PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Dominant 3-point shooting from Matilda Ekh and Georgia Amoore helped the No. 16 Hokies rip off a 20-1 run in the second quarter at Rutgers, a crucial stretch in their 84-59 win, the 500th in the career of head coach Kenny Brooks.
“Really good win for us,” Brooks said. “Rutgers is a very scrappy team. … Really good challenge for us. I thought our newcomers — Matilda Ekh, Rose Micheaux and Olivia Summiel — were phenomenal today and really brought us home in the second half on a day where Elizabeth Kitley wasn’t the best that she could’ve been. … Really good team effort. Pleased. I think this is something that will springboard us into trying to be the team we want to be.”
After a first quarter in which it was 1-of-7 from behind the arc, Virginia Tech (8-2) settled in and made seven of its next 11 threes, six of which came from Ekh (25 points) and Amoore (18). At the end of the day, it had more made treys (17) than the Scarlet Knights (6-8) had made baskets (15) and finished 16-of-30 from distance after the poor start.
Tied at 13 at the start of the second quarter, the duo got hot and drilled 6-of-7 in span of four-plus minutes, which turned a tight contest into a 17-point game. From there, Tech dominated the Scarlet Knights (6-8).
“Intensity picked up a lot, but we were just talking in huddles and timeouts and we just knew we had it in us,” Amoore said. “We’re really trying to emphasize beating teams and beating teams well, especially a team like Rutgers, they’re so dangerous. Past game, they were down 20-something to Princeton and came back and only lost by 11, so we knew they were going to keep fighting no matter what and if we didn’t put our foot down on the pedal that we would let them have a chance.”
While Amoore made multiple treys in six of the nine games before Sunday afternoon, Ekh had been a bit quieter. Though she was a combined 5-of-12 in her last two outings, she was 10-of-34 (29%) in November. Her performance in Jersey Mike’s Arena was just another step forward after transferring from Michigan State in the offseason.
Ekh was 7-of-13 from deep while Amoore was 5-of-10, but they were also productive in other areas. The Swede had six assists and five rebounds while the Aussie finished with eight dimes, four boards and two blocks.
While Ekh and Amoore stole the show in the first half, the second belonged to Summiel, the Wake Forest transfer. She posted her third career double-double with 18 points, all of which came in the second half, and 11 rebounds. She also knocked down all four of her 3-point attempts and only missed one of her seven field goals.
It was just Summiel’s second double-figure game of the year, which was a 16-point showing against Tulane in late November in the Cayman Islands. However, despite not scoring the ball consistently outside of those two appearances, Brooks praised her “tremendous attitude.” He said similar of Ekh and Micheaux, the Minnesota transfer who scored eight points at Rutgers.
“It’s huge,” Brooks said of Summiel’s night. “With the transfers we have, they’re all very talented. … You don’t just plug and play when you get a transfer. It’s not the same game. … We haven’t lost confidence in them, we know what they’re going to be and what they’re going to be for us, and to see her do that, you’re especially happy for her because even when things have not gone as well for her, she never hangs her head. She gets in the gym and goes back to work. She’s very inquisitive to how she can get better, and to see it happen for her is tremendous.
“All three of them have just come in with tremendous attitudes and work ethic, and even though things haven’t been as smooth as a transition as some people might’ve liked, what you saw today is what they’re capable of.”
Those four players made up the majority of the contributions for Tech in Piscataway. Kitley had a quieter night than normal, posting 11 points and seven rebounds, but Rutgers limited her touches and tried to keep her away from her sweet spots, which had some success. The bad news for the Scarlet Knights, though, was that Virginia Tech made it tough defensively and didn’t allow much.
Rutgers shot 30 percent for the game (15-of-50) and couldn’t find any consistency from the floor. It got to the line plenty of times and made 26 of its 34 free throw attempts, which chopped the game up, but struggled everywhere else. Kaylene Smikle was the team’s leading scorer with 22 points while Kassondra Brown contributed 15.
“We’re getting better because we’re understanding philosophies,” Brooks said of Tech’s defense. “… We’re not going to take a lot of things away, but what we’re going to do is make it difficult. … [If] we contest shots and we can clean it up on the back end then we’re really effective.”
Through 10 games, Tech’s only blemishes are to top-10 teams in Iowa and LSU. Things were a bit bumpy in the Cayman Islands when both games came down to the wire, but the Hokies have learned a lot about themselves in the two-plus weeks since their last defeat. Having extra time to practice while finishing up the fall semester helps a bit in that regard, and that extra work showed in New Jersey and a week prior against Radford.
There are still inconsistencies and things to work on — the Hokies didn’t start as fast as they could’ve against Rutgers — but they’re playing better team basketball now. They received contributions from everyone who stepped on the floor against the Scarlet Knights, even from the three freshmen who didn’t score, though they’ve shown that ability in past games.
This team is on an upward trajectory and Sunday’s victory, in which Virginia Tech never let the lead dip below 12 points in the second half, was another positive sign as ACC play draws nearer. One non-conference game remains: vs. William & Mary on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET. After that, it’s Christmas break before the group hosts Pitt on New Year’s Eve.
“I like where we are,” Brooks said. “… And I like where we’re going. We’re not there yet, but I like where we’re going. And we’re dangerous. … Those are ingredients that we can put ourselves in position to challenge for another ACC championship, and if you can challenge for an ACC championship, you give yourself a chance to content for a national championship.”
While Ekh, Amoore and Summiel were the biggest talking points during the game, the spotlight turned to Brooks as soon as the buzzer sounded. He became just the second Virginia Tech basketball coach, men’s or women’s, to win their 500th game with the Hokies. The other was Bill Foster, who did so in New Orleans vs. Wright State on Dec. 31, 1995, the day of the football team’s Sugar Bowl win over Texas.
When reflecting on the last 21 years — his first win was with James Madison, where he won 337 games, on Dec. 15, 2002, vs. Norfolk State — the people are what stick with Brooks. He’s coached elite talents and mentored some of the brightest minds in the business, the exact folks who helped his teams be so successful. No one has been more important, though, than his wife, Chrissy, and his daughters.
“The real MVP is my wife,” Brooks said. “She’s been with me for the 500 wins, but she’s also been with me for the 198 losses. And that’s even bigger because she’s my biggest fan. … I couldn’t have done it without her. And then the sacrifices that my daughters have made to be a part of this. It’s just been tremendous.
“I probably will sit back tomorrow and have a glass of iced tea and reflect on a lot of the stuff, but in those 500 wins, … we’ve been to a Final Four. We’ve won CAA championships, I’ve won an ACC championship, but it’s the people. It’s the people that you’ll remember the most. It’s been it’s been phenomenal, a great run. It’s something I’m very, very proud of.”
Box Score: No. 16 Virginia Tech 84, Rutgers 59