More than halfway through the second quarter, Virginia Tech guard Cayla King intercepted a bad pass from Bucknell’s Emma Shaffer and ran away on a fastbreak to lay the basketball into the bottom of the bucket. The crowd erupted with applause while King ran back on defense and high-fived her teammates on the way back down the floor.
In a normal situation, King’s steal and score would have been just another one in a meaningless non-conference game against a weaker opponent that the No. 13 Hokies were blowing out. Only, it was everything but that.
King’s layup extended the Hokies’ slim lead to just three points with under four minutes into the second quarter. The baskets, to that point, weren’t sinking. Bucknell’s defense was suffocating. And Virginia Tech was growing more and more frustrated with every miss.
In the end, though, Tech prevailed, outscoring Bucknell 7-2 for the rest of the quarter to take a 31-23 lead into the half. The Hokies then pulled away with a 67-41 win by the time the final horn sounded around 9:40 on Friday night. Perhaps it was the gloomy weather, or the 7 p.m. tip time, or even playing down to a less-talented opponent, but the Hokies (2-0) let Bucknell (0-2) hang around for longer than they should have.
“We didn’t play well,” head coach Kenny Brooks told reporters after the win. “You gotta give Bucknell credit. I mean, I think we didn’t play well, their style, [they were] very methodical on the offensive end. … We missed some shots that we normally would make. And I think that really just set the tone for us.”
Whether it was the Bison defense closing in on shots or Virginia Tech simply missing open looks, it was an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance for Tech, who came into the season with sky-high expectations. The Hokies showed who they could be in a 56-point rout over Mount St. Mary’s on Monday, but on Friday, they demonstrated that some players are still learning their system.
Which makes sense because, in a perfect world, every player would gel together to create a perfect team of scoring baskets, sharing the ball and playing good defense. Clearly, Friday’s showing proved that’s not the case.
Virginia Tech added two players that were primary scorers with their former schools to its starting lineup via the transfer portal – Taylor Soule (Boston College) and Ashley Owusu (Maryland) – and it’s clear they’re learning how to share the basketball with All-ACC players in Georgia Amoore and Elizabeth Kitley, who scored 22 points and recorded 13 rebounds for her 36th career double-double. Both Owusu and Soule combined for just 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting, a sign that there’s still room to grow for the pair.
“[Owusu is] trying to learn [the system]. When she gets it, she’ll get her shots,” Brooks said. “I thought she had a couple of opportunities to really get some baskets to go down and they just rimmed in-and-out, but she’s gonna be fine. [This system] is totally different. She and I talked about it the other day, it’s different than where she came from.”
But the Hokies are learning on the fly and rather quickly. Tech had familiarity in its starting lineup a season ago with Amoore, Kitley, King, Azana Baines and Aisha Sheppard. The five had played and practiced together for over a year by the time the season-opener rolled around last November. This season, however, Tech doesn’t have that benefit.
The Hokies are smart enough and talented enough to figure it out. Just don’t be surprised when they figure it out sooner rather than later.