This was NEVER Going to be an Easy Game
Before anyone struts around and crows. It’s really important to make sure that Hokie Nation knows that this win, even at home, was going to be a tough slog. And, for a time it was looking like maybe the Lady Hokies were going to take their first hit of the season at home. Then something about as close to pure magic happened.
Folks, NC State is really, really good. They were undefeated coming into the game, and even if down their star player, they are deep, and are really excellent outside shooters. They just weren’t going to tip-toe into the Cassell and get all awe struck and scared. They have won in Blacksburg, before, so they came prepared for a lot.
What they didn’t prepare for was, first, the persistence of the Hokies. No matter how hard NC State tried to put away Tech, someone would hit something to stop the bleeding, and then put something together to get a rally going just enough to keep Tech hanging in there. It is also important to note that the persistence factor was critical in this contest because the Hokies never led until late in the 4th.
The 1st Quarter was Another Slow Start (for both teams)
No one is kidding anyone when there was a bit of quiet and some trepidation brewing in the crowd when NC State managed to win the tip. OOPS! With Liz in the middle that rarely happens, and usually only on the pickup, not on the tip. But Liz lost the tip. What ensued was an exchange of dry possessions as both teams had some difficulties getting the ball to drop. At the 9:28 mark, NC State drew first blood, and Tech managed to match that up. But shooting misses by the Hokies began to take their toll, as NC State would steadily put the ball in the basket when they had open shots.
Then the Wolf Pack started hitting threes, and Tech was still struggling to hit from 2-point range. Their final three of the quarter at the 2:40 mark pushed their lead out to 10, and the Hokies had to reach down and find a defensive answer, but more importantly they needed to start getting back to winning exchanges and nibbling at the lead to stay within striking distance. Thankfully they stalled out at 19 points, while Liz hit two free-throws and a bucket from mid-range to close up the score to a less odious, 19-13.
Tech Keeps It Within Reach in the 2nd
The Hokies Started Winning some battles in the 2nd quarter, and the Wolf Pack seemed to be just a bit rattled by something that was surprisingly powerful in the game. The townies, staff, and faculty and some of the closer in folks showed up big time for this one. It was listed as a sellout crowd, but we all know that doesn’t necessarily mean packed house. Well, this time it did. Cassell Coliseum was packed. The listed attendance was 8,925, and it was significant both because it was a record for women’s basketball, but it was also in between semesters when the students are almost all gone. Well, the crowd made a difference. It was LOUD, especially as Tech rallied up to score 12 points to NC State’s 9 in the quarter. It seems the louder the crowd got, the less accurate the Wolf Pack was. It would factor into the end of the game.
1st regular season sellout in program history ✔— HokieSports (@hokiesports) January 7, 2024
Take down the Wolfpack ✔ pic.twitter.com/JzWSTR3XoS
What we did see in the 2nd, was a much harder push for Tech to up its defensive screening work. With NC State being so accurate, The Hokies needed to push them harder, and make those shots more difficult to take. It worked in the 2nd. Coach Brooks put in Carys Baker, Olivia Summiel, and Carleigh Wenzel, not to score points (though Carys had to drop a couple of threes to remind everyone that she could actually score) but to defend against NC State’s quick moves and higher percentage shooting. The tactic worked because holding NC State to 9 in a quarter is a pretty tough feat to pull off.
Tech went into the half, still behind, but only by a single three-point bucket, and it looked like Kenny Brooks had found a combination that NC State found tough to beat. The buzzer sounded on a dry three-point attempt by NC State, but Liz had scored the last points of the half making it 28-25, them.
Closed the gap heading into the locker room pic.twitter.com/oiMMGCwOiu— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 7, 2024
The 3rd Quarter was Looking Like a Problem That Couldn’t be Solved
The quarter started off with nearly four minutes of lopsided exchanges, all favoring NC State. At the 5:22 mark, Tech was staring at a 13-point deficit (45-32), and most shots ringing out and even missing completely. The crowd got really quiet, and that’s never a good thing. A good two-point jump shot from Georgia Amoore got things stirring in the crowd again, but what really got them roaring was after a miss by NC State and a defensive rebound by Tilly Ekh, G drained one from downtown. There is nothing that energizes the Cassell than hearing “GEORGIA AMOORE FOR THREEEEEE”. over the PA. It didn’t change the score a whole lot, but it did reorient the exchange back to something manageable. It also got the crowd going again. Georgia’s quarter ending two-pointer was followed by a deafening roar that seemed to build into the final period. Things ended in the third with the Wolf Pack up 52 to 45, but the energy flow just seemed completely different as the buzzer sounded.
The 4th Needed Some Defensive Magic and Someone to Stay Hot from the Floor
Heat and Pressure makes lots of things, and in this case, it made a win. So, did some strategic risk taking on the coach’s side. NC State managed to push their lead to 11 points after draining two shots from downtown with only two-point answers from Georgia and Liz. So, go scratch your heads and wonder why, with the crowd sort of warming up, and a pretty emphatic 11-point lead with 7:52 left in the game that the entire game flipped in five minutes of play.
The score was 60-49 with that 7:52 left. Let’s do some quick math. The final score was 62 them... 63 Tech. That means the Wolf Pack scored exactly 2 more points for the entire remainder of the game, and those points looked very much like a gratis that gave Tech a final shot (don’t know if that was Kenny’s plan, but it sure looked like it).
It did take a hair more than a minute before the ball started to drop for Tech, though. Eventually at the 6:29 mark Liz made a layup. Then NC State turned it over with a block from Georgia (crowd went nuts). Then foresaking the three, Georgia dropped in a 2. NC State had two misses and then the crowd exploded. Georgia hit from downtown (which had its usual effect). The difference had been chopped down to 4 points. Liz hammered out a block (even more crowd thunder) and hit a free throw. Georgia hit a 2-pointer, and the sound concussion just knocked the Wolf Pack off their feet. Tech was 1 point down at 60-59, there was 3:04 on the clock, and every Hokie fan was on their feet. They were being polite on offense, but the sound was concussive when Tech was on defense.
For the next minute there were several dry exchanges, and no points moved, but at the 1:28 mark, Liz hit a layup to put the Hokies into their first lead of the day. That’s when some tactics came into play. A minute and a half is tough to cover with any good team. Georgia tried her best to burn up shot clock and game clock with some wicked ball handling and Globetrotter-esque dribbling, but eventually something had to go up, and come back. In basketball, you always live and die by that exchange, and NC State was too good for Tech to keep them away from the basket for two long. Even a stiff stuff by Carys Baker kept NC State from getting ahead without Tech being able to respond.
Eventually after a head scratching relay of timeouts, SOMEONE called a T/O after NC State scored their only 2 points of the final nearly 8 minutes of the game. That’s why I am not sure who called it, because it allowed Tech to bring the ball in at half court instead of the end line. The official game time had been set at 2.9 seconds, and that’s just about all that the two High School Vikings needed. Kenny put Cayla in charge of the throw in, and Liz got herself in position on the move to the left side low post. The rest is history. .9 seconds from the end line there was really no way for NC State to score. Somehow for some reason the NC State head coach had burned off his final timeout in that flurry of T/O’s. That meant his team had to get the ball down the court from the end line. It wasn’t happening, this time.
The Buzzer Sounded, and the already roaring crowd got even more pumped up by a happy “Enter Sandman” to wrap up things.
Was This a “Statement Victory?”
It Most Emphatically WAS.
Okay, before we highlight the high scoring Queens of the Cassell, there needs to be a clarification and an understanding. There were 9 players getting time on the court for the Hokies, and not all of them scored, and not all played a whole lot. Clara Strack came in to relieve Liz at Center for two minutes.
Olivia Summiel didn’t even take a shot. She was brought in at critical times for defense and turned out well with 3 critical rebounds and 2 assists.
Carleigh Wenzel did take two shots, but her big contribution was defensive, especially off the boards with 6 defensive rebounds.
Carys Baker drained two more threes, and managed a block, a steal, and two very important defensive rebounds.
Cayla King played defense, but she did manage one 3-pointer, 2 offensive rebounds and 3 defensive. She also had 2 assists, one that critically that all important final assist to Liz for the game winner.
Ekh played 25 minutes put up 6 points and pulled down 5 boards. She was everywhere screening on defense but Kenny’s defensive minded changes in the 2nd half limited her time.
Kitley double-doubled again for this game. She pulled down 12 with 3 being offensive boards. Liz was a little bit off from the floor, with a few misses she’d probably like to have back, but ultimately, she ended up with a respectable 12-24. She was also 3 of 4 from the free throw line. Besides her 27-point 12-rebound show, Liz also blocked 2 and dished two assists.
G would probably like to have hit better from the floor, but when she did drain shots, they were all at really critical times, and finally she did get hot in those critical 3rd and 4th quarters. Georgia finished with 21 points, 7 assists, 2 rebounds, a bock, and 2 steals. What’s more important is that she played the entire game, kept pushing her team even when things looked sticky, and managed to finish with a flourish. The crowd loves her, and you get the feeling that she loves them right back.
Here. We. Go.— Virginia Tech Women's Basketball (@HokiesWBB) January 7, 2024
Big triple from G brings us to a timeout
» 56 » 60 pic.twitter.com/MK2JeX89kd
This was a BIG WIN... A BIG ONE
No Two Ways Besides being a Statement, this game was the epitome of signature wins for the Lady Hokies. All conference wins are good things, but this one was a win over a team that was undefeated, ranked 3rd, and also leading the ACC.
Next up, the Lady Hokies host the Miami Hurricanes on January 11th. The tip-off is 8:00 which is a bit too close to this old man’s bedtime, but we’ll be there to cover it. Pictures for this one will be up on the Facebook page tomorrow evening.