• David Cunningham

Virginia Tech Escapes Liberty in Cassell Coliseum

Kenny Brooks’ Virginia Tech Hokies overcame foul trouble and 15 turnovers to defeat Liberty 73-69 in Cassell Coliseum on Friday evening.

Aisha Sheppard and Dara Mabrey each scored in double figures for the third consecutive game this season to lead the Hokies to victory. Sheppard led the Hokies with 20 points, while Mabrey added 19 in a very physical game.

“Liberty’s always a scrappy bunch, but I thought they were quicker to the ball on a few possessions and it led to them coming back,” Brooks said postgame.

And that it did.

The Hokies led 36-32 at halftime after shooting a 54 percent clip in the first half from the floor. Though Tech shot 36 percent from behind the arc, a big part of their halftime lead was thanks to their defense.

Holding the Flames to 40 percent from the field and 27 percent from three, the Hokies led at half thanks to ten points from Sheppard.

Then, Tech took over. They got out to a 14-point lead, but Liberty slowly crawled back. The Hokies went on a 13-4 run to end the third quarter but the Flames were strong coming out of the fourth quarter, immediately cutting Tech’s lead in half from twelve to six.

The lead never changed for the Hokies, but the Flames did cut their lead to one with 3:28 to play. Tech finished strong though, making free throws down the stretch to win by four in Cassell.

“It wasn’t the way we drew it up, it wasn’t pretty, but it’s going to be a tremendous lesson learned for us,” Brooks said.

The Hokies only shot 35 percent from behind the arc, which is lower than their marks in their two previous games – 50 percent against Saint Francis and 43 percent against George Mason. Brooks was happy with the effort, though, saying their shooting from behind the arc was limited due to foul trouble.

“Aisha [Sheppard] being in foul trouble really limited our opportunities from three,” Brooks said. “She probably takes the second most of anybody. 35 percent is still really good. We’ve shot the ball at a high clip. We didn’t have a rhythm tonight. It seemed like everyone was in foul trouble… We were just trying to manufacture points.”

The Hokies gave up 38 points in the paint, something Brooks was not impressed with.

“I don’t think we played well at all defensively,” Brooks said. “We missed a lot of assignments. It was mainly scout-based. They did a really good job executing their stuff and we were slow to react.”

Elizabeth Kitley also scored in double figures for the Hokies, putting up ten points on 4-8 shooting. Brooks said the Flames were “going after her” on both ends of the court, back screening her when Liberty had the ball and double teaming her when Tech had possession.

“This was the first time Liz [Kitley] has ever been ‘gone after,’” Brooks said. “They were back screening her and she has to be down and ready. You can tell your child growing up that the stove is hot, but until they touch it, they don’t really understand it. The second she walked on campus, I said ‘they’re going to double team you; you’re not going to be able to put the ball on the floor here.’ She’s gotten away with it and then tonight they really swarmed her. Now she touched that stove and understands it’s hot and she can learn to avoid those double teams.”

Taja Cole and Cayla King each gave Tech a few buckets when needed, scoring nine and six, respectively. Cole dished out eight assists as well, and Lydia Rivers dominated on the boards for the Hokies, grabbing eight rebounds.

After tonight, they’re just trying to figure out who they are as a team.

“We’re still trying to find our identity,” Brooks said. “This was a really good game for us because it was different than the other two. We weren’t able to be free flowing like we wanted to… That’s what you want in the nonconference, to play teams that are going to challenge you, so you can get better in conference play.”

The Hokies did enough to pull away from the Flames to win by four in Cassell Coliseum. They improve to 3-0 on the season and return to the court on Tuesday when they host Maryland Eastern Shore at 6:30 p.m.

Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics

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