The Hokies fought their way to a physical victory over VCU in the second round of the WNIT inside Cassell Coliseum. Taylor Emery led all scorers with 21 points, while Regan Magarity and Trinity Baptiste added 12 and 9 rebounds, respectively.
"Give credit to VCU, they made us play a different style," said Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks. "We'll look back on it one day and understand that it's a good win, but right now it's about surviving and advancing."
VCU got off to a fast start as they scored on 3 of their first 5 possessions to jump out to a 6-2 lead. The Hokies answered with a couple buckets of their own, including a three by Taylor Emery, to tie the game at 8 at the first media timeout.
Both teams went back and forth for the rest of the quarter, and no one was really able to pull away. The Hokies lead 16-15 after one.
In the second quarter, the Hokies were able to get some separation. They knocked down 4 of their 5 three-point attempts in the frame, which was a tall task against one of the best defensive teams in the country this season.
"At any point in time, we can really bust the game wide open with three-point shot," said Brooks. We hit some tonight, we were efficient with it, but we just didn't get the abundance of them that we normally do."
Brooks said it was very apparent that VCU's game plan was to force Virginia Tech off of the three-point line. That is why it was so important for the Hokies to make the open looks that they did get, and they did so in the second quarter.
Still, Virginia Tech seemed unable to really pull away. Every time the Hokies would hit a big shot, VCU would answer with a bucket on the other end, usually inside the paint. At the half, Virginia Tech led 41-30.
One thing the Rams did well in the first half was containing Regan Magarity. The senior had just one point and 3 rebounds at halftime, which is well below her average.
"With a player like [Magarity], you're trying to limit touches," said VCU head coach Beth O'Boyle. "I thought Sofya [Pashigoreva] and Dani [Hammond] for us both did a really great job of working real hard in there and making sure that she wasn't getting the ball where she wanted to."
However, as VCU focused on Magarity, it was Trinity Baptiste who stepped up down low. She had 8 rebounds in the first half alone, along with 6 points.
"I know Regan's job is to rebound, and she's real great at it, but she needs help," said Baptiste. "I know I need to step in and help her out some." That's exactly what Baptiste did in the first half.
To start the second half, VCU continued to hang around. They continued to play very physically down low, which seemed to catch the Hokies a little bit off guard. At the media timeout in the third quarter, the Hokies only led by 8 points.
After the break, Virginia Tech seemed like they were finally going to be able to get some separation. Alexis Jean's three-pointer with 2:27 left in the third gave the Hokies a 12-point lead, which was their largest of the game to that point.
Yet just when the Hokies seemed ready to pull away, VCU closed the quarter on a 6-1 run to cut the lead to just 58-51.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Hokies started getting the offense they wanted. Magarity was able to get down low and draw fouls, and that opened up the floor for players like Emery and Sheppard.
Magarity even knocked down a triple of her own that gave the Hokies a 68-54 lead with 5:49 to go. After a couple of empty possessions from Virginia Tech, Taylor Emery was able to hit a pull up jumper and then two free throws on back-to-back possessions.
"My teammates were looking for me," said Emery . "They rely on me a lot to put the ball in the basket, and I have to find different ways to be able to score. [VCU] was overrunning a lot of the stuff, so I was able to fade away from it, and my teammates would hit me right on the money."
The Rams committed fouls on four of the next five Virginia Tech possessions, and the Hokies made all eight free throws to take a 80-60 lead with 2:09 to go. Even then, VCU was not done fighting.
They went on a quick 12-0 run in just over a minute and a half to cut the lead to 8, but it was too little, too late. With just 15 seconds remaining, VCU fouled one more time, and Rachel Camp hit both free throws. With that, Virginia Tech walked away with the 82-72 victory.
Key Stat - Hokies Score 82 Points
At first glance, 82 points does not seem that out of the ordinary, especially for this fairly high-scoring Virginia Tech team. However, the Hokies were the first team all season to score 80 or more points against VCU.
Furthermore, as Brooks pointed out, Virginia Tech had to find new ways to score due to VCU's defensive game plan. Despite that, they were able to put up the most points by a Rams' opponent all year.
"I think it shows how versatile we are," said Brooks of the Hokies offensive output. "We are a good basketball team, we can score the basketball, and we're very efficient."
With the win, Virginia Tech will move on to face Kenny Brooks' former program JMU in the third round in Harrisonburg. While VT didn't know that it would be JMU at the time, Brooks says the Hokies will be ready.
"We're disappointed we're not in the NCAA Tournament, but we're in this tournament to win it," said Brooks. "They understand what it takes to win it because we went through the whole scenario last year."
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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