After two dominating games in a row, the table was set for the Hokies to take care of business against Syracuse (10-10, 4-5 ACC) on Friday night. After building a 16-point lead, Virginia Tech (15-5, 5-4 ACC) saw it evaporate and fell in the closing seconds, 67-65.
In the first half, the Hokies’ defense swarmed Syracuse. The Hokies offensively weren’t as sharp as usual, but they went on a run, scoring five of the last six baskets in the second quarter to close the half.
Graduate transfer Taja Cole set the pace for the Hokies’ offense, facilitating and helping spread the floor. She led the Hokies with five assists at the half. In transition, Cole had her way finding her teammates in open passing lanes.
Cole was able to find redshirt junior Alex Obouh Fegue in the paint several times in transition. Obouh Fegue led all scorers with eight points at the half. She finished the game with eight points.
Sophomore Dara Mabrey started the second half off with a bang for Tech. She drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Hokies’ lead to 12.
Tech continued to have its way in the post in the third quarter. Cole again helped lay the groundwork in transition and was able to find her teammates in all facets.
The Hokies’ defense kept the fire it had in the first half. Tech forced Syracuse to take tough shots. Syracuse couldn’t buy a three, shooting 3/13 halfway through the third quarter.
Tech pulled away in the third quarter and took its time with each possession. Tech’s ball movement made sure everyone got a touch and an opportunity to score. Strong guard play by Cole, Mabrey and junior Aisha Sheppard helped lead the Hokies’ offense. Mabrey finished with nine points and five rebounds.
The strong offensive output in the third quarter put the Hokies up by 11 going into the fourth quarter.
Syracuse made a run to come back in the early part of the fourth quarter. Turnovers on Tech’s offensive possessions and easy opportunities for Syracuse at the offensive end led to an Orange 3-point play, making it 59-52, Virginia Tech.
Syracuse was aided by Tech’s offensive woes. The Hokies went nearly four minutes without scoring in the middle part of the fourth quarter.
Cole hit one of two free throws to make it a 63-54 lead for Tech. Syracuse immediately answered with a three as the Hokies took a timeout.
The Orange clawed back, making it a two-point game with 1:47 to go. Tech went ice cold from the field on offense and Syracuse got red hot. Syracuse had all the momentum going into the closing moments of the game.
Cole came out of the timeout and extended the Hokies lead 65-61 with a floater. Cole finished with nine points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, falling just short of a triple-double.
Syracuse didn’t waiver. The Orange drove into the paint and hit a layup and created an and-one opportunity. Tech led 65-63 with 1:15 to go in the fourth.
The Orange tied the game at 65 and erased a 16-point deficit.
After a missed Tech lay-up as the shot clock expired, Syracuse hit the go-ahead lay-up to go up 67-65.
With four seconds left, Sheppard fired a long three short and the evening ended in disappointing fashion for Tech. Sheppard ended with nine points and five rebounds. Sheppard also had six turnovers.
Syracuse outscored Virginia Tech 22-9 in the fourth quarter. The Orange had their way offensively and Tech had no answer. The strong ball movement and defense that the Hokies had in the first three quarters disappeared in the fourth.
After a strong three quarters, Tech looked like a different team on the floor. The Hokies couldn’t buy a stop on defense, and offensively they couldn’t buy a basket. Syracuse made great adjustments going into the fourth quarter and came ready to fight back, while the Hokies’ momentum was gone. Tech looked gassed and it showed in the box score.
Next up, the Hokies will look to rebound as they host Miami on Feb. 2. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.