The possession began to unfold the way Virginia Tech would have wanted it to. On the back of an 11-0 run, Georgia Amoore dribbled the ball upcourt with 92 seconds left after an NC State miss. As the offense set up, Amoore handed the ball to Aisha Sheppard on the right wing, who usually takes the Hokies’ biggest shots in their biggest moments.
But the shooting guard and the team’s brightest star elected to toss a pass to her left at the top of the arc in the direction of VT’s best slasher — Kayana Traylor. Traylor had burned the Wolfpack defense for two layups on the Hokies’ previous two possessions.
However, the basketball never reached Traylor’s hands. Instead, NC State’s Jakia Brown-Turner knocked Sheppard’s pass away before scooping up the basketball and beating Traylor to the hoop in transition.
In a game where Virginia Tech left itself no room for mistakes, the errant pass slammed the window shut on any chance at a comeback. The Hokies had trimmed NC State’s 14-point lead to two before Brown-Turner’s steal. After her layup found the bottom of the net, Virginia Tech didn’t score again.
Brown-Turner and the Wolfpack scored once more to extend their lead to 51-45, and that’s where the dust settled after a couple of desperate VT heaves before the final horn sounded.
No. 4 NC State (18-2, 9-0 ACC) held Virginia Tech (14-5, 6-2) to 29.3% shooting and outrebounded the Hokies by 11, 49-38. It wasn’t the prettiest showing — VT scored a combined 12 points on 5-of-31 shooting in the second and third quarter — but the Hokies gave themselves a shot against arguably the nation’s best team and one of the toughest crowds they’ll see all year.
Because of how defenses have handled Sheppard, Elizabeth Kitley’s usage and production are vital in the formula that’s equated to most of the Hokies’ 14 wins this season. The Wolfpack closely-defended — and doubled both at times — like defenses have done throughout the season. On Sunday, her usual production wasn’t there.
Guarded by her childhood friend and the player that beat her out for ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Elissa Cunane, Kitley only scored eight points on 3-of-13 shooting. But that didn’t look to be the case early when she scored VT’s first points on a jumper after Cunane blocked her on the previous possession.
Sequences like Kitley’s basket allowed the Hokies to chip away at an early 8-2 deficit they faced midway through the first quarter. A 3-pointer from Sheppard, a layup from Traylor and two threes from Cayla King sparked an early 11-5 run and 13-10 lead once the buzzer sounded at the end of the first quarter.
And coming out of the break, Virginia Tech kept up its momentum. Kitley produced another basket in the paint, and on the next possession, blocked a shot and set up an Amoore trey with 8:35 left in the second. But, seemingly out of nowhere, the offense lost its pace. NC State started to guard tighter and Tech struggled to find baskets.
The Hokies went scoreless for the next 7:35, only to be bailed out by a Kitley jumper. By the end of the quarter, NC State’s 14-2 run gave it a 26-20 lead. Unlike last year’s high-scoring affairs (the teams combined to score 330 points in their two meetings), both teams had trouble getting to the rim, as well as shooting it from deep.
It only became tougher to take the lid off the basket. Coming out of the half, Virginia Tech (five points on 2-of-18 in the third quarter) struggled to shoot, but kept NC State (12 points) within striking distance in case the offense rose from the dead in the final period.
The Wolfpack had built a solid foundation of a lead, and if they played sound basketball for the final 10 minutes, they’d run away with the win. But after trading 10 consecutive baskets for the first five minutes, NC State’s 14-point began to slip.
Amoore pulled up from deep; Emily Lytle knocked down two free throws; Sheppard hit a three; and Traylor drove to the basket twice, trimming the Pack’s lead to two — the slimmest margin the Hokies had seen since Kitley’s jumper with 1:24 left trimmed the score to 21-20.
But once Sheppard’s pass was picked off by Brown-Turner, the Hokies couldn’t find any more fourth quarter magic. Instead, they went quietly as Kitley missed a layup and neither Sheppard’s nor King’s heaves found the bottom of the basket.
Box Score: Link