Coming off the heels of back to back losses in the ACC and on the road, Virginia Tech was in dire need of a bounceback win and that was exactly what they earned as the #14 Hokies took down the Clemson Tigers 74-62 inside Cassell Coliseum Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t easy for the Hokies, who were without one of their superstars in senior point guard Georgia Amoore, who missed the contest due to a head injury she suffered in Tech’s last game against Duke.
“They weren’t all perfect, but we had everybody step up when they needed to,” Kenny Brooks said postgame. “I told the group before the game, no one is going to be Georgia, so don’t try to be Georgia. Be the best version of yourselves.”
With Amoore not even in attendance for the game, Tech turned to two freshman guards in Carleigh Wenzel, who got the start, and Samyha Suffren, who played 22 minutes, in the interim. Wenzel finished with seven points and four assists but also totaled four fouls and five turnovers. Meanwhile, Suffren ended up with three points, four assists and four turnovers. While it was a mixed bag for the young guards, Suffren and Wenzel can learn from the experience.
“They’re freshman, there’s a lot of things we will go back and teach them in the film. We will teach them what they need to do better. They did a good enough job to help us win all the while they’re learning.” Brooks said.
Not having an All-ACC performer certainly had the Hokies' offense in a bit of a flux for the first 17 minutes of the game. Tech committed 13 turnovers in the first half and gave up 11 offensive rebounds through the first two frames as well, both marks that would improve after the halftime break.
“They do a tremendous job mixing it up, they go from man to zone often. You spend a few seconds trying to figure out which one they’re in,” Brooks said. “A lot of the stagnant play we had early was because we never played that long without Georgia.”
Clemson threw out a 2-3 zone for plenty of portions of the contest, which flustered the Amoore-less Hokies for nearly the entire first half. However, once Elizabeth Kitley got going offensively, the script was flipped on the Tigers, who couldn’t guard Kitley one bit.
“Their zone was more matchup, so we were able to attack and get matchups that we could take advantage of. They guarded me one on one down low and the guards did a really good job of getting me the ball and coach Brooks did a good job calling stuff to get me shots.” Elizabeth Kitley said postgame.
Kitley started 2-7 from the floor, but from then on was basically perfect. The All-American missed just two shots for the remainder of the game and finished with 31 points, her 10th career 30+ point game, on 15-22 shooting from the floor with eight rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Her 15 made field goals were the most ever in a game at Cassell Coliseum, surpassing of her previous school record of 14 on December 4th, 2020 against Appalachian State.
Not only was Kitley brilliant on the floor, but her impact was felt as a leader too.
“We as fans need to appreciate that because we may never see it again, she’s a generational player here. She meant more today than just her 31 & 8, because of her leadership throughout,” Brooks said. “Today with what she was saying in the huddles, she was like an extension of me out there.”
Led by Kitley, Tech seemed in charge the rest of the way. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, as Tech’s other leader Cayla King went down with a leg injury in the fourth quarter. After colliding with an opposing defender, King had to be assisted off the floor by two trainers. A few minutes later, King walked back onto the floor on her own power and sat on the bench for the remainder of the game. King nearly had her first career double-double as she totaled eight points and nine assists.
“It was obviously a scary moment, but when I was in the huddle scanning the people who are in and all of a sudden I look up and she’s staring at me. That’s probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” Brooks said. “I don’t know what her situation is but we’ll take it as it comes and enjoy this one.”
Going back to the turnovers and offensive rebounds given up, the Hokies only had seven turnovers in the second half, a couple of which were in the final minute of the game when the result had been decided. They also only gave up two offensive boards in the back two frames, marking a boat load of improvement in two areas as the game wore on.
“It was about us being more focused. We made some stupid mistakes especially in the first half with too many turnovers that we shouldn’t make. Also, some of the rebounds were us making uncharacteristic mistakes that we know better not to do.” Matilda Ekh, who had 16 points, said postgame.
Virginia Tech advances to 5-2 in ACC play and 14-4 overall after their dozen point win over a reeling Clemson team. Up next, the Hokies will face Georgia Tech on Thursday evening at 6 PM inside Cassell Coliseum.