BLACKSBURG, Va. – Kenny Brooks has won nearly 63% of his games since becoming the Virginia Tech women’s basketball coach in 2016.
But no victory was sweeter than the one he received Thursday.
Aisha Sheppard scored 18 of her 28 points in overtime to help Virginia Tech upset No. 2 North Carolina State 83-71.
Sheppard hit two of her four 3-pointers in the extra session, and the Hokies (8-7, 3-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) pulled away to beat a Top 5 opponent for the first time since knocking off No. 5 Old Dominion in 1985. Virginia Tech had never beaten an opponent ranked higher than No. 5 in the Associated Press poll.
“You like the sundae, but sometimes the cherry on top is really good, too,” Brooks said. “You don’t know which one is the best. We needed the win. The fact that it was the No. 2-ranked team in the country was the cherry on top.
“Where we were and just the way the season has gone for us, I didn’t care if we were playing the Globetrotters. We needed the win … It feels really good to just be gritty, gutsy, and come through with a big win.”
Camille Hobby led N.C. State (11-1, 6-1) with a career-high 19 points. Hobby’s 3-pointer at the end of regulation tied the game at 57 and sent it to overtime.
The Hokies could have been rattled in that moment after a season in which all seven of their losses have been by 10 points or less. But Brooks had talked with Sheppard earlier in the week about being a better “closer,” and Sheppard delivered.
In overtime, she started the scoring with a 3-pointer, and the Hokies never trailed again. She made 12 of 14 free throws in the extra period.
“I just trusted the work that’s been in and understanding that my coaches trust me to be able to make those decisions,” Sheppard said. “They know I’ve put the work in and that the shots are going to fall. I knew that going in. I was frustrated - don’t get me wrong. But my teammates and my coaches look to me to take those shots, and I’ve just got to make them. I did tonight. That was the difference.”
Elizabeth Kitley added 17 points and 11 rebounds, and Azana Baines had 16 points for Virginia Tech. The Hokies snapped a three-game losing streak.
Playing without All-American Elissa Cunane because of COVID-19 protocols, the Wolfpack had a 16-game winning streak end.
“The whole game, they played great defense, and we just didn’t get it done.” NC State coach Wes Moore said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to help our players maybe get better looks and stress a little bit more about how important rebounding and having urgency is.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack have a lot of talent, but clearly are a different team without Cunane, who missed her second consecutive game. NC State led the ACC in 3-point percentage coming into this game, but made just 5 of 19. Cunane’s return - which should come Monday at Louisville - should free up open shots for the rest of the Wolfpack, who, despite the loss, possess the talent and depth to be a top NCAA Tournament seed in March.
“She has a really good chance unless she has a setback,” Moore said of Cunane.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies finally won a close game, as their previous five losses had been by five points or less. But they executed down the stretch against the Wolfpack, hitting their free throws, not turning the ball over, and making 5 of 7 from the floor in overtime to register the program’s biggest win.
“I think we needed it more for our psyche,” Brooks said. “There’s still a lot of basketball left to play. We don’t have to be perfect down the stretch. We just have to be a lot better and win some of these close games and finish with a positive record. Then we’ll give ourselves a chance to be where we want to be.”
Brooks grabbed his clipboard as soon as he saw Hobby take the 3-pointer at the end of regulation, knowing that the shot was good and that the game was going into overtime. But he refused to let his team sulk and delivered some stern words that seemed to motivate his squad.
“I told them, ‘If anybody here doesn’t think we’re going to win the basketball game, get up and go. Leave. We’ll finish with the people who believe,’” he said. “Right then, there was a little bit of an eruption, and they believed.”
The Wolfpack should drop several spots in the Top 25 following the loss to an unranked team.
N.C. State: At No. 1 Louisville on Monday.
Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina on Sunday.