The First Most Important Thing About This Game
If you have been on Mars, this past week you may not have heard that Georgia Amoore was injured in the 3rd quarter of the Duke game and was not expected to play today. It was odd seeing the starting lineup for the Hokies. (For some reason the Tweet isn’t sharing) We are so used to seeing Amoore introduced that it’s sort of odd not hearing her name. Suffice it to say, with Georgia out, Coach Brooks was going to be forced to make some critical changes and rely heavily on some of his bench players especially redshirt freshman Carleigh Wenzel who is a contender for point guard, and true Freshman Clara Strack our probable next Center for 2024-2025. The pressure comes fast when the season gets into the stretch run and the conference schedule heats up to rocket hot levels.
There was also a big load pushed on to the shoulders of both Liz Kitley and Cayla King. With Amoore out, and Clemson anticipated to be pressing hard with man-to-man coverage and a floating double-team, it was going to be critical to defend well, yes, but also feed the ball to Kitley on the post. It was also important to get a handle on the ball, limit turnovers, and push for position on the boards to get defensive rebounds. This game the putbacks would be critical so Tech really needed to make a better dent in the offensive rebounding numbers. The changes and substitution relay that Coach Brooks put into place for the game made a big difference making those things happen.
First Quarter: Fast Start, Hard Lid, Dogfight
There wasn’t a whole lot of timidity on the part of the Hokies for the 1st quarter. They did, unfortunately lose the opening possession tip-off, but successfully defended against a furious Tiger start and three-point attempt. Cayla King dropped in a nice opening bid from downtown, followed by a 2-point layup from her own offensive rebound. Liz put her opening bid on the table with a clean jumper, and suddenly the Hokies found themselves up 7-0 and Clemson signaling for a timeout.
Something must have happened in the media break because the Tigers came out shooting and had gotten within two points by the midway mark in the 1st. Both teams seemed to find no handles for the ball and lids on the buckets for a few minutes as the seconds ticked away in the quarter. Tech managed to fend off some furious attempts to get the score evened up, and Carleigh Wenzel put in 2 as the Hokies final shot with 44 seconds left. The Tigers closed the quarter with a run on the basket and two points to re-narrow the Hokie lead to 4, though. It was a hint of momentum that would push the 2nd into high gear. What looked like it could be a high scoring rout closed out with an uncomfortable 4-point Tech lead and neither team scoring big points: 16-12.
Ahead after one pic.twitter.com/07RjUGqbqh— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 21, 2024
The Second Looked Like the Middle of the First, Until...
The first four and a half minutes of the quarter the lid went on from the floor for both teams, and the only points scored were from the charity stripe. With a frustrating regularity Clemson kept benefitting from some “interesting” foul calls, which didn’t match up under the Clemson defensive side of the game. The end result, with no one scoring from the floor, was a lop sided foul shooting contest and that allowed the Tigers to even up the score at 18 a piece.
Clemson nabbed its first lead of the game at the 5:07 mark on the first field goal of the quarter. They pushed the lead to 4 after a frustrated exchange, and Tech seemed to be slightly out of sorts. That’s when Olivia Summiel dropped in a three from the side, and popped open the scoring bottle for the Hokies. Tilly Ekh got the lead back with a nice three point shot and the crowd got rowdy again.
This was critical, because there was some foul, turnover, and missed shot issues going on for the Hokies and that allowed the Tigers to put a 5-point difference on the scoreboard. That sort of deficit with two and a half minutes left in the half, would have handed the Lady Tigers some serious momentum.
That’s when Tech cranked up two things and kept up a third. First, they started getting some stops and flipped the exchange by doing the other critical thing. They started getting the ball into Kitley with some pace. With Clemson dry, Kitley sunk two of her next two shots, and Tech was back to a one-point deficit of 28-29. The work wasn’t done, however. After missing a three pointer in the dwindling seconds, Tilly Ekh managed to swipe the ball from Clemson as they worked it up the court for a final shot.
She then set up in the North left corner to take a Cayla King feed and drained it from to close the half with Tech recovering the lead: 31-29
Tilly hits at the buzzer and we grab the lead pic.twitter.com/S4vjaBbnZq— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 21, 2024
Someone in the Hokie Locker Room Found the Accelerator at the Half
Most Hokies would have loved to be in the locker room for whatever Coach Brooks and staff had to say and show, because it might be the key to passing a difficult test. Whatever fire Kenny set during the break, flamed up with an emphatic roar. Clemson had missed a foul shot, which always gets the student section pumped up. They scored first but it was only 1, and the Hokies immediately responded. Tech’s first points of the 3rd were scored by the player who scored the final points of the 2nd. “MAH-TIL-DA EKKKK FOR THREEEEE!!!!” piped into Cassell over the PA as 44 seconds clock. there was an exchange of scoring but with a trey drained by Cayla King at the 7:51 mark, Tech found itself up by 6.
That lead would accordion back and forth between 6 and 2 and then back but Tech was nibbling at exchanges, and getting some scoring production from several players including Tilly who checked in again with another three that pushed the Hokie lead out to 9 points. There was some push pull in the scoring exchange but Kitley’s turnaround jumper at the 15 second mark ended the scoring for the quarter, and all the mo went to the Hokies.
The Game Ended in the Fourth Quarter, Just not at the End of It
Don’t let anyone say that you can keep Liz Kitley down for very long, even if an opponent is pushing, shoving, slapping, and who knows what else to keep her from scoring. Eventually, Liz will set her jaw, the team will rally up and get the ball to her, and she’ll start burning people with that turnaround jumper. That’s just what she did in this one. The scoring momentum for her changed in the final 3rd of the 2nd quarter, and just began to build from there. She might have been a bit disappointed with her shooting percentage in the 1st half, but most of the basketball world would be blindly envious of her stats in the 2nd half (11 of 12), and in particular the 4th quarter she was 6 of 6 from the floor.
For all practical purposes, the game was out of reach when Kitley put 11 points between the Hokies and the Tigers with 2:04 left in the game, and the Hokies had solid control over the exchanges. Clemson tried the timeout gambits and the petty fouls stuff, but Tech was already in the bonus situation so fouls just resulted in Tech sinking free throws.
Carleigh Wenzel ended the scoring for Tech as time began to wind out on two strokes from the charity stripe and a roar from the crowd, instead of the Tigers.
Bounce back dub at ✊ pic.twitter.com/QgqFk1oSJ5— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 21, 2024
Before the Stats Some Conclusions
This was an absolute must win for the Hokies. It’s certain that after two painful road losses last week that their #14 poll ranking is going to drop, but winning this contest means that they might have stopped enough of the bleeding to keep from dropping too far in the Jan 22nd poll.
The first thing to note is that the voters should be well aware that the last loss was suspect and certainly had much to do with Tech losing Georgia Amoore early in the 3rd. They also need to remember that Brooks is now playing a very short bench of newbie players and backups. Until he gets Georgia back. Today, should show Hokie Nation that quite a few of these players have stepped up and are capable of sustaining wins for the Hokies.
There is a note of concern, though. Cayla King took a hard charge (that was incorrectly called by the refs -if that’s controversial, the film is there... King had position and did not move into the path of the Clemson player, period) She was carried off the court, and later reappeared on the bench with ice around an ankle and foot. Hopefully she heals up fast because she’s critical to Tech’s defense. There is a bit of really good news, though. Olivia Summiel played an outstanding game today. Points aren’t everything, and we’ll go over the specifics in the Stats Summary. Clara Strack played a really important role, and made her presence on the court count.
Carleigh Wenzel was very much on the hot seat and handled herself very well. Though Coach Brooks looked like he switched the point guard position between Carleigh, Cayla, and Samyha Suffren, Wenzel seemed to get most of the field general work. She handled the job well and will certainly put herself in prime position for more opportunities in the future.
So, Let’s Talk Stats, Then
Liz Kitley did not double-double today. She just spent more time scoring. Liz played all but one minute of the game. Some relief was brought in with Clara Strack coming in to help take the pressure off of Kitley. The change seemed to really work. Liz dropped in 31 points with only one of them coming from the free-throw line. She did push an assist, grab 8 rebounds, and block 2 shots. She also managed some ball theft 4 times, which is very unusual for her. Once again, getting the ball into Kitley was the key to getting it into the basket and getting critical points on the board.
Matilda “Tilly” Ekh
Talk about Ms. Critical 16 Points! Ekh looks like she recovered from her tough game and came prepared to dominate from downtown. She was 4 of 9 from three-point range, and 4 of 4 from the charity stripe. Tilly’s treys were all at critical inflection points where momentum was shifting, and Clemson was looking like they were going to make a move. Those threes crashed right through any ‘‘mo” the Tigers might have been feeling. Tilly also grabbed three boards, 3 assists and a steal.
Cayla might have scored in double digits if she hadn’t taken that hit in the 2nd half. Thankfully she was back on the bench, ice on the ankle but she still just might have made it past the eight points that she put up on 2 threes and a bucket from short range. Cayla did pull in 4 boards and poke out a steal, but her huge contribution, besides being the queen of defense on Carilion Court, was an outstanding 9 total assists. With Brooks seemingly swapping out point duties, it was excellent to see Cayla connecting to people immediately scoring buckets.
Carleigh made 2 of two from 2-point range, and 3 of four from the charity stripe. She might have only put in 7, but she took a grand total of 5 shots. Wenzel’s 21 minutes were solid in a very tough position. Carleigh also swiped the ball twice and pushed out 4 assists. Her biggest contribution came on defense. She ended up with 4 personals, but that wasn’t too unusual given the calls going out and the tight coverage needed to keep Clemson from running.
Liv finally got some significant minutes on the court, and scoring wasn’t really in the formula for her. Summiel was setting up deep on both defense and offense, and led the team in rebounds with 9. Three of those were critical offensive reebs that allowed for put backs, one of them being hers. Summiel, got 5 points but only put up a grand total of three shots from the floor, one was that supercharging 3-pointer that unstuck the Hokies. She pushed out two assists and managed a block and a steal on defense.
Clara Strack, and Samyha Suffren
Both players stayed in for half a game each. Strack had 20 minutes and Suffren put in 22. Neither of them put up many shots. Strack was 2 of 4 from the floor, and Suffren 1 of 2. Strack’s contribution was significant in that she provided relief cover for Liz, and some more height on defense to keep Clemson’s shooting off balance. Clara grabbed 4 rebounds, pushed out an assist, but wowed the crowd with 3 total blocked shots. Samyha managed 3 points on a field goal and a free-throw, but also contributed 4 assists, and 2 rebounds, one of which was an offensive board.
The Momentum Needs to Keep Going in a Positive Direction
It was a team game because the team was down a critical player, and also coming off two very tough losses. The Hokies are 14 and 4 with a 5-2 conference record. There are only ACC teams ahead, and all of them are difficult. There are 11 games left in the schedule and several daunting contests loom, including NC State in their house, a home and away pair with the Hoos, and Duke in the Cassell.