Virginia Tech Loses Tough Draw in First Round of the Big Dance to FGCU

The season came to a close for Virginia Tech on Friday in College Park. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley stood still for a moment with her hands on her hips before watching Florida Gulf Coast celebrate at halfcourt. She looked around the Xfinity Center as the final horn sounded on the Hokies’ 2021-22 campaign and started walking away towards the locker room.

The junior All-ACC first-teamer, All-ACC Player of the Year and Third-Team All-American scored 42 points (16-of-27), a program record in a single game. But, to her, none of that mattered.

“She doesn’t care if she scores two points or she scores 42 points; she wants to make sure she wins,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “That’s the thing she’ll be thinking about right now.”

It wasn’t the moment Kitley or her team envisioned when they found out they were one of the four five-seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament Sunday night. The Hokies had played their best season in the Kenny Brooks era — 13 ACC wins and a five-seed in the ACC Tournament before falling to NC State in the semifinal — but the reality of the scene quickly set in.

No. 12-seeded Florida Gulf Coast was jumping up and down, hugging and screaming at half-court. Kitley’s almost superhuman efforts weren’t enough as the Eagles used future first-round WNBA pick Kierstan Bell’s 22 points to knock off No. 5-seeded Virginia Tech, 84-81, on Friday afternoon in College Park, Md. 

“Obviously we’re very disappointed with the outcome,” Brooks said. “But it doesn’t change how I feel about these kids. The effort that they gave all year, very, very proud of what they accomplished. Stings right now because we had high aspirations for this group. So it stings right now but I’m very, very proud of these kids and the effort they gave all year long.”

The Hokies shot 50% from the floor but only took 17 shots from deep, taking advantage of the five-inch height difference Kitley had on the tallest Eagle inside. Where they hit six threes at a 35.5% clip, however, FGCU was better: 15 treys, 39.5%.

Despite Elizabeth Kitley’s career night, it wasn’t enough. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“They were pounding the ball inside on us pretty good, and we were a little slow to make an adjustment,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said.

It wasn’t the ending Kenny Brooks or his team wanted, but it was the one that showed on the scoreboard. Whether Florida Gulf Coast was a No. 12-seed or not, it up for debate. (For the record, a team that goes 29-2, even in a mid-major conference, is deserving of at least a No. 9-seed). But even that doesn’t change the result. 

The Hokies will head home much earlier than they anticipated after Florida Gulf Coast’s fast-paced offense moved the ball quickly on each possession. It waited for an open shooter on the perimeter, but if that was closed off, it would move the ball with ease inside. Of the Eagles’ 30 baskets, 19 were assisted. 

They took methodical care of the basketball, turning it over only three times. Tech won the rebounding battle (40-to-29), but with FGCU drawing Kitley and forward D’asia Gregg out to guard the 3-point line, it led to wide-open baskets for the Eagles inside the lane.

It happened multiple times in the second half when FGCU set all five of its deadly shooters on the 3-point line, forcing Kitley to bite, only for Tishara Morehouse to drive into the lane for easy points. With 1:08 left, it happened with Bell, who drove to the lane to give FGCU a two-point lead. From there, the Hokies never tied or led again.

But it didn’t start that way for Florida Gulf Coast. Of the 18 shots it took in the first quarter, 15 of them were from deep and just six found the bottom of the basket. Tech countered by pounding the ball inside and didn’t attempt a shot outside the arc. The Hokies faced a 24-20 deficit heading into the second quarter.

But they made up for it by outscoring the Eagles by five in the next period and used four 3-pointers — three from Aisha Sheppard who dropped all nine points in the game in her final collegiate appearance — to take a one-point lead heading into halftime. 

“We just kind of went with the flow of the game,” Brooks said. “Obviously we knew we had a size advantage inside. And once we found out that they were really trying to go one-on-one with Liz [Kitley], that’s where our focus was, to go there.”

And then the third quarter happened. Tech only shot 3-of-12 from the field while Florida Gulf Coast was 9-of-16, but a 9-for-12 mark from the line kept the Hokies within striking distance heading into the fourth.

It’s a disappointing end to the season for Kenny Brooks & Co. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

That’s when Kitley took over. By herself, she went on a 12-4 run to open the final period of play, giving Tech a two-point lead on a step-back jumper, tying Brittany Cook’s single-game points record at 36 with 6:29 left. 

From there, though, Bell responded with a 5-0 run and Emma List countered Kitley’s record-breaking basket with a 3-pointer, giving FGCU a four-point lead with 3:33 remaining. That was before Gregg nailed a jumper and a layup to tie the score again at 74 with just over two minutes to go.

A miss by both teams set up Bell’s open drive to the hoop that put the Eagles back up for good. Kitley missed a step-back jumper with 49 seconds left, which allowed Florida Gulf Coast’s Karli Seay’s trey to make it a five-point, two possession game with 28 seconds left.

“You give them credit,” Brooks said. “They made timely shots. It was like they desperately needed to have that shot, it seemed like they made it.”

The clock ticked out as Georgia Amoore hit a three with half a second remaining and ticking out with it was Virginia Tech’s season and Sheppard’s career. She, along with Brooks, laid the foundation for the teams that come after her. 

She got the initial taste with an NCAA Tournament bid last season and through the successful ACC schedule Tech played this year. And through Brooks, the leap of faith Sheppard took, will always live on. It’ll live through next year’s team — one that’ll hope to crack the Sweet 16 — and in the years that follow.

The future is still bright for the Hokies, and the results will come.

Box Score: Link

Postgame Press Conference Transcript: Link 

7 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Maryland easily dispatched FGCU. What a surprise!

    What is KB record in games decided by <5 points?

  2. FGCU was legit. It looked like our kids weren’t ready for their quickness or their attacking style. Nevertheless, it was a great season, and there’s much to feel positive about.

    1. Yes they are Legit, they were ranked 23 in the Poll. This means they should have had an 8 seed or no more than a 9 seed. For 5 – 12 seeding we got more of a 5 – 8 game. I think FGCU will go far, they played deep and everyone was shooting. Tech was close and if we hit 45% from 3 we would’ve won. We didn’t and so be it. Personally I was surprised at FGCU seed, but you gotta beat the team you are drawn. ’tis a shame because this is a great Tech team.

      GO HOKIES!!!

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