Georgia Amoore called it “Old Faithful.” Kenny Brooks drew up the perfect play — a familiar one that his team has practiced — for No. 13 Virginia Tech with 2.1 seconds remaining in a one-point game with No. 3 NC State on Sunday.
Similar to the buzzer beater Elizabeth Kitley hit in Chapel Hill last February, it involved her and the Hokies’ two other veterans, Cayla King and Georgia Amoore. And just like that instance, which also occurred with 2.1 left, King inbounded the ball to Kitley, who came off a screen from Amoore and had an open look for the win.
King threw a perfect lob to the far of the basket. Kitley caught it cleanly just outside the restricted arc and gently laid it back up off the backboard while fading away. It dropped in, sending a sold-out Cassell Coliseum — for the first time ever in a regular-season game — into a frenzy, and was the game-winner in the Hokies’ 63-62 victory over the previously undefeated Wolfpack.
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“I think we’ve gone over that play multiple times in practice,” Amoore said after the win, “and Cayla has great vision and great accuracy with that pass. It’s worked before so I was very, very confident. I remember screening and turning around and [Liz] just had it above her head and I was like, ‘Sick, we won.’”
“Coach [Kenny] Brooks is really good in those situations, and he had something in his back pocket,” Kitley said. “Cayla had an absolute dime of a pass and it ended up working out for us.”
Kitley’s shot gave Virginia Tech (12-2, 3-0 ACC) its third-ever top-five win in program history, the first since it upset then-No. 2 NC State on Jan. 28, 2021. And it was the final note in a women’s basketball game for the ages, one the Wolfpack led the majority of but never felt like Tech was completely out of. Part of that was due to the 8,925 fans in attendance, who grew louder with each Hokies defensive stop down the stretch.
That was where the game was won, after all. Kitley’s shot turned the tide for good, but the Hokies took control of what felt like a two-hour chess match when they held the Wolfpack (14-1, 2-1 ACC) to 3-of-14 shooting in the fourth quarter, which included a scoring drought of 7:50.
Mimi Collins and Madison Hayes hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give NC State an 11-point lead, 60-49, with 7:52 remaining. At that point, the Wolfpack had hit 12 of its last 18 shots and Tech was struggling to claw all the way back into the game. Kenny Brooks called timeout to reset his team.
“We were in the huddle and we’re like, ‘At this point, what’s there to lose, quite literally?’” Amoore said.
From there, Tech seemed unstoppable. It didn’t hit every shot on the offensive end — it was 8-of-18 in the quarter (44%) — but contested each one on defense. It made every possession difficult for the Wolfpack, who turned it over twice and missed 11 consecutive shots.
Most importantly, though, it fought for 50-50 balls and crashed the glass. It outrebounded NC State 11-9 in the period. A chunk of those contributions came from two freshmen: Carleigh Wenzel and Carys Baker. In a span of six consecutive Wolfpack trips, that duo came up with five rebounds — three for Wenzel, two for Baker, respectively. The sixth board belonged to King.
And with each rebound, which marked another defensive stop, the roar from the crowd increased. NC State looked lost and confused in moments while the Hokies went with the flow, and a 4-0 run slowly turned into 8-0, which developed into 12-0.
“I think we just had a different sense of a demeanor and aggression that we were just like, ‘They cannot score,’” Amoore said. “Every time we got a single rebound, I think a decibel increased, it was just insane, so we really fed off the energy. But I think it just came down to the crucial moments. We really just locked in and got those 50-50 balls.”
“To add to that, we changed the angle of what we were doing,” Brooks said of his defense in the fourth. “I had [Georgia], instead of sitting back and waiting at the 3-point line, she was able to pick up at halfcourt just so they couldn’t get a running start. That helped out a lot. Carleigh played the whole fourth quarter and her length and defense was much better and gave us a boost. … And we started getting the 50-50 balls, the rebounds that we needed. … They did a tremendous job of executing what we wanted and what we needed.”
With a one-point lead and 10 seconds on the clock, Amoore hoisted a three — way before the shot clock expired — that NC State grabbed. Saniya Rivers scored on the following possession after a slew of timeouts, putting the Hokies in a do-or-die situation with 2.1 left.
Enter Brooks, King, Amoore and Kitley. The play, which was the Hokies’ second option, was run to perfection. The original look was going to be designed for Amoore, who was set to inbound the ball to Kitley, take a handoff and have a look at the rim. But NC State called timeout after Tech. In that moment, Brooks altered the plan with the Wolfpack showing it wasn’t sticking someone on the sideline in front of the inbounder.
The result was one of the greatest endings to a game in Cassell Coliseum history.
“It came down to just willing yourself to win,” Brooks said.
Kitley finished the game with 27 points (on 12-of-24 shooting) and 12 rebounds, taking advantage of an undersized NC State squad missing starting center River Baldwin (ankle). She was complemented by Amoore, who bounced back from a 1-of-8 mark in the first half by making eight of her 16 in the second. The Aussie had 21 points, seven assists and two steals.
That duo scored 48 of Tech’s 63 points (76%), including all but two baskets in the second half. Other production came from Matilda Ekh (six points), Baker (six) and King (three). Kitley and Amoore were 21-of-48 (44%); the rest of the team was 6-of-17 (35%).
But everyone played a role in rebounding — Wenzel had six boards, King and Ekh posted five, Summiel grabbed three and Baker two — and defending. Three of Tech’s four blocks came in the fourth quarter, including one from Baker inside the final minute.
“We were going after the ball in the last eight minutes, for sure,” Kitley said. “We didn’t necessarily do that for the entire game, but we had a lot of energy when it mattered.”
The Hokies suffered top-10 losses in November to Iowa and LSU but proved they’re a completely different team almost two months later. They’re not a finished product by any means, but they’re piecing it together with each game. They showed that against the Wolfpack, fighting back from a 13-point deficit, tied for the fifth-largest recovery under Brooks.
In the big picture, they also demonstrated how much people love supporting women’s sports. For the first time in a regular season women’s basketball game, Cassell Coliseum was sold out, giving off Field of Dreams vibes of ‘If you build it, they will come.’ New fans were gained in Blacksburg on Sunday, some of which stayed almost an hour after the game to get an autograph from Kitley and others.
“The support that we’ve received over the last couple of years has been incredible,” Kitley said. “And we’ll keep signing autographs if people will keep coming.”
“A game like that, a win like that, is like feeding a monster because I think people are going to continue to come back,” Brooks said.
Virginia Tech and NC State will meet again on Thursday, Feb. 8, for a primetime clash in Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, which will undoubtedly be another thrilling matchup in front of sold-out crowd.
For now, the Hokies head into the second week of conference play on a high, with images of Kitley’s buzzer-beater fresh in their minds, as Miami and Florida State loom.
Box Score: No. 13 Virginia Tech 63, No. 3 NC State 62