The No. 15 Hokies overcame a sluggish first half offensively in Thursday’s matinee against William & Mary and had some second-half production to close out the non-conference slate with a 76-43 win.
“I think we lost our focus a little bit,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said of the team’s early struggles. “I think it was evident by the way we were shooting. We started off 1-for-18. If you ever tell me that we’re going to get 18 shots and only going to make one of them, something’s there, a lack of focus or whatnot. But it was the way we were missing.
“We were shooting some air balls, we shot a lot of air balls. I just felt like we weren’t getting our feet set and stuff like that. Defensively, I thought we were good all night long. That really kept us where we needed to be. But offensively, and then in the second half, I think we made our last eight 3-pointers. If we can do that, we’re a dangerous basketball team.”
Virginia Tech (9-2) was an ugly 28 percent from the field through the first 20 minutes, making just 10-of-36 field goals, including a 1-of-18 mark from outside. It defended pretty well — the Tribe (4-7) was 14-of-59 (24%) for the game — but struggled to get anything going until late in the third quarter.
Cayla King’s 3-pointer with 3:13 to play in the period flipped a switch for the Hokies. To that point, they were 2-of-21 from three and led by eight after a quick 7-0 run. Once the Greensboro native got her first one down, it felt like the team received a jolt of confidence because it kickstarted a streak of eight consecutive 3-point makes and Tech outscored W&M 42-17 the rest of the way.
“I think in the first half for me, since I’m super young, I get down on myself pretty quickly,” said Tech freshman Carys Baker, who made three 3-pointers. “And I missed a couple in the beginning, but I think with the support of my teammates, they just tell me to keep shooting, at practice they tell me always keep shooting, never get down on yourself, so I think going into the second half I had a different mentality. I like to shoot and it’s what I do so I just kept shooting and they ended up falling for me so it built my confidence up.”
Baker was 3-of-5 from behind the arc, 4-of-4 from the free throw line and added two assists and one rebound. It was the second double-figure game of the season for the true freshman from Connecticut, both of which have come in December. She scored 18 points on Dec. 6 vs. LIU.
Though she missed her first two threes, she kept shooting and knocked down her third attempt within the last minute of the third quarter, the third made trey in a row for the Hokies. Her fourth and fifth were also the team’s fourth and fifth.
It wasn’t just the long ball, though. It seemed it gave the Hokies a shot in the arm in all aspects, and it showed. They still missed some opportunities, but they attacked and came across more confident. They shot 55 percent in the second half, a stark contrast from the 28 percent clip earlier.
Elizabeth Kitley had another great game with 23 points and 17 rebounds. With her 13th board, she broke the all-time rebounds records for Virginia Tech and the ACC, previously held by Regan Magarity (1,299), doing so in 133 games, the same number Magarity played. It was her eighth double-double of the year and the 65th in her career. Through 11 games, the two-time All-American and ACC Player of the Year is averaging 21 and 12, an uptick from last year’s 18 and 11.
“It’s really cool,” Kitley said. “The main thing that I get from that is wow, I’ve been able to play a lot of games and a lot of games and that’s probably what I’m most grateful for because not everybody has that opportunity. To be in the games enough to grab that many rebounds is awesome. [Laughing] I guess it’s tough to say thanks to my teammates for missing sometimes.”
“Well, they should retire her jersey, while she’s here,” Brooks said of Kitley. “When we watch her play, it’s a ho-hum 23 and 17 and we don’t say anything about it, but if any other post player comes out with 23 and 17, everybody’s like parading all around it, it’s great. And she’s guilty of it. … What we’re witnessing is greatness because she’s getting 23, 25, 30 points, all the while being double- and triple-teamed. That’s why we’ve got to really understand her greatness and what she’s been able to do.”
It was a team effort across the board for Virginia Tech where nine of the 10 players scored. Georgia Amoore had 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds. King added nine points on 3-of-7 shooting from distance and three boards. True freshman Clara Strack chipped in seven points and four rebounds.
Matilda Ekh only got one three down after her 25-point outburst, but her teammates helped carry the load. Carleigh Wenzel contributed five points and Olivia Summiel and Samyha Suffren added two each. Summiel had an impressive 12 rebounds too, her second straight game with double-digit boards after pulling down 11 at Rutgers.
“All of them can produce,” Brooks said. “I just think we’re going to be a dangerous team when they’re all producing on the same day. You look at the Rutgers game, Matilda has 25, Olivia has 18, Rose has eight and then tonight, it’s the freshmen who step up. Just a little bit of inconsistency of who’s going to do it but somebody is doing it.”
Defensively, the Hokies were sound once again. The Tribe’s shooting percentage decreased as the game moved along — 29 percent in the first quarter, 25 in the second, 20 in the third and 18 in the fourth.
Last year, Tech had a few difference-makers on that end in Taylor Soule and Kayana Traylor who flew around and could make some athletic plays. That’s not the case this season — Tech’s more reliant on each other — and the group is starting to understand that more and more.
“We’re getting there,” Brooks said. “… You look at the stats in the ACC and we’re dead last, and it’s not even close, we’re dead last in steals. But we’re like at the very top in blocked shots and defensive rebounding. That’s our purpose. So mission accomplished. And we understand that’s who we’re going to be.”
ACC play is right around the corner for Virginia Tech. After Christmas break, the Hokies are back at it on Dec. 31 vs. Pitt before traveling to Wake Forest and then hosting No. 3 NC State. Brooks referred to his team as a 10,000-piece puzzle he’s still trying to put together.
Would he like to be undefeated as 2023 comes to a close? Absolutely. However, his group is continuing to grow up, and the two defeats to top-10 teams were important moments.
“I think we are right where we want to be,” Brooks said. “… I’m very pleased with where they are. I would love to be undefeated but we learned some valuable lessons from those two moments and I think that they’ll help us just like last year. I hated losing at Clemson and at Miami but those are two valuable losses that at the end of the year when you’re 31-5, we look back and we were like, ‘Those losses kicked us forward. And I think this will be the same thing as we continue on.”
Box Score: No. 15 Virginia Tech 76, William & Mary 43