't believe we're in until I see our name," Delaney said. "I'm going to think the worst."
Sitting next to Delaney on the podium, Greenberg said: "I'm going to think the best, quite honestly."
In the locker room, senior Terrell Bell said he'd spend Sunday on PlayStation before heading to a team gathering to view the bracket show.
"A lot of anticipation, a lot of excitement," Bell said. "I feel pretty good, but you never know. … None of us is on the committee, so we can't make the decision."Copyright © 2015, CT Now