No. 23 Virginia Tech Unable to Hit Last Shot In Loss to No. 3 NC State

Aisha Sheppard had the shot she wanted at the end of the game. It just didn’t fall. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

It was the moment Aisha Sheppard had dreamed of when she committed to Virginia Tech five years ago. The last shot with the ball in her hand, trailing by two points against No. 3 NC State — undoubtedly one of the nation’s best teams — in her final home game with a chance to give Virginia Tech the third seed (and a double-bye) in the ACC Tournament.

She’s arguably the program’s best player to come through Blacksburg. An All-ACC nominee a year ago. The conference’s all-time leader in 3-pointers. Tech’s all-time leading scorer. The list of accolades goes on and on.

But as she dribbled from the edge of the half-court logo to the left wing, she stopped and pump faked before releasing the shot with under five seconds left. It was a little bit unbalanced, but it was the one Sheppard said she wanted.

The basketball flew through the air, clanking off the right side of the rim and bounced around the floor for the final three seconds. Everything went right for Sheppard; The ball just didn’t sink to the bottom of the basket.

As the buzzer sounded in No. 23 Virginia Tech’s 68-66 loss to NC State in front of a season-high 3,702 fans at Cassell Coliseum on Sunday night, it closed the book on the Hokies’ best regular season since joining the ACC in 2004, marking the first time VT has reached 13 ACC wins.

“This [loss] stings,” head coach Kenny Brooks said afterwards. “But no one can take away what we accomplished this year.”

It was a whirlwind of a game, one that saw VT (21-8, 13-5 ACC) trail by 11 and shoot 28.6% at the end of the first quarter. One that saw the Hokies outscore the Wolfpack (26-3, 17-1 ACC) by nine points the rest of the way as they propelled themselves back into contention. One that almost had a storybook ending at Cassell Coliseum, orchestrated by Sheppard.

Instead, the Hokies claimed the No. 5 seed in the ACC Tournament and will play on Thursday at 11 a.m. instead of Friday at 8 p.m., had they pulled off the upset over NC State.

“I don’t know who plays basketball at 11 a.m., but I certainly haven’t in a while,” Brooks said.

After the Wolfpack beat the Hokies from behind the arc in their first matchup on Jan. 23 that resulted in a 51-45 NC State win, Brooks took away the 3-point game on Sunday. Wes Moore’s team made just one of its nine attempts. Brooks wanted NC State to beat his team inside, and that’s exactly what the Wolfpack did.

Elizabeth Kitley’s interior battle with Elissa Cunane was fun to watch. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Spearheaded by Elissa Cunane’s 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, the Wolfpack dropped 48 points in the paint and shot an outstanding 52.8% from inside.

“We weren’t in our gaps, we weren’t doubling because we were trying to stay home to limit the threes,” Brooks said. “It’s a chess match.”

Tech was given every chance to come back on Sunday. It started when Cunane picked up her second personal foul and had to sit on the bench mid-way through the second quarter, as VT trailed by five. The Hokies couldn’t close the gap, though, as they were matched shot for shot and faced a five-point half-time deficit.

In the third quarter, VT pulled within two points of State twice, but was unable to tie the game or pull ahead.

“It wasn’t about the last play, it was about 20 plays throughout the game,” Brooks said. “You can’t spot the No. 3 ranked team in the country with a 10-1 lead and [expect to] dig yourself out and that’s what we had to do.”

Then within a minute of each other early on in the fourth quarter, Elizabeth Kitley (18 points on 7-of-9 shooting) and Cunane both picked up their fourth personal fouls and were forced to check out and watch most of it from the sideline. All of a sudden, with Cunane out, VT propelled itself to erase a 10-point deficit over the game’s final eight minutes.

In those final eight minutes, NC State struggled to shoot the basketball. Tech, meanwhile, did not. Sheppard nailed two threes, D’asia Gregg hit two free throws, Kitley nailed a free throw and Georgia Amoore hit a layup to tie the game at 66 with 1:20 left.

But Cunane and Kitley had checked back in three minutes prior to Amoore’s bucket. Cunane nailed a turnaround jumper in the paint over Kitley with 53 seconds left to give the Wolfpack the lead.

Fifteen seconds later, Sheppard attempted a trey as Emily Lytle set her free with a screen on Jakia Brown-Turner. She took the shot on the right wing but couldn’t get it to fall, missing off the left side of the iron. 

Cayla King tried to grab the loose ball after Aisha Sheppard’s final shot, but couldn’t. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Brown-Turner literally fell on the basketball to secure a rebound for NC State. It ran a play, giving it to Cunane to ice the game. Instead, Kitley blocked her shot as it ricocheted off the backboard and into Lytle’s hands, giving Sheppard a chance at redemption.

Everything went right on Tech’s last play when it inbounded the ball. Sheppard got the right look with just about five seconds to play, and Brooks wanted to feed it to his fifth-year star. It just wasn’t the result they wanted.

Sometimes, it’s about the luck of the draw and sometimes, like the Hokies did, you pull the short straw.

Box score: Link

The 2022 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket.

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Everything didn’t go quite right on the last play. Shephard had to double clutch because of the defense and put up an awkward shot.

  2. These are the games programs are built upon……..too bad they weren’t able to seal the deal.

  3. I sure hope that Brooks can take advantage of having this good team and do some really good recruiting over the next 2 years.

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