Defense, Hot Shooting Pace No. 21 Virginia Tech vs. Clemson in ACC Tournament

Cayla King
Virginia Tech’s Cayla King guards Clemson’s Delicia Washington in the first half of Thursday’s game. (Scott Kinser/ACC Pool Photography)

Clemson’s All-ACC First Team guard Delicia Washington waited on a pass to reach her down low in the paint with under a minute left in the first half. Virginia Tech wing Emily Lytle trailed her, as she had for most of the second quarter after Cayla King picked up her second foul.

Once the basketball reached Washington, Lytle put a hand in her face. It was enough to deter the Tigers’ leading scorer, whose five-foot jump shot clanged off the back iron — her fifth miss on seven attempts in the half.

“I love the way [Lytle] guarded her,” Hokies head coach Kenny Brooks said after the contest. “Emily is just strong and still moves her feet just as well.”

Lytle grabbed the rebound and handed it off to Kayana Traylor, who set up the offense in transition with a 20-point lead. Following a series of passes, No. 21 Virginia Tech found Elizabeth Kitley under the basket for a layup.

Once again in a season — and an afternoon — where Virginia Tech shot lights out (58.7%) in an 82-60 win, it was the defense that created chances for another offensive explosion.

It was plays like those that left little doubt about the outcome as the No. 5-seeded Hokies (22-8, 13-5 ACC) ran all over No. 13-seeded Clemson (10-21, 3-16 ACC) Thursday afternoon in their second round matchup in the ACC Tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum.

“For us to get off to a good start was big for us,” Brooks said. “I thought we played well during stretches. I thought we got a little bit lackadaisical. Part of that was my fault, part of it was you’re trying to coach for that game and you’re trying to coach for the next one. That’s what tournament play is all about.”

Kayana Traylor
Virginia Tech and Kayana Traylor got off to a hot start in the 2022 ACC Tournament. (Scott Kinser/ACC Pool Photography)

The 22-point win is Tech’s largest margin of victory in an ACC Tournament game in program history. The Hokies will face No. 4-seed North Carolina on Friday at 11 a.m. in the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Back on Jan. 29, Tech was blown out by 25, but rebounded with a five-point win a month later on Feb. 14 after giving UNC a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“We know what they’re going to do, they know what we’re going to do at this time of the year,” Brooks said of Carolina. “This is the sixth time we’ve played them in the last two years. It’s going to be, I think, a heck of a ball game.”

Even after dropping 102 points at Syracuse on Feb. 18, the 59% clip was Virginia Tech’s highest shooting percentage all season. Four players scored in double figures, led by Aisha Sheppard’s 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Kitley’s 19 points and Georgia Amoore’s 15 added to the starting lineups, and Kayana Traylor added 16 points off the bench.

It mirrored what Brooks has preached about his squad all season long: high scoring, effective 3-point shooting and gritty defense.

The Hokies got off to a perfect start from the floor — hitting their first six shots — and finished the first quarter with a 9-of-11 (81.8%) mark. They used four 3-pointers, provided by Sheppard (two), Amoore (one) and King (one).

“Clemson’s MO is to get you out of rhythm and to kind of speed you up,” Sheppard said. “We were determined to make sure that we stayed the course and did what we were supposed to do and what we practiced, and we ended up being able to find the open person and knock down shots early.”

Aisha Sheppard
Clemson sped Virginia Tech up, but Aisha Sheppard and the Hokies continued to shoot well. (Jaylynn Nash/ACC Pool Photography)

And in the second quarter, the shots kept falling. Of Tech’s 13, 10 of them found the bottom of the basket, helping it jump out to a 32-19 lead at the 7:09-mark in the second quarter, when Lytle checked in to guard Washington. It wasn’t her offense, but rather her defense on Washington that helped Virginia Tech stay the course as it took a 53-30 advantage into the half.

Lytle forced Washington into some tough shots near and away from the basket as the Tigers’ best threat only went into halftime with four points on 2-for-7 shooting.

Coming out of the break, however, the Hokies’ luck began to run out. Just a minute-and-a-half in, King stepped on Kitley’s foot and sprained her right ankle, per Brooks. King left the arena on crutches, and Brooks said they hope to get her back for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.

Then, Clemson switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, which gave Virginia Tech fits the rest of the way on offense.

The Tigers forced 11 turnovers — 21 in total — in the half. The Hokies only shot 36.4% in the second half, which Brooks took responsibility for after the game. He was aware that the game was in hand and knew the situation of having to play tomorrow, not wanting his players to press too hard and risk an injury.

“[About half of the turnovers] were unforced, in our opinion,” Brooks said. “Some of them were. Those are the ones that we have to eliminate because we don’t give ourselves a chance, especially on a day like today when we were shooting the ball so well.”

The defense, though, still played at the level it had in the first half. Though it didn’t have a high number of forced turnovers to show for it, Tech only allowed Clemson to shoot 37% and coerced the Tigers into unfavorable shots.

Defense is what Brooks has stressed all season, but when you match that with great offense — like what the Hokies showcased in the beginning — his team will have a chance to be unstoppable the rest of the week.

Box Score: Link 

Post-Game Press Conference Transcript: Link 

ACC Tournament homepage: Link 

6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Wonderful team! Excellent coach!!

    So, why not post their schedule on TSL…especially after the football season has ended?

  2. Editorial comment, unclear whose ankle was sprained, should make clear Kitley or King’s ankle. Great article, thanks!

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