In what may have been the toughest battle on their home court in ACC play this season, the Virginia Tech Hokies fought their way through a back-and-forth battle to take down the Miami Hurricanes, 70-63.
Leading the workload again for the Hokies was no other than center Elizabeth Kitley, who notched another double-double with her game-best 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The ACC Player of the Year candidate also made an impact at the free throw line, which was a problem for her at the beginning of the season, as she went 6-6 of the night and was able to help secure the Hokies victory.
Although Kitley had another wonderful performance from the floor, she didn’t provide the statement moment of the game, that spotlight belonged to guard Aisha Sheppard.
Before the opening tip, the graduate student was recognized for her crowning achievement of becoming the all-time leading scorer in Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball history, which she accomplished on Feb. 20th against No. 3 Louisville.
A visually emotional Sheppard had a one-on-one conversation with Kenny Brooks on the court before getting a picture with the head coach, Virginia Tech President Tim Sands and his wife, Dr. Laura Sands.
After being noticeably quiet in the opening half with two shot attempts, Sheppard ramped up her production in the second half and made big plays down the stretch to keep the Hokies in the contest.
The Hurricanes had stormed all the way back to make it a four-point game with three minutes remaining, putting themselves in contention to complete the comeback. But when the Hokies needed it the most, Sheppard knocked down a three at the top of the perimeter to snap a three-minute scoring drought and put the dagger into the Hurricanes.
The Alexandria, Va. native ended with 16 points on the day with 5-11 shooting from the field while going 4-8 from behind the arc.
Part of the reason why Sheppard wasn’t getting many looks in the opening half was due to the aggressive defense the Hurricanes brought with their man defense and full-court press.
The Hokies were able to get their shots to fall in the first quarter as they went 8-14 from the floor, and were impressively strong from behind the arc with 4-6 shooting. There were two sides of that opening quarter though, because the Hokies turned it over six times.
Things didn’t get any better in the second quarter as the Hokies only accumulated eight points in the ten-minute span and turned the ball over four more times and trailed by two points into the break.
After a rough 3-15 shooting performance in the second quarter, the Hokies looked refreshed coming out of the break as they connected on their first four attempts and closed the third quarter on 8-11 shooting.
The turnovers were still racking up for the Hokies as they gave the ball back to the Hurricanes six times in the third frame, keeping Miami within reach trailing by only one point heading into the fourth quarter.
From a turnover perspective, the fourth quarter was the best showing from the Hokies on the night as they only turned it over two times in the final 10 minutes. However, the shooting display from Virginia Tech returned to its second quarter form as they went 28.6 percent in the final frame.
While the Hokies were met with a difficult task of controlling possession for a majority of the game, the adjustments that Virginia Tech made on their aggressiveness kept them in the game.
In the first half, the Hokies only had one trip to the free throw line, and it was Azana Baines who went 1-2 from the charity stripe. Meanwhile in the second half, the Hokies had 16 attempts from the line, and they made the most of it making 14 of them.
Many feared that this matchup would be a trap game for the Hokies who have this game scheduled right in-between two Top 5 opponents in Louisville and N.C. State. The veteran leadership made sure that would not be the case and now they can enjoy their 13th ACC win of the season, extending a program record.
On top of their program-record number of ACC wins, the Hokies reached another historic number on Thursday as they picked up their eighth ACC win at home, breaking the 2019-20 season record which stood at seven.
Only the regular season finale stands in the way for the Hokies as they welcome the No. 3 ranked N.C. State Wolfpack to Cassell Coliseum on Sunday, Feb. 27th. This will be the second meeting of the season between the two programs, as the Wolfpack bested the Hokies 51-45 down in Raleigh, N.C. on Jan. 23rd.
With a victory, the Hokies would secure a double-bye in next week’s ACC Tournament without the use of tiebreakers while the Wolfpack have already secured the top seed in the ACC Tournament with their win over Syracuse on Feb. 20th.