With just over two minutes left in the first quarter, Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley went up for a layup two feet from the basket and was blocked by Syracuse’s Kyra Wood’s outstretched arm. It doesn’t happen often, but when the 6-foot-6 All-American’s shot is swatted, it usually means that the No. 13 Hokies are having trouble scoring the basketball.
Nothing went Tech’s way in the first quarter. It couldn’t break through Syracuse’s zone, the offense was bad and no one could put the ball through the bottom of the hoop.
As the clock dwindled down to the end of the period and Kitley walked back to the bench, her head coach, Kenny Brooks, yelled in her direction. Brooks was, understandably, emotional with his team as it trailed by six points.
But after the break, everything on Tech’s offense clicked. And though the Orange kept pace with the Hokies all night, Tech (18-4, 8-4 ACC) used the second quarter – outscoring SU (14-9, 5-7 ACC) by five – and the rest of the way to propel itself to a 78-64 victory on Thursday night in Cassell Coliseum.
“One thing I’m learning about this league is you don’t take anything for granted,” Brooks told reporters after the win. “And for us to be able to come away with a win against a very dangerous basketball team … you know, they’re right there.”
A slow start wasn’t on the Hokies docket and it couldn’t have been. In a year where they were picked to finish near to top in the ACC, they’ve struggled a bit. A loss to Duke last Thursday, after winning three in a row, kept the Hokies in fifth place in the conference. A victory against Virginia on Sunday put Tech back on the right track, but it was still on the outside looking in on a top-four seed in the ACC.
But against Syracuse, Virginia Tech struggled. The Orange came out in a 2-3 zone, a defensive alignment every team for the past two months has defended Tech with, and the Orange – like most, if not all, others – were successful.
They were able to force Virginia Tech into some tough shots – it only shot 29.4% in the first quarter – and led the Hokies 17-11 at the end of the period. And in Tech’s team huddle before the beginning of the second, Brooks’ emotional outburst sparked Tech.
“I just know the capabilities of this group,” Brooks said. “They just gotta lock in and focus and if they do that, they’re going to be special. … But you know, we’ve got to continue to get better, gotta hold each other accountable.”
Brooks, who is rarely emotional with his team during timeouts, yelled in Kitley’s direction after she missed a defensive assignment at the end of the first quarter, pointed up at the scoreboard in a frustrated manner and sternly talked to his team in the huddle.
“[He told us that we have] to pick our stuff up because we like to try to feel teams out,” Cayla King said. “He wants us to be the aggressors offensively and defensively because we started to get ourselves holes in against really good teams.”
To begin the second, Georgia Amoore sank a three, then King did the same, and then Kitley scored her first six points of the night all in a span of two-and-a-half minutes. Quickly, the Orange’s six-point lead evaporated as Tech led by two, 21-19.
But Syracuse kept pace with Virginia Tech, who shot 9-of-15 (60%) in the period. The Orange matched Tech shot for shot, taking a one-point lead into the half, 36-35.
After the break, it remained the same way. Tech and Syracuse traded baskets. The biggest margin in the period was Tech’s six-point lead at the 4:39 mark, but the Orange – using two of Dyaisha Fair’s 20 points – eventually pulled back even a minute later.
“Fair is terrific, she reads the defense extremely well,” Brooks said.
The two matched each other for the rest of the period until Taylor Soule’s backdoor cut and layup with 38 seconds left in the third gave Tech the lead heading into the fourth quarter, 52-50.
Syracuse hasn’t been super tough to beat in the conference all year; it’s in the midst of a rebuild. But it turned some heads because it was hanging with a top-15 team heading into the final quarter.
However, the wheels deviated from the tracks early in the fourth for the Orange. A 10-0 run – fueled by two Soule layups, a 3-pointer from Georgia Amoore and three free throws from King – in the first four minutes prompted a timeout from Felisha Legette-Jack as Tech stretched the lead, 62-50.
Coming out of the timeout, Virginia Tech blew the doors open. Kitley and Soule knocked down two more baskets to stretch its run to 14 before Fair’s trey finally ended the Orange’s cold spell at the 5:01-mark.
Finally, with 13 seconds left, Dariauna Lewis’ pass drifted out of bounds, VT could breathe a sigh of relief. Because, for 30 minutes on Thursday night, Virginia Tech let Syracuse hang around a game that it wasn’t supposed to.
“I think we slipped up,” Brooks said. “We’d love to have a couple games back that we dropped earlier. But [Monday night against NC State] is an opportunity to make up for it.”
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3 Responses You are logged in as Test
I just Love besting Syracuse at anything!
Maybe they were playing with a Men’s ball in the beginning. 🙂
It I s time to start asserting themselves and playing to their potential, not for 1-2 quarters but for the entire game.
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