After a 10-day layoff, the 14th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies finally returned to the hardwood for a New Year’s Eve showdown with the 6-8 Pittsburgh Panthers.
The last time the Hokies went to Cassell Coliseum, they lost to the William & Mary Tribe, going 1-12 on 3-pointers, trailing by one point at the end of the first quarter, and quickly turning the tables around. It was a comfortable victory. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Hokies started the ACC opener with a different energy than usual, jumping out to a 17-point lead in the first 10 minutes and taking a 22-5 lead.
After going into halftime with an 18-point lead, the Hokies once again came out of a red-hot locker room, hitting 20-of-28 from the field and 9-of-12 from long range, defeating Pitt 57-25. and finished with 91 points. 41 wins for Pitt. The 50-point difference was the Hokies’ largest margin of victory in an ACC game in program history.
The Hokies ran behind Georgia Amoore and the steady scorers surrounding her. In fact, six Hokies players scored in double figures on an efficient shooting night, shooting 52 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free-throw line.
The Panthers tried man-to-man and 2-3 zone, but nothing the Hokies threw at slowed them down. Against a man-to-man defense, Virginia Tech had excellent one-on-one post scorers in Elizabeth Kitley and Olivia Sumiel, and took advantage of running back Georgia Amoore leading the pick-and-roll action.
Switching to zone, the Hokies found the high post and were able to kick the ball out of there and swing it out to open shooters. The Hokies have faced zone twice so far this season, with shooters like Georgia Amoore, Kayla King, Matilda Ek, and Carys Baker benefiting from a textbook zone-breaker scheme that allows them to defend from long range. completely destroyed.
Amoor led all scorers with 20 points, while Ek chipped in with 16 points, King had 11 points and Carys Baker chipped in with nine points, all hitting at least three triples. In addition to the shooters, Liz Kitley had a double-double despite shooting on an off night, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine boards. Olivia Sumiel had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds on a perfect 4-4 from the field. Finally, Carly Wenzel dropped 11 points and had four assists to round out the Hokies’ double-digit scorers.
Virginia Tech’s stars and starters were good as usual, but the bench continued to impress, outscoring Pittsburgh’s bench 32-9. Obviously, this bench production could be skewed slightly as Kenny Brooks got a chance to clear the bench in the fourth quarter. Nevertheless, with the improved play of the Hokies’ role players over the last month, Virginia Tech is starting to reach its immense potential.
It’s often said that stars win games, but teams win championships. At times early in the season, the Hokies looked like a team with stars in Elizabeth Quilty and Georgia Amoore. As the years go by, the players around him continue to grow. This is not at all surprising considering so many players are new to the program, whether from high school or the transfer portal. But it’s still a very exciting development for Hokie fans with championship aspirations.
In contrast, the Pittsburgh Panthers appear to have some issues to resolve, but they should do so fairly quickly, as two of their next three games will be against ranked teams. The easy assessment of the Panthers’ loss was their inability to knock down shots, and that’s not entirely wrong. Beyond leading scorer Riatu King’s 19 points (almost on par with her average), no one was buying buckets on Blacksburg’s net all afternoon.
But the Panthers’ New Year’s resolution really needs to be learning how to defend the three-point line. The Hokies pounded them, knocking down 14 of 29 attempts from downtown. Unfortunately for the Panthers, this wasn’t the first time they lost three games in a row. Pittsburgh’s three-point defense was 11th worst in the nation, allowing eight threes per game at a 35% clip, while knocking down just 4.6 three-pointers at a 31% clip. That needs to change, especially when entering conference play in a loaded ACC that features a three-point sniper who is more dangerous than most players who played throughout the non-conference schedule.
The Hokies are 2-0 in ACC play and are set to start 1-0 in 2024, traveling just a few hours south to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Thursday, Jan. 4. If they take care of their job there, they have a big showdown looming against undefeated North Carolina State, who should be the early favorite for the 2024 ACC title.