Prep Pays Off For Virginia Tech In Dismantling Of Marshall In Big Dance

Carleigh Wenzel and Virginia Tech cruised on Friday past Marshall. (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech completely dismantled Marshall in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in a sold-out Cassell Coliseum, 92-49.

“I am so proud of these kids, each and every one of them,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “It looked a little dicey at the beginning of the week when we were first trying to go over Marshall, trying to emulate Marshall’s pressure, but they were diligent in just trying to understand what we needed to do, how we needed to take care of the basketball and I can’t be more proud of a group.”

The Hokies (25-7) scored the first 13 points of the game and never looked back. The Thundering Herd (26-7) often creates havoc with its up-tempo, high-pressure style, but Tech never seemed fazed — even without Elizabeth Kitley and when Georgia Amoore and Cayla King were on the bench with foul trouble.

Though the Hokies committed 15 turnovers, few came in the backcourt against the full-court press. Time and time again, Tech handled the situation calmly no matter the ballhandler, whether it was Carleigh Wenzel, Matilda Ekh or the aforementioned veteran duo.

Preparing in an unorthodox way helped.

The Hokies used their long and lanky male practice players even more than usual in the days leading up to Marshall. In an attempt to simulate Marshall’s press, after misses and makes, they threw six and seven guys out there against five.

Tech struggled at first, especially Wenzel, who teammate Olivia Summiel joked set the record for most turnovers in a practice in Cassell Coliseum. The constant trapping was frustrating to play against. Rough, even, to the point where Brooks half-jokingly, half-seriously asked Wenzel if she was colorblind.

Cayla King and Virginia Tech were composed for 40 minutes against Marshall. (Ivan Morozov)

Then Brooks used an analogy to get the message across.

“I said it’s like you’re in recess and you’re the fifth-graders and the second-graders want to come play the game and they want to run after you,” Brooks said. “They’re just going to try and get the ball and run after you because they’re not as big as you are, and they’re going to do things to be in position to steal the ball.

“It almost was like a lightbulb went off. And everything we were doing was very unorthodox, but they got it. They understood it, and when we got out here and got to see the speed and feel what the game was going to be like, I thought they handled it very well.”

It worked, but more importantly, it relaxed the players and got them to smile and have fun. Playing keep away went from being a challenging burden to almost child’s play, and it showed Friday.

For many stretches of the game, the Hokies breezed through the press. While they had their share of miscues, it was far less than the 24.5 turnover Thundering Herd opponents averaged this season. And they kept their composure throughout, to the point where Marshall practically called off the heat.

“Their defense, they giveth and they taketh,” Amoore said of Marshall. “They have runs where maybe they have a few energy plays and hold us to a few stops, but they were giving up a whole lot and taking risks and leaving people open, so I think we did a good job of exploiting it when we could.”

So many factors went into that, though. Virginia Tech had to share the ball, make its shots when the opportunities and play good defense on the other end — all boxes it checked in its third game without Kitley, an All-American and the three-time ACC Player of the Year.

The Hokies broke the press time and time again on Friday against Marshall. (Ivan Morozov)

It had to endure — and proceeded to conquer — large stretches of play without Amoore and King due to foul trouble, too. Entering Friday, they were two of Tech’s three players, the other being Summiel, with previous NCAA Tournament experience.

Yet, it did just that. Ekh, who was 0-for-March previously, got hot and drained five of her seven 3-point attempts en route to a game-high 21 points. She had not scored since February 29 at Notre Dame, but once the first one went down, she was money. She’s shooting 40 percent from distance on the season.

True freshman Clara Strack was fantastic and used her size advantage to knock down all seven of her shots from the floor, including her second career 3-pointer, which drew a hearty celebration from Kitley and a dance from Amoore. She finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four blocks.

“Clara would be starting for a lot of teams,” Brooks said. “I told her when Liz went down, ‘We keep saying you’re going to be good. You need to be good now.’ And I think that her mindset, she’s big smooth. I don’t even know if she knew there was an NCAA Tournament, she doesn’t get flat. Nothing really shellshocks her, but she played exceptionally well.”

Olivia Summiel was her usual fantastic self on the glass and had her second straight double-digit rebounding game with 14. She also scored seven points, recorded a season-high five assists and was as steady as can be.

Then there was Wenzel, who dished out a career-best seven assists while only turning it over twice. Brooks said she played “big girl basketball” while Amoore noted she felt like Wenzel truly had fun out there.

Carleigh Wenzel helped lead the charge for Kenny Brooks and Virginia Tech on Friday. (Ivan Morozov)

The redshirt freshman had to run the show for much of the game with Amoore sidelined and never wavered, despite her hiccups in practice this week. She scored 12 points, eight of which came from the foul line, and constantly took hit after hit from a pesky Marshall defense — but she maintained her composure.

She grabbed six boards, too, and blocked two shots, joining Regan Magarity and Kitley as the only Hokie players with at least 12 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two blocks in a game.

“Sometimes she gets in her own head — in practice, for sure,” Amoore said of Wenzel. “It’s mistake and mistake and she kind of compounds it, but today, did she have mistakes? Yeah, but who didn’t? But I was proud of her for the way she continued it on and carried it over and kind of put it away.

“It was almost like she completely forgot what happened which, take it as you will, but for today it was a good thing because her mentality was great and she was aggressive. … She had fun with it and I’m proud of her.”

King rounded out that group extremely well with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals. She knocked down two of her three treys and was a calming influence in the press break, often acting as the ballhandler. Tech is 30-3 in her career when she scores in double figures. Rose Micheaux added 10 points and four boards as well.

It didn’t matter what Marshall threw at Virginia Tech; it was so connected — 23 assists on 28 baskets — it practically cruised. Combine what the Hokies did defensively, holding the Herd to 24 percent shooting, with their 54 percent clip from the floor — through three quarters, it was 23-of-36 (64%) — and it was all but a massacre.

More than anything, it was the kind of result Tech needed. Though it didn’t have much time to prepare, it was just OK at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., at the start of March in its first action without Kitley. Many picked Tech as a team likely to be upset in the first round of the Big Dance as a result.

Clara Strack and Virginia Tech are onto their next challenge in Baylor. (Ivan Morozov)

The Hokies showed their true colors on Friday against Marshall in decisive fashion. Every player stepped up to the plate when their number was called, and for the first time all season, Kitley nor Amoore led the team in points, rebounds or assists. Amoore finished with just nine points and four dimes.

But if the supporting cast continues to play like that, Tech will be in good shape — in this year’s NCAA Tournament and in the future. It’ll have another opportunity to prove that on Sunday in the second round against No. 5 seed Baylor (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), who beat No. 12 seed Vanderbilt 80-63 on Friday.

“Everybody did their part and stepped up a little bit,” King said. “Everybody contributed something, whether it be small or big. I think everybody played competently, and I think we’re going to need that, especially because it’s tournament time. Survive and advance.”

Box Score: Virginia Tech 92, Marshall 49 

18 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I’m sure y’all caught the comment in the press conference where CKB referred to Carla & Clara as “his babies” with such pride (around the 15 min point)!! For a coach to refer to future players like that has got to mean something about what he sees in his coaching future…why would you leave when you have players that you think about with such pride and speak about in future-tense (is that a word)?
    It reminds me when Beamer was “looking” at UNC all those years ago. Was he ever really “looking?” (That’s rhetorical)

  2. This women’s BBall team is one of the all-time great things about Virginia Tech. Yes I sure hope Coach Brooks and all of the others (with eligibility) decide to stay and see how deep they can take this juggernaut of a team into the 2025 NCAA tournament. Very exciting what all of our players can do when not waiting for Kitley or Amoore to do it all. Well done!!

  3. Strack attack, Ekh checks in on 3s, Liv rebounds, Rose blooms in support, King scores defends her normal style, Wenzel shows some style, Carys scores 3s, Georgia is Georgia but got to relax with a Fosters (kidding most Aussies don’t drink Fosters). Kenny had 2 weeks to rework the team and it became a route. Everyone was on the same page and they made it look easy, even though we know it is not easy.


  4. As for, “the future,” let’s hope that included Kenny Brooks. Wonder what UK is offering him. I have a hard time believing a native Virginian, the pride of Waynesboro who played/coached @ JMU, built the Techwomen’s program from scratch, who girls are Hokies, one of him is engaged to an immortal Hokie, will transform into a mercenary.

  5. One of those games that should be remembered for itself, not just as part of a run. Coming out party for Strack as the VT 5 in deed not just by default, Carleigh also (they should call that drill the Carleigh drill as it corrects a problem she’s had all year long) Good to see Rose out there contributing, smiling and having fun, I would understand if anyone in her position got a little moody, Ekh roaring back into the scene, it really was a catharsis game in many ways regardless of the future. Live long and prosper.

  6. Great team win,and a masterful coaching job by CKB and staff.Everyone really has to step it up from now on if we’re going to make a run in the Tourney..Go Hokies!!

  7. Let’s all hope this was not a “one-hit wonder.” For sure a good TEAM win and we will need that and a LOUD Cassell against Baylor. We owe the Bears from when Kim Mulkey ran the score up on us. GO, go Lady Hokies, beat Da Bears!

  8. Happy Wenzel wasn’t hurt on that cheap shot trip Ivan captured in the headline photo. Last thing they need is another injured player key player

  9. I am with coach Brooks – very proud of these Hokie ladies. They were locked in from the start, and never let anything knock them off their focus.

  10. Can Coach Brooks coach, or what? These girls almost made it look like child’s play. And it was fun to watch. You have to say the future looks bright for this team. Baylor also presses, so this game and this week’s preparation should help the Lady Hokies take on a very good Baylor team.

    The only downer was that Kitley wasn’t in the game, though she did seem to be enjoying the game from the sideline.

  11. We should play them in December every year, after we get our lineup set…good practice for the chaos of ACC defense and the NCAA’s.

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