BLACKSBURG, VA — Virginia Tech women’s basketball rode a second half surge to knock off Nebraska 76-67 on Thursday night and move to 7-0 on the season.
“We had to grind it out,” said Head Coach Kenny Brooks. “It wasn’t the way we drew it up.”
The Hokies outscored Nebraska 47-28 in the second half and shot 51 percent from the floor after halftime, compared to just 29 percent in the first half.
“I think it was just us,” said Vanessa Panousis, who finished with 17 points and four assists. “I don’t think we came out ready to play. Coach said our energy was low and halftime kind of revved us up. We came out strong in the second half.”
Regan Magarity led the Hokies in scoring with 25 points on 9-13 shooting, including 4-5 from beyond the arc. Magarity also grabbed eight rebounds and recorded three steals. Sidney Cook registered her third double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Both Magarity and Cook were responsible for defending Nebraska center Jessica Shepard, who’s averaging 18.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Shepard finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds for the Cornhuskers, but did turn it over eight times.
“Regardless of what the stats said, (Magarity) did a good job on Shepard and really made her work for everything,” Brooks said. “(Magarity) still had enough in the tank to go down on the offensive end and create points for herself, even after battling with Shepard on the defensive end.”
Turnovers were a constant issue for Nebraska. They coughed it up 25 times overall, including 16 times in the second half. Tech turned those turnovers into 24 points on the other end.
The Hokies also contained Nebraska down low, who came into the game with a large height advantage. Five Cornhusker players are at least 6-feet-2, with Shepard coming in at 6-foot-4. Despite that, Virginia Tech grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, scored 21 second chance points and outscored Nebraska in the paint 32-24.
“I think these kids have understood that they’re going to have a height disadvantage the whole year,” Brooks said. “You can’t measure heart, and these kids have heart and they’re understanding… everytime we shoot the ball, we always tell the kids, ‘The only person who should be confident that the shot will go in is the shooter. Everyone else, assume it’s a miss.’”
Virginia Tech hung tough with Nebraska early on, but the Cornhuskers hot shooting propelled them to a big lead. Nebraska took an 18-14 lead at the start of the second quarter and went on a 9-0 run to extend the lead to 13 just minutes into the period.
“I thought we came out sluggish,” Brooks said. “We seemed to be a step behind everything that they were doing.”
Nebraska consistently got off good shots from behind the arc and down low and led Virginia Tech 39-23 with 2:16 remaining in the second. The Hokies ended the second quarter on a 6-0 run but still trailed by 10 entering halftime. The Cornhuskers shot 59.3 percent from the field in the first half but didn’t have as big of an advantage in the paint as you might expect. Virginia Tech grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half and was only outrebounded by three. Those 11 offensive rebounds led to 12 second chance points.
“I think it kind of gives us a spurt of energy,” Panousis said. “Once we get putbacks, it allows us to get back on defense as well so they don’t get easy offensive transition baskets.”
The Hokies battled back in the third quarter as they began to find their offensive rhythm. Virginia Tech outscored Nebraska 26-17 in the third quarter and continued to chip away at Nebraska’s lead, thanks to some hot shooting and smothering defense. Tech was able cut Nebraska’s lead to just one by the end of the third quarter.
Virginia Tech took control of the game in the fourth, starting the quarter on a 13-4 run that gave them a 68-60 lead with 3:36 remaining. Tech slammed the door just a minute later with back to back threes from Panousis and Magarity, giving Tech a 12 point lead with 2:21 left to play.
It was by far Panousis’ best game of the season. Coming into the night, Panousis was averaging a little over six points per game and she was shooting 22 percent from the field. Both are far below Panousis’ career numbers.
“I’ve been very proud of her because she hasn’t really forced it,” Brooks said. “Here we are, seven games into her senior year, sometimes kids will start panicking. ‘Hey, this is my last year, I want to play well.’ She’s letting it come to her.”
The win keeps the Hokies undefeated to start the season. Tech’s next three games are at home, their first against Gardner-Webb on Monday night at 6 p.m.
Parker to transfer
Brooks announced after the game that freshman guard Genesis Parker had left the team and planned to transfer.
“She decided that it would probably be better for her to go somewhere else to further her career,” Brooks said. “She wants to play point and we have a pretty good point guard right now one year ahead of her, but we wish her the best.”
Parker, who played in five of Tech’s previous six games, was behind Chanette Hicks in the rotation at point guard. Hicks, a sophomore, is averaging 17 points, 4.8 steals and four assists per game this season. Parker was rated as the 62nd-best player in the Class of 2016 by ESPN.