#13 Virginia Tech Hokies Pull Away from the Syracuse Orange: 78-64
Guess It Might have been a Bit Too Cold or Something
This was a serious matchup. The Syracuse Orange against the Burnt Orange and Chicago Maroon of you Virginia Tech Hokies. That might have been a whole lot of red, yellow, and trace colors to visually digest, but the Hokies wore their good luck black unis. Maybe that made the difference. This game was a really even match up right until the fourth quarter.
Virginia Tech took the home court for the evening ranked 13th, and sporting a bit of a struggle going on for several players on the court. The prior two games the loss against Duke, and the road win in Hooville were marked by some scoring issues with Georgia Amoore and Liz Kitley. That also was compounded by the fact that the new Notre Dame inspired tactic is to physically beat up the Hokies, screen out Kitley and keep Amoore from setting up outside. It didn’t always work because the Hokies have some excellent players to back them up, but it still presents a problem when your inside and outside balance is knocked out of the game.
This game, it looked like Syracuse was trying to mimic that strategy to start, they laid on the defense and put up the first seven points in the contest without the Hokies answering. The Hokies didn’t even grab so much as a free throw for the first three minutes of the contest. The Hokies were playing good defense, but good still allowed five points on 2 from the paint and 3 from downtown. It sort of looked like the Hokies were going back to the individual scoring struggles that have plagued them for the last few games.
The Tech ice broke with a steal and fast break combination from Cayla King and Taylor Soule at the 6:55 mark of the period. Tech still trailed but getting off of that nasty zero was a critical point. Even with an additional 2 going in for the Orange, a sign of hope and good fortune popped up because Georgia finally uncorked a bucket from downtown and pushed the score to 5-7. D’asia Gregg chipped in with a jumper and a layup, but ‘Cuse went on a scoring run to end the quarter up 6 at 11-17.
The runs were more like walks, BUT things loosened up for the Hokies in the latter half of the second quarter. Hope was dimming for any relief and some scoring buffer, though. The Hokies outscored the Orange 24-19 in the 2nd quarter, but that had been made up with steady pressure on the exchanges, and no big runs to speak of. Even when Tech managed to push the bubble out a couple of buckets, the Orange would come back to even the exchange to +1 or -1. Tech did get some good news for the period though. The Amoore to Kitley balance was re-established and both really started to get their points totals rolling. The one other outside threat for the Hokies, Cayla King, also managed to find the range from outside the arc. She started hitting threes. That’s important, not just for points, but it forces, with two threats deep (King and Amoore) to spread out their defense and that frees up Kitley in the paint. The see-saw was beginning to work, and though Tech left the floor with a one-point deficit; 35-36. The momentum seemed to be swinging in their direction.
An important point to make, here is that defense played a critical role in this game. Tech absolutely had to keep Syracuse from running away with the game. Keeping it close and holding the scoring down meant that the Hokies, with better height, and a better inside-out game could put steady pressure on the Orange in the later stages of the game.
A shout out to D’asia Gregg is deserved, here. She pulled down 12 boards (10 defensive) in the game and pumped out 7 assists. That role, off the bench, and for a grand total of 25 minutes helped make a major difference. It would have been nice to see her play just a bit more to allow her to score just one more bucket somewhere to get in double figures, but 12 rebounds and 7 assists is a great outing.
The Second Half was A Big Mo Pull Away
The third quarter might not have looked much like Tech was going to cruise on their momentum gained at the end of the first half. However, after an exchange of buckets, Tech managed to pull ahead 39 – 38 on a patented Kitley jumper from the paint. Tech would never fall behind in the game, again. ‘Cuse would tie it up occasionally, but Tech was never trailed again. Taylor Soule would put the Hokies ahead by 2 at the end of the 3rd, and the air seemed to come out of the Orange’s balloon.
The fourth quarter was a very steady consistent pull away by the Hokies. The biggest “run” of the game was more like a steady pounding than a blazing runaway. Tech’s defense kept Syracuse stuck at 50 for all but eight seconds of the first five minutes. That’s not a trivial feat, either. A five-minute scoring drought, while the other team keeps putting up points in every variety, just ends up being too much to overcome in the last five minutes of the game.
Syracuse did come unglued from 50 with a 3-pointer at about the 5-minute mark, but Cayla King matched it with a 3-pointer of her own. With four and a half minutes left, Tech had a 16-point lead. Syracuse had no gas left in the tank. They did put up 11 more, but Tech matched that to keep pace. The Orange just couldn’t manage any sort of defensive stop against the Hokies. The game ended on a dribble away as the clock ticked down to zero. Georgia was trying to just drain off clock and ‘Cuse filched the ball. It was sort of a fruitless effort since with 18 seconds left on the clock, they were down 14. They just sort of stopped playing until the buzzer sounded. There is some certainty that they were disappointed with that, and no Hokie is classless enough to rub it in, but a 14 point pull away win in the critical home stretch of the regular season is a really satisfying thing. So, a fist pump or two might be forgiven.
Hooo Doggies… lots of stats to cover in this one. There were four Hokies in double digits for buckets, and lots of other critical things that contributed to this win. So, let’s take a look. (Note: We list these by total scoring total, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of the player’s contributions.)
Liz led the way in points this time. She played a full 40 minutes and more importantly she finally got back to her usual double-double with 20 points in the paint (9-14). She also pulled down 11 boards and pushed 2 assists.
The big worry is that Liz had serious problems from the charity stripe with only 2-6 sunk so, she’s going to have to work on that. Her usual free-throw shooting would have pushed her point total to the mid 20’s, but no one is really complaining with 14-point win.
Here’s a name that has been sadly missing from the high spots on our stats summaries. Cayla, normally is a big three-point and deep 2-point threat but has had recent scoring drought that had fans a bit concerned. The team needs her outside pressure to keep opponents from double-teaming her old high school teammate Liz Kitley. Cayla’s defense (yeah, she gets called for more than a few fouls… she plays tough those happen) has been critical, but her offense has been off. Not for this one. Cayla’s sights are hopefully back. She drained five (5-11) from deep, and also managed to be perfect from the free-throw line (4-4). Cayla also grabbed 7 boards, managed 2 blocks, and nipped off a steal. It was a really complete game for her, and that was capped by a personal record 200th 3-pointer.
There isn’t too much to go into, here. No, we kid. Amoore and King are critical to the more finesse style game that Tech plays. Amoore being point, and being hot from outside combined with Kitley inside gives the team balance and allows both halves of this duo to thrive. When opponents manage to shut down Amoore it makes it tougher on Kitley inside. That’s where King, and other players like Kayana Traylor being effective from the perimeter are important. The upshot is that Amoore found her outside shot, again. She was 4 of 10 from outside the arc and even managed to grab a clean 2. G capped it off with 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal. It was a solid “I’m Back!” performance that bodes well for the stretch.
One wonders what Taylor’s totals would have been if she had played more than 24 minutes in the game. All of her 12 points came from inside. She also had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal for the evening. It was a solid outing that the team really needed.
Kayana Traylor and D’asia Gregg
Traylor wasn’t a scoring threat for the evening. Her role looked to be mostly defensive, and she really only took five shots from the floor. She did sink 3 of 4 from the charity stripe and pumped in five assists. D’asia Gregg was one point off of a double-double. What she had going was a big presence inside and great hands. She pulled down 12 rebounds and stopped quite a few Syracuse rallies with 10 of those reebs being defensive. She did score 9, but her limited time on the court off the bench (24 minutes – Her one missed free throw was the culprit in foiling her double-double.) didn’t give her enough time to push a few more baskets. It would have been nice, because she was an impressive 4-5 from the floor with a three-pointer in the mix.
Don’t Minimize This – It was a Tough Match-up
There is going to be a bit of minimizing this. Syracuse wasn’t ranked, they are behind the power curve in the conference… yadda yadda… ‘Cuse is and was a tough opponent and played every second of this game down to the last 18. Tech did not run away with this one. The Hokies had to work hard, and everyone step up to get the balance to allow for their game to catch. It was a solid and important win for both the ACC tournament seeding and consideration for seeding in the NCAA tournament. Of course, the season isn’t over, and the Lady Hokies need to keep winning.
Like they say… That’s done, good… NEXT!!!!
That’s in Raleigh to meet up with NC State in their house. The Hokies have been a bit wobbly on the road, so this one is going to be a really important game. NC State comes to the Cassell on February 19th to close out the home regular season schedule. It would be nice to be greeted with brooms.