No. 15 Hokies Overcome Sluggish First Half In William & Mary Win

Elizabeth Kitley broke rebounding records for the Hokies in the win over William & Mary. (Jon Fleming)

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.”

True freshman Carys Baker has played well for the Hokies and was the second-leading scorer on Thursday vs. W&M. (Jon Fleming)

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.”

Elizabeth Kitley has accomplished more than any other Virginia Tech player in her career. (Jon Fleming)

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.”

Carys Baker and the Hokies shot the three ball well in the second half against William & Mary. (Jon Fleming)

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

9 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. So tired of seeing Kitley get slapped, scratched, hit and bruised before fouls are called. Some players like all of LSU receive calls just by running into the lane and throwing up a prayer. Liz battles and is physically attacked in every game and the foul calls are slow and even no existent. She deserves 10x the credit she receives and so proud of her and all the lady Hokies.

  2. So, Carys Baker is super young? Liked Coach Brooks drawing an analogy to a 1000 piece puzzle to describe assimilating the new talent with the returning players. I’d say he’s making good progress. Looking forward to seeing how the team puzzle comes together as the season progresses.

      1. Ultimately yes, but before Kitley received the ball at the 3:22 mark of the 3rd quarter,, No 3 stuck her knee into Kitley’s backside and placed two fists squarely in her back. Kitley made the catch but No 35 crashed down and immediately hacked Liz’s left arm and then proceeds to grab both of Liz’s arms all while No 3 continues to work Liz over from behind. The call finally did come but way too late in my opinion. Ironically, it was after that play that Tech put their foot down and blew Bill & Mary out. 3 by King, bucket by Kitley, 3 by Amoore, 3 and a couple of free throws by Baker closed out the quarter.

  3. Yep, that’s my read, Kitley being Kitley, just sneaky good which you only realize when you read the box score after the game. And, special guest shooter, Cary’s Baker, just nice to see everyone having a shooting night, noticed Amoore feeding her some, paying attention.

    And, oh yeah, there’s a pass in there from Ekh to Amoore I think, from maybe the key to 3/4 of the court to a a flying Amoore, looked like a perfect football pass catching the receiver in stride for the layup. Congrats to Kitley on a Hokie and ACC record rebounds, need to leave something on the top shelf for future players.

  4. I would argue Ekh’s 3 kind of flipped the switch. May not taking care of the ball-wise because there was brief sloppiness. After Ekh hit, King hit…. King’s was nice because you could see her slow her feet down to be set. Same with Baker’s 1st 3… slowed their feet down.

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