WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — No. 13 Virginia Tech gutted out an 82-73 win at Wake Forest in its first ACC road trip of the season on Thursday.
“They did a good job of spreading us out, isolating us, and I thought we lost focus on what we were supposed to be doing,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said after the win. “We played well in spurts, but it came down to really Georgia [Amoore] taking over the game in the second half. Liz [Kitley] was steady throughout the game offensively.
“… This is part of the process, to learn how to win on the road in the ACC. It wasn’t pretty, but we got the win and now we’ve got to learn from it.”
After a close first quarter, the Hokies (11-2, 2-0 ACC) pulled away in the second thanks to a 15-0 run. They outscored the Demon Deacons (4-10, 0-2) by 13 in the period, 24-11, and led 43-26 at intermission. The margin grew as big as 21 points.
Wake Forest stormed back, however. It ripped off a 10-0 run in the middle of the third quarter, which cut it to single-digits, and got as close as four with three minutes remaining in the period. After shooting a 29 percent clip in the first half, it couldn’t seem to miss and made 69 percent of its shots after halftime.
Yet, while Tech wasn’t perfect, it didn’t waver. It made 16 of its 26 field goals (62%) in the second half, the majority of which came from Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore. The duo scored 29 of Tech’s 39 in the second half. Kitley finished with 27 points and 12 rebounds, good for her ninth double-double on the year, while Amoore had 20 points and 10 assists, her fifth career double-double.
“I don’t think we got as many stops as we needed,” Kitley said. “They definitely found some weak points and were taking advantage of that, but we were able to score enough and take advantage on our offensive end of the floor to pull out the win. So that’s something positive. But at the end of the day, we need to be better on defense.”
Playing half an hour away from her hometown of Summerfield, N.C., Kitley was an efficient 10-of-15 and drained seven of her 10 free throws. She also added four blocks and a steal.
And when she had to sit late in the game due to foul trouble, it was Amoore who stepped up despite a roller coaster of a day. The Aussie woke up Thursday feeling sick. She missed shootaround, forcing the Hokies to draw up two different gameplans — one for if she was available, another in case she wasn’t. But before the team could return to the hotel, she alerted Brooks that she was good to go.
It was a good thing she played because she took over in crucial moments. After a 1-of-6 first half, she was 7-of-11 in the second, including 4-of-5 in the final 12 minutes. Two of those were clutch 3-pointers, and twice when Wake Forest cut the lead to six, she had an answer.
“She kept telling me she felt good, and in the second half, she had that look in her eye,” Brooks said of Amoore. “… The look on her face was, ‘OK, I got this,’ and she had the same look when we were down in the Cayman Islands when we were playing Tulane. She had the exact same thing. It just goes to show you she can take over a game, but she’s done a really good job of facilitating and running the offense.”
“I just felt like something needed to happen,” Amoore said. “I wasn’t going to force anything, but just to pick up the intensity, especially when we have Liz sitting with foul trouble, someone else needs to step up, and I think I took a mental note of that and tried to get things rolling.”
The biggest driving force for the Demon Deacons was Elise Williams, who scored a career-high 29 points. She had 18 in the first half, tied for the most against the Hokies in that stretch this season with Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, on 7-of-10 shooting. For the game, she was 10-of-18, and Virginia Tech forced her into tough looks late that resulted in her missing five of her last seven.
She entered Thursday averaging just 9.8 points per game, which led to Brooks commenting afterwards, “I think this is what keeps coaches up at night.” The Deacs hadn’t played to their full capabilities in their previous 13 games, even though they kept it close against Florida State in the ACC opener, but Williams’ night, combined with three other double-digit scorers — Kaia Harrison (13 pts), Alexandria Scruggs and Kate Deeble (11 pts each) — showed they can compete despite being at the bottom of the conference.
“If Williams plays like this, they’re going to beat some people, especially here,” Brooks said of Wake Forest.
While Kitley and Amoore carried the majority of the load, two other players scored in double figures: Rose Micheaux and Matilda Ekh. The transfer from Minnesota, Micheaux had a season-high 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting while chipping in seven rebounds. It was her best outing of the season to date, and her seven second-half points were very important.
Three of her baskets were second-chance points, too. She grabbed four of Tech’s 13 offensive boards and helped the team rack up a season-high 23 second-chance points.
“It was great because I think the biggest thing with Rose is she has a phenomenal attitude,” Brooks said of Micheaux. “She comes to work every day with a smile on her face, regardless if she scored zero points or 13 points. To watch her have success, it just warms your heart because she’s working hard, just trying to figure out her place where she can get her baskets and her opportunities. … I was very proud of her, but I’m happy for her because she works as hard as anyone.”
Ekh drilled three of her five 3-point attempts while corralling four boards, though all of her scoring came in the first half. Of the other Tech players that scored, Cayla King led the way with six points, including a clutch trey with 2:06 remaining that pushed a six-point cushion to nine.
Carys Baker had three points while Clara Strack added two. Olivia Summiel was active on the boards (four rebounds) in her return to Wake Forest but did not score and turned it over five times. Carleigh Wenzel grabbed three rebounds but also did not score in her nine minutes.
“We need more than Liz’s production and Georgia’s production,” Brooks said. “We need Cayla on the floor. I thought Matilda did a really good job in the first half but she kind of disappeared in the second half. … We need production from everyone in order for us to be who we want to be.”
In an extremely competitive conference in which even the bottom-tier teams can trip up those at the top on occasion — Pitt, who the Hokies beat by 50 on Sunday, took No. 16 Notre Dame to the wire on Thursday — Tech didn’t take the victory in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum lightly.
Sure, there were ugly stretches of the game where the Hokies struggled to defend. Brooks even opted for a 2-3 zone despite his dislike for it, which indicates the kind of lulls his team suffered at times.
But Virginia Tech found a way to win. Having two All-Americans in Amoore and Kitley helps, but it’s a sign of a good team that it can weather a storm and come out unscathed on the other side. That’s not the case for everyone.
“I was really pumped the way we were playing before tonight, and we played well during stretches tonight,” Brooks said. “We just had some lapses we haven’t had in a while. We’ve got to eliminate those in order for us to be able to complete with teams we’re going to be playing in the next five, 10 games, but I think we’re good and we’re where we want to be.”
Tech’s attention now turns to Sunday’s mammoth clash with No. 3 NC State, who won its second ACC game of the year at home on Thursday night in overtime against the ‘Noles. It’s a noon tip in Cassell Coliseum on the ACC Network and the fourth time in the last five meetings that both sides have been ranked. Tech swept the Wolfpack for the first time in program history last season.
The Hokies are hoping for a great crowd — over 6,400 watched last year’s game in Blacksburg, and the team just had over 6,000 attendees on New Year’s Eve vs. Pitt — but inclement weather may delay some plans. A gross mix of rain, snow, sleet and freezing rain is expected throughout the weekend starting early Saturday morning, which could upend in-person viewing plans for many.
Still, it’s an opportunity for the Hokies to pick up their first ranked victory of the year, and it’s a good benchmark after six consecutive wins against sub-.500 teams.
“The energy always helps us,” Amoore said of the home court advantage in Cassell Coliseum. “It’s incredible the crowds we’ve been pulling. Obviously, be safe, but if you feel like you can come, definitely come because it helps put us over the edge for sure.”
Box Score: No. 13 Virginia Tech 82, Wake Forest 73