Virginia women’s basketball coach Tina Thompson has talked all season about her team’s resiliency.
On Thursday against rival Virginia Tech, it was on display.
For three quarters, Virginia had no answer for Virginia Tech’s Taylor Emery, but the Cavaliers erased a 19-point deficit in the second half and dominated the fourth quarter in a 62-58 victory.
“We are really excited about this win and with the fight we showed, but we’re even more excited about the fact that we’re starting to believe the things we’re working on and talking about every single day, and the second half was an example of that,” Thompson said.
Virginia Tech (13-3, 0-3 ACC) opened the second half on an 11-2 run and led 41-22 late in the third quarter, but over the game’s final eight minutes, the Cavaliers outscored the Hokies, 28-9, on the way securing their fifth straight Commonwealth Clash victory.
Virginia’s last loss to Virginia Tech was on Feb. 28, 2016.
“Our kids believed in their abilities, knowing they’re going to be tired,” Thompson said. “We talk about that every day, too, but there is something else in them to push, grab and pick at that second gear and extra breath you have in order to get ourselves over the hump and put ourselves in a position to win.”
Kendyl Brooks’ 3-pointer gave the Hokies a 19-point lead with six minutes left in the third quarter, and Virginia Tech went into the fourth with a 49-34 advantage, but that’s when the Cavaliers’ offense came to life.
Former St. Anne’s-Belfield star Brianna Tinsley completed a three-point play to help Virginia (7-9, 1-2 ACC) open the final frame with seven unanswered points. Jocelyn Willoughby (10 points) added a 3-pointer to cut Tech’s lead to six before Tinsley finished a steal with a layup to cut it to four.
Tinsley scored 11 of her 15 points in the second half.
“In the fourth quarter, we just locked down defensively,” Tinsley said. “We had to change our mindset, and we knew that we were not going to lose this game.”
With 1:35 to play, Dominique Toussaint hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 54. On the ensuing Virginia Tech possession, she jumped a passing lane for a steal and fired a quick pass to Lisa Jablonowski, who finished at the rim for a 56-54 lead.
Toussaint followed that with a layup for a 58-56 lead, and she finished with a team-high 19 points. Even when the Cavaliers were down 15 points, she was able to look to the bench for motivation.
“Every time we scored or even got a stop on defense, they were hyped up and that got us hyped and made us believe that we were going to win this game,” Toussaint said.
Over the final two minutes of regulation, Virginia went 8-for-8 from the free throw line to seal the win.
“They out-played us, they played harder than we did and they wanted it worse than we did,” Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “They’ve got a veteran basketball team that has played a lot together. They’re hungry and they’re not going to go away. We knew that.”
Emery finished the game 5-of-9 from 3-point range and put up a game-high 26 points, but she had a chance with 13 seconds left to make it a one-point game with a trey and she couldn’t connect.
“We lost our focus and played like we had a lead instead of playing to win,” said Emery, seated in the postgame press conference next to fellow senior Regan Magarity. “We’re seniors, so close isn’t close enough. We need wins and we just keep giving games away.”
After opening the season with 13 straight wins, Thursday’s game marked Virginia Tech third straight ACC loss.
“We didn’t make smart plays, and I can’t even call our mistakes uncharacteristic anymore because we’ve made them the last three games,” Brooks said. “We just can’t seem to get over that hump to where we’re playing smart basketball.”
Emery scored Virginia Tech’s first 17 points of the game and connected on her first four 3-point attempts. She scored at least 20 points for the fourth time in five games, but she didn’t get much help. Tech’s next leading scorer was Magarity, who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds but was held scoreless until the final minute of the first half.
Virginia returns to John Paul Jones Arena on Sunday to host No. 8 N.C. State.
Virginia center Felicia Aiyeotan made her return to the court on Thursday after missing 11 games due to a knee injury suffered Nov. 20 against North Carolina A&T. Wearing a brace on her right knee, Aiyeotan didn’t start, but she played 9:31 and finished with two points and a blocked shot.
“She’s very out of shape, so it’s going to take some time to get her back to where she was at the beginning of the season, but I have no doubt that she will get there,” Thompson said.