Hokies finally experience success in Commonwealth Clash

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BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Frank Beamer and wife Cheryl carved time out of their schedules to attend the Virginia Tech-Virginia women's basketball game Thursday night, and they certainly got their money's worth.

The Hokies knocked off the Cavaliers 63-45 in the latest Commonwealth Clash battle between these two schools, and Tech won it in a manner quite familiar to Beamer – by using stifling defense.

Tech head coach Kenny Brooks switched to a zone defense in the second quarter, and that proved to be the winning move, as the Hokies baffled the cold-shooting Cavaliers for the rest of the game and handed Brooks his first victory over Virginia as Tech's head coach.

Though Brooks has been the Hokies' head man for just three seasons, the win seemed a long time in coming. Finally, his team contributed toward the Commonwealth Clash, adding a half point to the school's total and giving the Hokies a 7.5-5.5 edge heading into the spring season.

"Honestly, I'm not going to lie – it's relief for me," Brooks said of the win. "As you walk around, it's [the Tech-UVA game] just a little bit different. The cheers at the end of the game after the final horn went off, they were a little bit different than they were last week when we beat Miami.

"We had an all-sports meeting yesterday, and Whit's [Babcock, Virginia Tech's AD] up there, and we're talking about the Commonwealth Clash. He said, 'Our next opportunity is tomorrow against UVA with the women.' I'm like, 'Oh, gosh.' But it's fun to be a part of something like that. It's fun to be a part of something that matters so much. To be able to go out there and not only represent bragging rights for your team, but for your university … it's good to be on the good side of that."

He and the Hokies got to experience victory over the Cavaliers because of his second-quarter decision. Tech trailed UVA 21-20 after a layup by Khyasia Caldwell with 8:09 left in the first half, but that marked the Cavaliers only lead of the game. Brooks switched to a 2-3 zone, and the Cavaliers never looked comfortable. UVA made just 3 of 9 shots in the second quarter and just one of its final seven. The Hokies closed the half with a 9-0 run, grabbing a 33-24 halftime lead.

The Cavaliers' futility against Tech continued into the third period. They made just 3 of 16 from the floor in that frame.

"Their forte is not shooting," Brooks said. "They've struggled shooting the ball a little bit … So, we went to the zone in the second quarter, and I thought it made them stand around a little bit."

Thanks to a 14-point third quarter, led, of course, by seniors Taylor Emery and Regan Magarity, the Hokies went into the final 10 minutes with a comfortable 17-point bulge. Brooks, though, probably would argue the use of the adjective "comfortable."

After all, nothing has been comfortable for him or the Hokies in this series. In Tech's previous five games against UVA under Brooks, the Hokies have suffered defeat in just about every way imaginable.

They scored 27 points in a loss in Charlottesville during his first season. Later that same season, the Hokies cut a UVA lead to one with 1:36 remaining at Carilion Clinic Court only to see the Cavaliers use a 7-0 run to pull away.

Last season in Charlottesville, Tech again cut a late UVA lead to one with 2:33 remaining, and UVA again used a 7-0 run to secure victory. The Hokies then missed on a golden chance for a win at Carilion Clinic Court weeks later, missing two shots in the final seven seconds. A Michelle Berry free-throw line jumper with two seconds left rimmed out, leaving the Hokies on the wrong end of a painful 64-62 decision.

The most painful of the five losses, though, came six weeks ago in Charlottesville. The Hokies let a 19-point, second-half lead slip away and lost 62-58 – one in a series of excruciating ACC losses this season.

"To have a loss like that is very heartbreaking," Emery said. "We lost a lot of focus in that game. We emphasized making sure that we didn't let it happen again. We came out [Thursday night], and we knew we were better. We came out, and we proved it."

"I'm not going to lie," Brooks said. "It was a little eerie. We played down there and we were up 10 at halftime, and here, we were up nine this game. We go to the fourth quarter up there, and we were up 15. Here, we were up 17. I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind, but you have to continue to coach the game and play the right way. We hit a couple of shots to stretch the game out and came away with a really good win. So, very proud of our kids."

Tech wasn't about to let what transpired in Charlottesville happen again. Not this time. Magarity added to her more than four dozen career double-doubles (18 points, 17 rebounds), Emery scored 19 points and Dara Mabrey hit four of the Hokies' 11 3-pointers – including two in a 29-second span with under four minutes to play to seal the game. The Hokies won easily over their rivals.

Finally.

The win marked the Hokies' 18th on the season, and they moved to 5-10 in conference play, with one regular-season game remaining. They probably need a deep run in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA Tournament bid, but they possess the goods to do that – only two of their 10 ACC losses have been by more than 10 points. Tech has lost two games in overtime, a game by two points and a game by four points.

"Right now, we're just taking it game by game," Magarity said. "Going into the ACC Tournament, you never know what can happen. We plan on going on a run … We're still hopeful. We still believe in the team we have and how we play."

Thursday night, though, was not the time to discuss postseason possibilities or conference tournament seedings.

After all, the Hokies beat their in-state rivals for the first time since February of 2016 – and rest assured, that's always worthy of taking an evening to celebrate.