Kayana Traylor drove into the lane two minutes into the fourth quarter for No. 21 Virginia Tech and drew a shooting foul as the ball swirled in and then back out of the basket. After stepping up to the line, she knocked down her 10th and 11th free throws of the game to cut Tech’s deficit to 12.
On the next possession, after Elissa Cunane’s layup in the paint for No. 3 NC State, Traylor wound up for a 3-pointer. Miss. Then, after a Wolfpack shot didn’t fall, Aisha Sheppard pulled up from deep. Miss.
As Tech got the ball back with 6:36 to play, Traylor (18 points) nailed a shot from long range to cut NC State’s lead down to 11, good for the Hokies’ only basket from the floor in the fourth quarter. But that was the closest No. 5-seeded VT would get to complete its short-handed comeback bid.
Without Elizabeth Kitley (shoulder) and Cayla King (ankle) available, the Hokies (23-9, 13-5 ACC) were unable to fight back against No. 1-seeded NC State (28-3, 17-1 ACC) in their 70-55 loss on Saturday afternoon in the ACC Semifinal at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group of kids, the way they came out in the face of adversity and just really, really fought,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said after the loss. “… I’m extremely proud. It just goes to show you the character of these kids, and we’ve come a long way, and I’m excited to see what’s going to happen in the near future.”
That near future will come next week. The Hokies now await to see where they’ll fall in the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday (bracket revealed at 8 p.m. on ESPN on March 13). Currently, they’re projected to qualify as a No. 5 seed in the Norman, Okla. region, according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
And with Selection Sunday coming in eight days, it means Virginia Tech will have time to rest and get healthy — especially after playing three games in three days in Greensboro this week.
“Keep the confidence up and keep rolling,” Amoore said of the team’s mentality heading into the Big Dance. “I think we’re working really well together right now and we’re doing it at the right time, so just continue that.”
As Kitley and King became the team’s biggest cheerleaders throughout, a lineup of Emily Lytle, Azana Baines, Amoore, Traylor and Sheppard were the five starters Brooks penciled into his lineup. Not ideal considering a combination of Baines, Lytle and D’asia Gregg were the ones that had to match up with Cunane (20 points), last season’s ACC Player of the Year.
The three held strong against Cunane in the first half, limiting her to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. That was a major reason why the Hokies were able to start fast on offense and only trail by four points heading into the break.
Throughout the season, Brooks has pleaded for his team to start quicker and not spot other team’s big leads out of the gate.
Last Sunday, Tech let NC State get out to a nine-point lead only to work its way back. The same thing happened on Friday against North Carolina. The Hokies gave the Tar Heels a nine-point lead before clawing back to win their quarterfinal matchup.
On Saturday, Brooks willed his team to an early start, and without Kitley and King, it was crucial to hang with NC State throughout the first half in order to give the team a chance in the second half. And that’s just what the Hokies did.
Missing two of the ACC’s best defenders, Virginia Tech switched coverages between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game. Brooks even threw a 2-2-1 full-court press to close the first half on a 6-0 run.
The only problem with doubling Cunane in a zone was that VT didn’t have enough bodies — or the height — to box out NC State and grab rebounds. Heading into the intermission, the Pack recorded as many offensive rebounds (11) as VT did total, and Tech’s came all on the defensive end.
“Today we had to on the fly come up with a different game plan, and I thought the kids did a really good job of executing it and doubling,” Brooks said. “The only problem [is] when you’re playing zone and you’re doubling, you’re going to give up rebounds.
“When they’re already bigger than we were, we were already at a disadvantage, and I knew it was a massive discrepancy between rebounding in the first half. And as I’m looking at it here in the second half, they just killed us on the boards 49-23.”
After intermission, the stops stopped falling for Virginia Tech as it shot 24.1% versus a 44% clip in the first. Cunane was able to free herself from the double teams to score 13 more points, shooting a perfect 5-of-5 in the half. Meanwhile, Jada Boyd scored half of her 16 points and had a 3-pointer that decimated Tech’s chances in the fourth quarter.
The heart, though, wasn’t erased. The Hokies fought until the very end even as Amoore and Sheppard checked out of the game in the last few minutes for Taylor Geiman, who saw nearly 16 minutes — the most since November in a blowout against Coppin State.
“We’re really good, but [the players are] also willing to sacrifice,” Brooks said. “They understand what it’s about, team, and they love each other. They play for each other, and that’s why we are where we are right now.”
Box Score: Link
Post-game Press Conference Transcript: Link
ACC Tournament Homepage: Link