Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech won their fifth consecutive game in the Women's ACC/Big 10 Challenge on Thursday evening, defeating Purdue 67-54 in Cassell Coliseum.
“We weren’t always perfect, but we had some stretches where we showed what we can be,” head coach Kenny Brooks said.
The Hokies turned the ball over fifteen times against the Boilermakers, but forced 16 Purdue turnovers. The 15 turnovers come after Tech turned the ball over 22 times against Georgia in Daytona Beach last week. Brooks said taking care of the ball was a point of emphasis coming into the game, and he thought his crew was better tonight.
“In the Georgia game, we lacked focus during certain stretches,” Brooks said. “We were much better against Purdue… the way we play, you’re probably going to have some unforced turnovers, but I don’t think you can eliminate the turnovers; you just have to try to minimize them.”
Dara Mabrey said the Hokies were motivated after the Georgia loss to get back in the win column, and to do so, they had to limit turnovers. The sophomore from Belmar, N.J., scored 17 points in Tech’s victory.
“The sour taste in our mouth motivated us,” Mabrey said. “I think what helped was watching our turnovers on film… just knowing better spacing and better timing… I’m confident that if we do that from here on out, our offense will flow smoothly.”
Trinity Baptiste contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Hokies. She said the Hokies did a better job of spacing on offense and helping each other out on defense.
Late in the third quarter, the Boilermakers went on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 40. Brooks called a timeout, saying after, “we just stopped paying attention to detail.”
The timeout paid off, as the Hokies went on a 10-2 run over the next minute, with Aisha Sheppard scoring seven of the ten. Her contribution to Tech’s 10-2 run stretched the lead to 8 and helped the Hokies pull away.
Brooks said Sheppard was motivated by what he said to her in the timeout.
“She kept telling me she was open,” Brooks said. “I told her, ‘You’re not open… You’re the focal point. They’re going to guard you as soon as you come across midcourt… so now you have to run a little bit harder and cut a little bit harder.’ I’m very proud of the way she responded in that second half.”
Sheppard, the junior from Alexandria, VA, finished with 17 points on the night, 15 of which came in the second half. Brooks said that Sheppard is still finding her role, mentioning that in her first two seasons in Blacksburg, all of the pressure was on veteran Taylor Emery, not Sheppard.
“She’s a work in progress with who she is and what she’s going to be,” Brooks said. “She’s so used to not being the focal point. She’s so used to having Taylor Emery on the other side of the court where the focus is on Taylor.”
Taja Cole, Lydia Rivers and Elizabeth Kitley picked up the rest of the slack on the scoring end, scoring the remaining 20 points for the Hokies.
Cole led the trio with eight points, five assists and four rebounds. Through eight games, she’s averaging 6.5 assists per game, with a 2.5 assist to turnover ratio.
Rivers picked up her first start of the season in place of Baptiste, with Brooks explaining the change was to keep Baptiste out of foul trouble. Rivers was called for four fouls in the game, which forced Brooks to play Baptiste more. The graduate transfer from Radford scored five points and tallied six boards.
Kitley, the freshman from Summerfield, North Carolina, finished with seven points and five rebounds.
Taylor Geiman, the freshman from Hanover, Pennsylvania, saw her first minutes in Cassell Coliseum after missing the first few weeks of the season due to injury. She played in both of Tech’s games in Daytona Beach, scoring six points against Belmont.
“I’m using my honorary psychology degree and making sure that she understands that you’re not going to walk out there and just be what you were in high school,” Brooks said. “It’s a process… she’s going to get better and better and offer something for us that’s going to be pretty good.”
The Hokies shot 40.7 percent from the floor and 35 percent from behind the arc in the victory, while not allowing Purdue to make a three. Tech also won the rebounding battle by eight, 39-31.
With the win, Virginia Tech improves to 7-1 on the season, returning to the court on Sunday at 2 p.m. when they host Gardner-Webb inside Cassell Coliseum.