Virginia Tech battled back from a double-digit halftime deficit as the Hokies got back to their winning ways, defeating Virginia 69-61 in Charlottesville on Sunday.
“We came out in the second half and made a tremendous adjustment,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “We took off from there.”
Tech (13-4, 3-3) trailed the Cavaliers (7-11, 2-5) by 13 at the beginning of the third quarter, but the Hokies never flinched. Two 7-0 runs from Tech helped them back into the game, heading into the fourth quarter tied at 44 with the Cavaliers.
From there, Tech’s defense took over, holding the Cavaliers to 6-17 from the field in the final period. Tech outscored Virginia 51-32 in the second half, led by 13 second half points from Dara Mabrey and 10 from Aisha Sheppard.
The Hokies stepped it up in the second half on both ends of the floor, shooting 15 of 29 (51.7 percent) from the field in the second half after making just seven of 25 attempts in the first.
“We simplified our offense [in the second half],” Brooks said. “We were stagnant and forcing up shots [in the first half] … we were able to get some spacing in the second half with a double post offense and we could see the double teams coming a lot better. It opened up some things for us on the perimeter.”
And that it did.
Tech made five of their ten shots from downtown in the second half, including a huge three from Mabrey with just over two minutes to play.
With the shot clock winding down and the Hokies leading by just two, Mabrey drained a three from the logo to push Tech’s lead back to five.
The Hokies then made their free throws down the stretch to close out the Cavaliers for their third ACC win of the season.
Tech rebounded more effectively in the second half, outrebounding UVA 23-13 in the final two periods. Brooks credited those numbers to the halftime adjustments and not allowing Virginia to double in the post.
“They weren’t able to double us more and we were able to crash the boards,” Brooks said. “Trinity [Baptiste] did a really good job coming off the bench to rebound, Liz is learning how to rebound with her feet and Lydia [Rivers] is a force on the boards. Just being a little bit more aggressive and the positioning we put them in helped us get some second chance opportunities.”
Brooks’ backcourt also took better care of the ball in the late stages of the match.
In the first half, Virginia Tech turned the ball over 12 times. With the adjustments Brooks and his staff made at halftime, the Hokies turned it over just five times in the second half.
“We started running different things and talking on offense,” Dara Mabrey said postgame. “They wanted to double in the post, so we needed to talk to Liz [Kitley] and tell her to kick it out. We executed more confidently.”
With Tech holding the Cavaliers to 12 of 32 shooting in the second half also came holding Jocelyn Willoughby to two points. The 6’0” senior from East Orange, New Jersey, led UVa with 15 first half points, but the Hokies shut her down after halftime.
“I was most proud of Lydia [Rivers] for her defense on Willoughby,” Brooks said. “I’m not going to say she stopped her, but she really contested things and made it very tough in the second half.”
With tough defense and lighting up from behind the three-point arc, the Hokies found a way to close out the Cavaliers, something they did not do a week ago against Duke in Durham.
“In the second half I thought they were tremendously focused,” Kenny Brooks said. “In the first half, I thought UVa took us out of sync and we lost our focus, and that’s going to happen with an inexperienced team. We did a really good job of continuing to attack.”
All five starters scored in double figures for the Hokies, with Mabrey leading the way with 15. Sheppard and Rivers each knotted 13, while Taja Cole produced ten points and eight assists. Kitley also had a productive night, recording her first double double in ACC play in her career with ten points and 12 rebounds.
Virginia Tech is now 3-3 in the ACC after their first road win in conference play, returning home to Cassell Coliseum on Thursday. Brooks & Co. have four of their next five games at home, with the lone road game at Syracuse on January 30.
“We feel like we’re in a really good place,” Brooks said. “We weathered the tough stretch… It’s time to step up and take advantage of our stretch at home, but it’s not going to be easy… we just have to come out prepared to play.”