BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s women regarded themselves as an NCAA tournament-quality basketball team until the final bids were extended on Selection Monday. VCU coach Beth O’Boyle felt much the same way. Still does, in fact.
“That’s an NCAA-caliber team,” O’Boyle said in the aftermath of Sunday’s 82-72 loss to the Hokies in the second round of the women’s postseason NIT. “They’re so talented and they play so hard. For us, this was like a first-round NCAA game. Now it’s up to us to learn and grow from the experience and actually get there next year.”
The Hokies (22-11) absorbed the heaviest blows the Rams were capable of delivering. VCU, one of the nation’s most efficient defensive teams, forced Tech to play a game that was seldom pretty. The Hokies, visibly uncomfortable at times, committed 17 turnovers and rarely reached their preferred levels of elegance and speed.
Nonetheless, they adapted and prevailed. They made 8 of 14 3-pointers — including 6 of 8 in the first half — against an opponent that ranked third in the nation in 3-point percentage defense (25.5). En route, they became the first team this year to score 80 or more points against O’Boyle’s Rams.
“They pressure you hard,” said Hokies guard Taylor Emery. “They’re scrappy and they really come after you. It wasn’t easy. They made us work to keep our composure.”
Said Hokies coach Kenny Brooks: “If nothing else, [Sunday’s game] shows how versatile we are. They made us play a style we don’t normally play. When it became evident that they wanted to push us off the 3-point line, we had to do some things we don’t normally do. That’s why we shot so many free throws [38, 27 of which came in the second half].”
Emery, a senior, led the Hokies with 21 points. Sophomore forward Trinity Baptiste scored 14 points. Redshirt senior forward Regan Magarity delivered a double-double: 10 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore wing guard Tera Reed scored 17 points for VCU (24-10). Taya Robinson, a sophomore guard from Huguenot High School, added 13.
Tech surged to a 41-30 halftime lead after sinking four second-quarter 3-pointers.
Thereafter it began to pound the ball inside. VCU couldn’t match Tech’s firepower. The Hokies built a 20-point lead with 2:09 remaining.
Then VCU’s defensive effort began to pay dividends. Five consecutive Virginia Tech turnovers enabled the visitors to close to 80-72 with 13 seconds remaining.
“I’m very proud of the way we competed,” O’Boyle said. “We stuck together and kept fighting right down to the end.”
VCU’s prognosis appears good.
The Rams lose no one from a team that improved from seven victories in 2018 to 24 this year.
“Obviously, you never want to end your season with a loss,” O’Boyle said. “But given the way this team competed — not only today, but all season long — I’m just so proud to be able to say I’m the coach at VCU.”
Waiting for the Hokies in the third round of the WNIT will be James Madison, a 71-54 winner over visiting South Florida on Sunday. Brooks coached at James Madison for 14 seasons before taking the job at Virginia Tech in 2016.
Sunday, the Dukes took control by outscoring the Bulls 25-8 in the second quarter. Jackie Benitez scored 26 points and Kamiah Smalls added 17 for James Madison (27-5).
Shae Leverett led South Florida (19-16) with 14 points, and Tamara Henshaw added 12.
VCU 15 15 21 21 — 72
Virginia Tech 16 25 17 24 — 82
VCU (24-10): Archie 4, Pashigoreva 6, Reed 17, Williams 11, Robinson 13, Malashka 0, Hammond 8, Hattix-Covington 4, Agustus 0, Petrova 9.
Virginia Tech (22-11): Magarity 10, Baptiste 14, Sheppard 12, Emery 21, Mabrey 5, Jean 6, E.Brooks 0, K.Brooks 3, Camp 11.
3-point goals: VCU 2 (Williams, Robinson, Petrova 3); VT 8 (Magarity, Sheppard 2, Emery 2, Jean 2, Brooks).