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March 16, 2010

Hokies bow out of ACC Tournament with loss to Boston College

By: Matt Kovatch

One of the highlights of the Hokies’ season was the upset of then-No. 10 North Carolina on Jan. 12, which marked just the fourth win over a top-10 team in school history.

They say it’s hard to beat the same team twice in a short span of time.

For the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team, 11 days must not have been enough.

A week and a half after defeating Boston College by five points in Cassell Coliseum, the 10th-seeded Hokies fell to the seventh-seeded Eagles 62-49 in the opening round of the 2010 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.

The win dropped the Hokies to 15-15 on the year, and though they are mathematically eligible for an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, their postseason fate was not yet known at press time.

But after that loss on March 4, the Hokies weren’t as concerned about their postseason possibilities as they were about what had just happened on the court.

“Obviously, it was a tough offensive day for us,” Tech head coach Beth Dunkenberger said after the game. “Boston College jumped on us early and attacked the paint, and we were never able to dig out of that hole. We were a little bit more aggressive in the second half, but we weren’t able to cut into that deficit.”

The Hokies struggled to get going in the first half, falling behind by as many as 17 points before going into the locker room down 12, 29-17.

Things didn’t look good from the start, as starting point guard Nikki Davis, with less than a minute gone by, went down with an apparent aggravation of her left knee injury from earlier in the season.

Boston College promptly hit six of its first 10 shots – while Tech hit one of its first eight – and the Eagles jumped out to a 13-2 lead within the first six minutes. The lead gradually increased to 25-8 at the 6:35 mark, but Boston College’s shooting eventually cooled down to the tune of 33 percent at the half.

Davis did return to the game, and actually scored seven of the Hokies’ nine points over the final 6:16 of the first half. Though the Eagles hit just two of their final 14 shots in the period, they were able to maintain the lead because they converted 10 offensive rebounds into nine second-chance points and held the Hokies to 19.4 percent shooting from the floor.

Things heated up in the second half, as BC went 5-of-7 and Tech went 7-of-12 over a back-and-forth first eight minutes of play. The Hokies cut the BC lead to seven on two occasions, including 36-29 at the 14:10 mark, but they would get no closer. BC would go on a 26-13 run from that point on to build a 20-point lead by the 3:09 mark.

The Hokies managed a 7-0 spurt to close the game, setting the final score at 62-49.

It was a stark contrast from the Hokies’ win over the Eagles on Feb. 21 when Tech shot 45 percent from the field and got strong play out of seniors Lindsay Biggs and Utahya Drye, as well as junior center Brittany Gordon. Biggs and Drye combined for 30 points on 50 percent shooting (13-for-26) in the first match-up, but teamed up for just 12 points on 21.7 percent shooting (5-for-23) in the rematch.

“They were mixing up their defenses in their zone,” Dunkenberger said. “I thought we were a little stagnant, but they knew where Lindsay was and they matched up with her in the zone. It was tough for her to get her preferred looks, and we were a little impatient there in the first half trying to get looks for her.”

Gordon was also key in the first game, notching a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, while playing excellent defense on first-team All-ACC center Carolyn Swords. Gordon limited Swords to eight points and four rebounds in this one and got her into foul trouble, but contributed just six points and four boards of her own. Plus, BC’s other post player, forward Stefanie Murphy, picked up the slack by netting 18 points.

“Honestly, I think they did the same thing they did the first time,” Gordon said. “They hit a few back screens here and there, and I wasn't getting around as much. I wasn't as aggressive on defense as I was supposed to be. I think that is when they started dumping it in more.”

With the loss, Virginia Tech fell to 2-6 in ACC Tournament games. Tech also matched up with BC in the 2007 first round, winning 60-54 in overtime, and in the 2008 first round, losing 57-47.

Hokies show improvement

Though it’s easy to get caught up in the disappointment of another first-round exit from the ACC Tournament and the possibility of a third consecutive year without an invitation to the postseason, it should be noted that the Hokies improved throughout the 2009-10 campaign.

At 15-15 overall, Tech picked up three games from its 12-18 finish from a year ago. And with a 4-10 conference record, Tech not only doubled its ACC win total from 2009, but also equaled its win total from the past two seasons combined (2-12 in both 2008 and 2009).

Among those wins was an upset of then-No. 10 North Carolina on Jan. 14, a 79-64 victory that Tech handled in dominating fashion, leading by as many as 23 points. Prior to the upset, the Hokies were winless against ranked teams since Jan. 8, 2006 and winless against the Tar Heels since 1984. Not only was the win just the Hokies’ third all time against UNC, but it was also their first win over a top-10 team since they beat Duke on Nov. 15, 1998. In fact, it was just Tech’s fourth win all time over a top-10 team.

Drye joins elite company

Drye, a senior forward from Durham, N.C., was named as an honorable mention selection to the 2010 All-ACC team on March 1, becoming just the fourth Hokie to earn all-conference accolades since Tech entered the league in the 2004-05 season. Drye joined Kerri Gardin, an honorable mention selection in 2005 and a third-team member in 2006; Kirby Copeland, an honorable mention selection in 2007; and Brittany Cook, a second-team honoree in 2008.

During the win over North Carolina, Drye became the 22nd member of Virginia Tech’s 1,000-point club. She is only the 11th player in school history to have scored 1,000 points with over 600 rebounds, and she became only the second player in the program’s 34-year history to have 1,000 points, 600 rebounds and 200 assists.

After her eight-point, nine-rebound performance in the ACC tournament game, Drye moved into 10th on Tech’s all-time scoring list (1,166) and ninth on the all-time rebounding list (645). She led the Hokies in both categories this season with 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

Biggs six shy of 1,000

Biggs entered the rematch with Boston College needing 10 points to join Drye in the 1,000-point club, but she was held to just four points on 2-of-9 shooting and, unless Tech gets a shot in the WNIT, she will finish her career with 994.

The Midlothian, Va., native ranks second on Tech’s all-time list for 3-pointers made with 188.

Harrison makes big improvement

Shanel Harrison averaged 13.5 points and six rebounds per game over the final six regular-season contests, providing a glimpse of the production that the Hokies hope she provides in 2010-11.

It’s not hard to pick out the Hokies’ most improved player from this season. Though she had just six points and four rebounds in the loss to Boston College, sophomore guard Shanel Harrison took a big step toward showing that she could be a reliable source of production next season.

The Washington, D.C., native had a promising freshman season in 2008-09, averaging 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Throughout the first half of this season, she continued her role as the first player off the bench, doing dirty work like fighting for tough rebounds, grabbing loose balls and coming up with blocked shots.

Starting in late January, however, Harrison moved into the starting lineup and her scoring increased drastically. Though she averaged 7.3 points per contest over the course of the season, Harrison poured in an average of 13.5 points per game in the final six regular-season games, while adding an average of six rebounds. That included a career-high 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting in a win over Clemson on Feb. 25.

Tech loses its top two scorers in Drye and Biggs for next year, so the Hokies will undoubtedly be counting on Harrison to pick up right where she left off.