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#13 Virginia Tech Beats #3 NC State 63-62 on Liz Kitley Game-Winner With 0.9 Seconds

Liz Kitley 1 VT NC State 2024 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

From the start, you knew you were watching two legitimate national title contenders going to battle with #13 Virginia Tech and undefeated #3 NC State. From the runs to the high level of play to the electric atmosphere for the first sold out regular season women's basketball game at Cassell Coliseum, it was one of the games of the season for college basketball, men's or women's.

Tech had to overcome a lot facing a 60-49 deficit early in the fourth quarter. But the Hokies showed the resilience of a team that won the ACC Tournament and reached the Final Four last season, going on a 12-0 run to claim a late lead and responding to a Saniya Rivers go-ahead layup with 2.1 seconds to go, by producing a little magic of their own thanks to their big three.

It was the perfect pass from Cayla King, the perfect screen from Georgia Amoore, and the perfect shot from Elizabeth Kitley with 0.9 seconds left that led #13 Virginia Tech to a thrilling 63-62 victory over #3 N.C. State, handing the Wolfpack their first loss of the season. With the victory, the Hokies improved to 12-2 overall including 3-0 in ACC play, while the Wolfpack fell to 14-1 overall including 2-1 in ACC play.

Amoore got a front row seat for the play setting the critical screen that gave Kitley just enough space to collect the pass from King and get it off for the victory. After the game, she shared some insights on how Tech changed to that play after a timeout by NC State and the confidence she had from the moment the play was called.

"The first play we were running, I was like 'okay, I'm feeling it' and then Wes (Moore) called a timeout so we changed it up. And to be honest, it's kind of an old faithful. I think we've gone over that play multiple times in practice. Cayla has great vision and great accuracy with that pass, and I knew that it's worked before so I was very confident. I remember screening it, turning around, and she just had it above her head and I was like 'sick, we won'," Amoore said.

This happened on a day where the Wolfpack held the lead for most of this game, as shown by the fact that the Hokies led for only 1:27 of this game and their largest lead at any spot in the game was one point, yes one singular point. This was a day where the Hokies didn't have their best stuff, yet Virginia Tech showed the championship standard that they have with the way they found a way to win.

Probably the biggest reason why the Hokies were able to pull off this comeback was the play of Amoore. She was able to get plenty of good shots in the first half, but nothing was falling as she had 3 points on 1-7 shooting at the break. However, Amoore kept shooting and left it all on the court putting up 18 in the final 20 minutes on her way to finishing with 21 points plus seven assists, two steals, two rebounds, and one block.

Throughout the first half shooting woes, Amoore never let her confidence waiver and then used halftime as a chance to reset before the closing 20 minutes.

"I didn't feel terrible about them because as Coach Brooks said, they literally were in and out, I think I had a floater that was actually in and then it rolled out. I just that halftime was a good time to reset and be like a goldfish and just forget it (first half misses)," Amoore said.

Meanwhile, Liz Kitley did what Kitley does putting on the type of game that you'd expect from a two-time ACC Player of the Year against a NC State frontcourt without River Baldwin. Kitley finished the game with 27 points on 12-24 shooting plus 12 rebounds, two assists, and two blocks. Kitley, like Amoore, found her stride more in the second half with the superstar duo combining for 33 of the Hokies' 38 points in the closing 20 minutes.

The defining stretch was the 14-2 run that the Hokies went on to close out the game, holding NC State without a bucket from the Madison Hayes three-pointer with 7:52 to go to the Saniya Rivers layup with 2.1 seconds to go. Right after that Hayes three, Kenny Brooks called a timeout where Amoore believes things started to change for the Hokies with their defense and rebounding stepping up, feeding off the growing energy of the Cassell crowd.

"We had a timeout (with 7:50 left) and we were just in that huddle and were like 'at this point, what's there to lose' so I'm so proud of the girls to go out and lock in, and play really, really solid defense. But for me, it was the 50-50 balls, it was the rebounds that Cayla (King) and Carleigh (Wenzel) both grabbed, and Liz contesting every single shot that went in there. I think we just had a different sense of demeanor and aggression that we were just like 'they cannot score' and as you said, the crowd, every time we got a single rebound, I think the decibel increased, it was just insane. So we really fed off that energy. But I think it just came down to the crucial moments, we really just locked in and got those 50-50 balls.

Head coach Kenny Brooks also added that Tech made some defensive adjustments during that timeout to put more pressure on NC State from the moment they crossed the halfcourt line that helped as well.

"We changed the angle of what we were doing. I had her (Georgia Amoore), instead of sitting back waiting at the three-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, her defense was much better, and it gave us a boost. And as Georgia said, we fed off the crowd but we started getting the 50-50 balls, the rebounds that we needed and we changed it, we were switching a little bit more as opposed to not switching. They did a tremendous of executing what we wanted and what needed," Brooks said.

Two players who played critical roles in this victory as well were redshirt freshman Carleigh Wenzel and true freshman Carys Baker. Both played the full closing 7:50 where the Hokies made their comeback providing great defense and rebounding. Baker had a couple big threes during a 10-0 run in the first half that brought the Hokies from down 19-9 to tied at 19 while Carleigh Wenzel was a force on the glass with six rebounds. The plus/minus stats show the impact they made with Baker being +10 and Wenzel having a game-high +12 despite only playing just over 15 minutes.

After the game, Kenny Brooks had plenty of praise for the impact Baker and Wenzel had on this game.

"The two that I really talked about in the postgame meeting was Carleigh Wenzel and Carys Baker. Carys had two shots in the first half. When you only score 25 and she gets 6 of them, it means she kind of kept you in it. And she has that capability and thought she had a couple that she probably could've blown the roof off if she had hit the shot, but she's getting better and better and better. We went toe to toe with the #3 ranked team in the country, going down the stretch with two freshman on the floor and both of them did a phenomenal job. They're growing and our confidence in them is growing. And if Carys can continue to play like that, the weapon that she is and she gives us another threat on the perimeter, it's very valuable to us," Brooks said.

There were plenty of notable impacts that came from beyond those four players led by Cayla King who had three points, five rebounds, and two assists including the incredible pass to Kitley for a game-winner that was right where it needed to be. King didn't have a great shooting day, but she found a way to make a big impact, especially with her defense and rebounding.

Matilda Ekh made most of her impact in the first half with six points and five rebounds while Olivia Summiel was solid off the bench with three rebounds and two assists. Rose Micheaux had a very quiet day playing in just over 6.5 minutes while Clara Strack made a brief, 90-second cameo in this one.

Madison Hayes was the star for NC State in this game with 21 points on a very efficient 7-9 shooting including 4-5 from three-point range plus 3-4 from the free-throw line. Tech did well against NC State's breakout star Saniya Rivers holding her to 12 points on 5-15 shooting. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack's leading scorer Aziaha James struggled largely to foul trouble, finishing with only four points on 2-7 shooting in almost 19 minutes, playing only four minutes in the first half.

This was a massive victory for Virginia Tech where they showed championship-level resilience to pull off an impressive comeback in front of an electric, sold out Cassell Coliseum that help the Hokies will their way to victory. The Hokies are not the best version of themselves yet, but to find a way to win against a fellow national title contender on a day where you don't have your best stuff is a clear sign of a championship-caliber team.

In the process, Virginia Tech re-asserted themselves as the team to beat in the ACC, though NC State is undoubtedly set to be the top challenger for the Hokies for the regular season crown. They also gave themselves the marquee resume win that they needed after coming up short against Iowa and LSU. Kenny Brooks recognizes that importance of this win for their NCAA Tournament seeding, something that Brooks said they already are thinking about given the caliber of team that they are.

"Any win like this is going to be valuable. This league is so tough and every game is going to be a battle. You don't want to look back on a game like this and say 'we could've, should've but we let that one get away' because that could be the difference in seeding as you go into the ACC Tournament, and that's our goal right now is to play every game and win every game so we can put ourselves in a great position to have great seeding not only for the ACC Tournament, but for the NCAA Tournament. And that's where our program has gone now. We used to say 'okay, just give us an opportunity to get in' but now it's like 'okay, we want to play for proper seeding so that we can go as far as we can go'," Brooks said.

After today's game, you can go ahead and block off Thursday, February 8th at 8pm on the ACC Network as must-see television when the Hokies and Wolfpack face off in Raleigh for the rematch. And if I'm ESPN, I'm finding a way to move that game off of ACCN and onto ESPN, especially after the thriller we witnessed today.

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