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#16 Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball Upsets #3 NC State in their House: 72-61

Something about coming from behind to beat one of your top ten ranked conference archrivals at home and then have to face them in their house. The #3 Wolf Pack was waiting, and the #16 Lady Hokies were ready. Tech pulls ahead in the 2nd and builds a big win in the 3rd: 72-61

Lady Hokies celebrate with the Cassell Guard after the UVA win.
John Schneider - SB Nation

An Absolute Monster of a Road Win for the Hokies

The Hokies are 2-0 in 2024 against the Lady Wolf Pack, and as the regular season closes and the standings in the ACC become critical for seeding in the ACC Tournament, and also putting those critical NCAA Tournament points up for seeding in the Beeg Shew, Tech needed this win. It’s not a secret, they needed this win for other reasons, too. All season long the Hokies have been playing under a cloud of uncertainty that many fans haven’t really dialed into.

When you do really well one time, it’s generally thought that you are going to do it, again anther time. Frankly, it’s the most annoying part of dealing with fandom. Too many fans with too many unrealistic expectations. The reality is that the Virginia Tech Hokie 2023-2024 Women’s Basketball Program was nearly completely drained after the 2022-2023 run to the Final Four. Yes, Georgia, Cayla, and Liz came back - G was expected, but Liz and Cayla could have chosen to move on with their lives. Well, they came back, and the expectations balloon inflated to huge proportions.

The opening schedule was pooh-poohed by more than a few analysts that pit paper stats against paper stats to make big judgements about quality and such. Again, Tech had to face both Iowa and LSU in the opening few weeks of the season, on the road, and with a team that had barely played together. They nearly pulled those games off.

There was also the hit in the middle of the ACC season when the Hokies dropped two in a row on the road to Duke and FSU. Well, that’s all behind them, because after beating Clemson without Georgia, who was injured in a very rough game at Duke, the Hokies haven’t lost a contest on the road, or most especially at home in Cassell Coliseum. The big shots in the media haven’t noticed, but we have. This evening’s win isn’t the end of the season. Tech faces some big competition to close things out, and that includes concluding on the road in South Bend and Hooville.

So, How’d They Do It for this One?

It was certainly a bit of nervous time to start the game. The 1st quarter was a back and forth for the entire first five minutes of the period. There was never more than 3 points separating the teams, and that evaporated when Tilly Ekh dropped in a trey to even things up at 9 each.

Tech finally pulled ahead in the quarter when Clara Strack dropped in a free-throw. Then Cayla started off her big night with a shot from downtown Liz was dropping in twos, and Clara Strack also dropped in another bucket. In the meantime, all the Wolf Pack were really getting were points from the charity stripe after the four-minute mark, until they managed a 2 as the quarter ended. The Hokies were up by 2, but more importantly they were defending aggressively and well, and keeping NC State from going on any runs. The 1st ended on a 21-19 Tech advantage.

The 2nd Quarter Shifted the Game Momentum

The Hokies could have gone either way in the 2nd quarter. They did start out aggressively with a couple of missed shots and NC State managed to tie it up with only 14 seconds ticked off the clock. Then worry time happened for the Hokies. The lid went on and everyone seemed to be ringing off shots, turning it over, or getting shots blocked. That just encouraged the Wolf Pack because they started hitting from the floor. They built up a 4-point lead and the thoughts of a road fade began to increase the perspiration level in the fan club.

Then Cayla happened, again. She connected from beyond the arc to narrow that back down to a 1-point lead. NC State would drop in another trey, but then Georgia got into the act and drained one to answer. The teams would each put in 2 treys in that 3-minute period, and the last one before a huge dry spell for both squads was put in by Matilda Ekh.

So, from the 4:42 mark until at 2:31 Cayla King broke the ice and pushed Tech past the Wolf Pack with another three-pointer. A little nifty defensive work flipped the exchange and Clara drained a 2. There was an exchange of buckets back and forth with Liz Kitley laying up the final 2 for the period. Tech went into halftime with a four-point lead. That’s not much, but when it’s NC State, it’s enough to keep your team pumped up and ready to play in the 2nd half.

The 3rd Quarter Pretty Much Ended It

Of late, the Lady Hokies have developed a habit of going in at halftime, making some adjustments, and then coming out to put away teams in the 3rd quarter. This game was no exception. The Hokies went out aggressive again, but this time connected. Tilly and Cayla each hit threes, while the Wolf Pack didn’t hit anything. They were stuck at 33 until someone hit a three pointer at the 5:35 mark.

There was just a note of worry in that period though because once Tech had that 10-point bumper, they started shooting cold, too. Neither team scored during that roughly 2 12 minute stretch which was broken by a three from them. Tech got some of it back with a bucket from Liz, and she hit from the free-throw line for an old fashioned three-point play.

The Pack would nibble back some of that 12-point buffer, but it didn’t last long. They only got within six points before Tech limited their offense, and Georgia closed the scoring for the quarter with a three. (It’s always important to remember the odds of Tech winning a game when G drains a three at the end of a period (they are silly good, but it’s too late to dig up that weird stat).

Tech just piled up too many points and too much momentum, especially on defense, for the Wolf Pack to pick their way back into the contest. Tech outscored them 20-11 in the period and took to the bench after the buzzer with a convincing but not comfortable lead; 57-44.

The 4th was All About Staying Ahead Until the Buzzer

No one is kidding anyone. The Hokies were feeling good and just needed to not get overconfident for the 4th. They just needed to keep up with the exchanges and continue the solid defense that they had been playing all game. But this is NC State and they were in their own house. They wanted back into this, and the Hokies had to fight to keep them from doing it.

The Wolf Pack played hard, and nibbled the exchange until they narrowed the lead to 9 points at about 6 and a half minutes in, and then again at 2 minutes left. Nine is a whole lot to make up in just two and a skoach minutes. Especially when Tech showed no indications that they were going to take their foot off the gas.

The game ended with the usual flurry of free throws from given fouls, in the forlorn hopes that they’d be missed, but the Lady Hokies are really good from the charity stripe. That just wasn’t going to happen. With 7 ticks on the clock left, Tilly Ekh scored the last two from the line, and that put a complete end to the contest. It might actually be one of the most impressive wins this season, we’ll look back to see when it’s all over, but this one was special.

Those Significant Stats are Just Wild!

We are going to go through the individuals, but let’s look at this as a real team effort, because Tech was a big underdog in this one, and as mentioned before the sports writers have been sort of shuffling Virginia Tech off to the “Yeah, yeah” pile since they had some early season struggles. Maybe it’s time they took their Clark and Reese blinders off. This Virgina Tech team is officially rocket hot and building some serious momentum.

This evening Tech put four players in double figures, Liz, Georgia, Tilly, and Cayla. Liz double-doubled with points and rebounds, Georgia double-doubled with points and assists (and almost tripled up, again with rebounds). Tilly and Cayla both drained 4 from downtown. In general, their shooting percentage dropped off during the contest, but they did get in some serious defense that kept the Wolf Pack to lower numbers.

Liz Kitley

Liz was being worked hard with double teams and physical defensive play, but even with some dry spells and some disappointing results from the charity stripe, Liz still put up a game leading 25 points. She also pulled down 13 boards, five of which were ORBs. Besides those 25 points and 5 rebounds of offense, Kitley also pushed out 2 assists. On defense Kitley also blocked 2 and stole 3.

Matilda Ekh

Wow has Tilly become an important part of both the offense and defense. This evening, she hit 4-10 from beyond the arc, and dropped in a pair of free-throws for 14 points. She also pushed hard to get rebounds with 7 (2 ORB, 5 DRB). She also pushed out an assist on offense.

Cayla King

Cayla’s flurry of threes (along with Tilly’s) were probably the points that made the critical differences in exchange momentum. Just as the Wolf Pack was trying to build up some scoring momentum, Cayla dropped in a critical triple. Besides her 13 points (1-2 from the stripe) she had 2 offensive boards to get important putback opportunities. Cayla 2 DRBs and a steal helped highlight her defense, but if you ever watch her work. She’s tough to get through or around, she can push hard, and keep the offense off balance. Her defensive work was really important this evening.

Georgia Amoore

Georgia is still struggling a bit with her shooting. Liz is too, in fact. It happens, but with Amoore, what does find the net is critical, the burst in scoring is significant, and she way more often than not gets into double figures before the final buzzer. G ended up with a double-double her way. She had 12 points on 4 2s, 2 3s, and 2 free-throws. She pushed out 10 assists and was interestingly busy with her defensive floor work. Georgia came within 2 of a triple-double this evening grabbing 8 total rebounds, all defensive. She even got a steal to stop a scoring run. Oh! Georgia also reached a milestone: 300 made treys!

Olivia Summiel, Clara Strack, and Carleigh Wenzel

Olivia Summiel played 22 minutes and took exactly one shot. She missed that, unfortunately but the Hokies needed some stout defense, and Summiel provided it when she was in the game. She had 4 boards and a blocked shot, but how many shots she spoiled will be up to someone who has lots of stop action game film. Clara Strack, when put in with Liz, is a special combination that very few teams can compete with. Add to it the reality that Strack is just a Freshman and can hang with the bigs, is pretty special. She only took a grand total of 3 shots from the floor and missed one of her free throws, but she did do that block thing twice in the game and was critical in loosening up the coverage on Kitley. Carleigh Wenzel is always impressive when she hits the boards. She’s tough and a good shooter (she just took 2 shots from downtown and hit one). She also put in some stout defense during her minutes. This evening her 11 were dedicated to defensive screening and she even managed a couple of steals to kill rallies.

Next Up - Boston College in the Cassell

It’s two games in a row at home in Cassell Coliseum coming up. Boston College comes to Blacksburg on Sunday for a 1:00 PM tip. Then the big revenge game happens on Thursday at 8:00. Duke shows up (with a probable big Duke travel crowd) and the Hokies will be looking to even up that W/L tally.

It’s going to be a mad rush to the finish of the regular season and the ACC Tournament seeding.

Hokies lead, now.