Led by Taylor Emery, the Virginia Tech Hokies cruised to a 78-69 win over the George Mason Patriots on Sunday afternoon in Cassell Coliseum.
Emery led Tech with 23 points, the third time in the last four games she has scored over 20, and played 39 out of 40 minutes to direct the team to victory. She did not have to hit a big shot, but Emery did pass former Hokie basketball player Amy Byrne, who played in Blacksburg from 1986-1990, for the most points in a single season by a Virginia Tech player.
Emery credited her success this season to her teammates and coaches, but she reminded everyone that her goal was to win a championship; “It’s a great honor to have that record under my belt, but in the end, my goal is to win a championship,” said Emery. Coach Brooks also commented on the achievement, saying, “It’s a joy, she’s a gym-rat. I’ve had to convince her that reps are as important as rest. She’s had a tremendous season and that she’s scored more than anyone has in a year is impressive.”
Emery had 16 points on Friday night and hit a buzzer beater to send the Hokies through to the second round of the WNIT, but this game did not require a shot with a second remaining to win the game.
Regan Magarity and Alexis Jean also had great nights tonight with Magarity scoring 17 points and Jean adding 16 points. Magarity and Jean grabbed 16 rebounds combined and played good defense on Patriots’ forward Natalie Butler, who had 26 points and 20 rebounds despite the strong defensive effort.
Natalie Butler is a graduate transfer from the University of Connecticut, where she played two seasons and even won a national championship. Before that, she played at Georgetown as a freshman. Coach Brooks said he tried to recruit Butler before she committed to Georgetown. Butler became George Mason’s all-time leading scorer in a single season today and it was her 33rd double-double that tied Courtney Paris for the most in a single season in Division I.
Magarity said postgame that the coaches prepared the players very well for Butler and the Patriots, adding that Butler “deserved every point today.” Emery said, “The gameplay was to limit their two leading scorers as much as we could, and I think we did a good job containing both of them.” Coach Brooks said the Hokies did something they hadn’t done all season, which was doubling in the post on defense.
While Butler pulled down 20 rebounds on her own, Tech was only outrebounded by 6, 39-33. VT shot 44.4% from the field and 30% from 3, while Mason shot 43.9% from the floor and 26% from 3.
Rachel Camp dished out four assists and grabbed three rebounds while scoring 10 points in the game. Coach Brooks said, “every game that we play, Rachel is gaining more experience at point guard, which he;ps us become more comfortable as a team. The more comfortable, the better we become.” Camp has been the starting point guard since the North Carolina game as a result of Chanette Hicks leaving the team for personal reasons.
Aisha Sheppard, the last starter, added 8 points and four rebounds in the 31 minutes she played. Kendyl Brooks and Michelle Berry both came off the bench and each added two points in the strong performance from the Hokies.
The game went back and forth for the first half until the Hokies got a firm grip on the lead and would not let go. However, they let off the gas pedal a tiny bit in the second half. Their stubborn defense, doubling Butler anytime the ball was passed to her and being very aggressive, forced 17 Patriot turnovers. The Hokies cut down on their 20 turnovers from last game, only committing 11 in this game.
Virginia Tech has now reached 20 wins in back to back seasons, a huge accomplishment in the first two seasons under Kenny Brooks in addition to back-to-back WNIT appearances. The Hokies reached the quarterfinals of the WNIT last season, and are one win away from matching that achievement this season.
VT hosts Fordham on Thursday night at 7pm in Cassell Coliseum.
If the Hokies win on Thursday, they will face the winner of Georgia Tech and Alabama. Tech has a record of 20-13 going into Thursday night and some much-needed confidence after a two-week break between the ACC Tournament and their game on Friday.