In the program’s first game without Georgia Amoore since 2020, No. 14 Virginia Tech fended off Clemson on Sunday in Cassell Coliseum, 74-62.
“I told the kids after the game, ‘I know we’ve had some really high moments here, but I’ve never been more proud of a group,’” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said after the win. “The way that they fought, they were resilient. It was not pretty at all times — I think I went into the game at 55 years old and I came out 65 years old — but I loved every minute of it because in this process, we have young kids out there … and they weren’t all perfect, but we had everyone step up when they needed to.”
Amoore, who was elbowed in the head while diving for a loose ball in Thursday’s loss at Duke, was not in the arena for the game but is “progressing” and is “day-to-day,” according to Brooks. Her absence snapped her 101-game streak of consecutive games started, the third-longest in program history. She played in every game since stepping on campus in the spring of 2020, starting all but two.
As a result, the Hokies (14-4, 5-2 ACC) had to overcome it. Brooks met with each player individually before Saturday’s practice about what he needed from them for the team to be successful, and before the game, he told them, “No one’s going to be Georgia, so don’t try to be Georgia; just be the best versions of yourselves.” And that they did.
The Hokies used three different point guards — Carleigh Wenzel, Samyha Suffren and Cayla King — which worked despite 20 turnovers. It took them some time to get going against the stingy 2-3 zone the Tigers (8-11, 1-6) employ, but it was full steam ahead once they got comfortable. They were 17-of-27 (63%) from the floor in the second half in what was an important team win.
“I think we kind of realized that their zone was really more of a matchup so we were able to attack and get matchups that we wanted to take advantage of,” Tech center Elizabeth Kitley said. “They were guarding me pretty much one-on-one down low and I think the guards did a really good job of getting me the ball, Coach Brooks did a good job of calling stuff to get me good shots. And then when they’re pushing out so much and being so aggressive in the passing lanes and stuff, other guards did a good job of driving baseline and kicking, which is really important because we’re going to have to make them pay some way.”
As usual, Kitley was excellent in the post. She had a game-high 31 points on 15-of-22 shooting, which set a new Cassell Coliseum record for field goals in a game, and added eight rebounds, two blocks and a career-high four steals. In the second half, she was 11-of-13 for 22 points and was nearly unstoppable.
What impressed her head coach the most was her leadership, though. Brooks detailed a meeting earlier in the week where they discussed what more the Hokies need from Kitley, and she was an extension of Brooks on the floor against Clemson, a duty that often falls on Amoore’s shoulders as she has the ball in her hands for most of the game.
Kitley’s presence was noticeable when King collided with a Tigers player with 4:59 remaining in the fourth quarter. She suffered a knee injury, which Brooks did not have details on, and was carried to the locker room before returning to the bench in the final few minutes. During that stoppage, Brooks walked over to check on King before returning to the team huddle.
“There’s a million thoughts that go through my mind,” Brooks said, “and then when I got back to the huddle, hearing Liz’s voice and hearing everybody, they were locked in on getting the win. It kind of jolted me a little bit. I was very proud of the way they responded.
“… Today, the stuff that she was saying in the huddles, she was like an extension of me. She was encouraging the kids, she was doing whatever and as a result, she meant way more to us than 31 and eight.”
Unlike the loss in Durham on Thursday, the Hokies rallied after their teammate went down. At Duke, it was Amoore. In Blacksburg, it was King. While it was a different set of circumstances, they stuck together and didn’t let that derail them from their goal. Doing it with the backing of 6,427 fans, including the Corps of Cadets, the Highty-Tighties and the Cassell Guard, helped.
It was an impressive effort across the board, however, even before the final few minutes. The Hokies led through the first quarter before the Tigers fought back — paced by Dayshanette Harris’ 25 points, eight assists and five rebounds — and it was 31-29 at intermission in their favor. Then the tide turned after halftime when they found their offensive rhythm while limiting Clemson to a 42 percent clip.
Everyone chipped in, from Matilda Ekh (16 points, three rebounds, three assists) and King (eight points, career-high nine assists) to Olivia Summiel (five points, nine rebounds) and the freshmen.
Wenzel and Suffren had five and four turnovers apiece, respectively, but showed some brilliant flashes, especially down the stretch. The former had seven points, four assists and two steals while the latter had three points, four assists and two rebounds. Center Clara Strack posted four points and four boards, too.
“I think they did a great job,” Ekh said of Wenzel and Suffren. “I’m so proud of both of them. Pretty much everything starts with Georgia, and with Georgia being out, we knew that we were going to have to play a little bit different and both Samyha and Carleigh stepped up and gave some really good minutes, so they did great.”
Summiel and Ekh were crucial in getting Virginia Tech going in the second quarter. After ending the first with a four-point lead, it had a bit of a lull and did not hit a shot for six minutes. Clemson jumped in front, but a corner three from Summiel opened the floodgates. To that point, Tech was 7-of-19. After that, it was 22-of-34 (65%) and outscored the Tigers 56-40.
In the third quarter, the Hokies only gave the ball away twice, shot 60 percent and limited Clemson to 36 percent. Things got close in the fourth when the Tigers made advances, but they never drew closer than seven points.
Kitley was clutch, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, but King’s ability to steady the ship, the presence of Ekh and Summiel and key minutes from the freshmen all played a role. Together, Tech bounced back from two straight losses without their All-American point guard, even when they had to play the final stretch without King.
Brooks said he felt like the Hokies “lost their way a little bit” last week in their loss at Florida State and subsequent defeat at Duke. On Sunday, they overcame adversity and got some of their mojo back.
“Overall team effort, really good to get a win,” Brooks said. “That’s a team that’s come very close to some wins this year, they’re a veteran basketball group and we did a really good job. … To come back home and to play in front of our home crowd, … that’s a really good recipe for getting better.”
Box Score: No. 14 Virginia Tech 74, Clemson 62