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Virginia Tech women knock off No. 16 Duke at Cameron

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DURHAM, N.C. — Last month, the Virginia Tech women’s basketball team knocked off nationally ranked Duke.

On Thursday night, the Hokies did it again.

The Hokies upset No. 16 Duke 65-54 at Cameron Indoor Stadium to sweep the regular-season series.

“We were ranked, too, at one point [this season],” said Tech guard Aisha Sheppard, who had 13 points and three 3-pointers. “We continue to move forward and do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be right back in there.

“We just know … what we’re capable of doing, and I think we showed that tonight.”

Down 48-46, the Hokies (12-4, 4-1 ACC) closed the game on a 19-6 run. All three of Sheppard’s 3-pointers came in the run.

“Sheppard really closed the game out,” Tech coach Kenny Brooks said.

Tech, which upset then-No. 15 Duke 77-55 on Dec. 30, improved to 2-2 against ranked foes this season. Tech bounced back from a 71-46 loss at nationally ranked North Carolina on Sunday.

“It was night and day [from Sunday],” Sheppard said. “UNC was a letdown.”

This is the first time the Hokies have beaten multiple ranked foes in the same season since the 2004-05 campaign, when Beth Dunkenberger’s Hokies beat three ranked teams.

“It is a testament to the hard work the staff has put in, the hard work that these kids have done,” Brooks said. “We don’t have one McDonald’s All-American on our team. … The amount of effort that they put into improving their games, … it starts to show.

“It’s a great win for the program.”

This is the first time Tech has ever beaten Duke (11-3, 2-2) twice in the same season. It also was only the third time Tech ever won at Duke.

“When we’re focused and locked in, we’re really, really hard to guard and it’s hard to score on us,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard, who was carried off the court after injuring her left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss, started Thursday’s game.

Sheppard was just 8 of 28 from the field in the three games prior to Thursday, including 1 of 7 at UNC.

She missed eight of her first nine shots Thursday, but she made her final three shots (all 3-pointers).

“It’s been a bit of a struggle, obviously, but knowing that my coaches and teammates think that the next one’s always going to go in gives me a lot of confidence to keep shooting,” Sheppard said.

Brooks said Sheppard is a rhythm shooter.

“I quoted the great Jay-Z and I told her … ‘I want you to walk by the mirror and I want you to look in that mirror and I want you to say, ‘Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Aisha Sheppard,’” Brooks said. “I’m very proud of her. And she needed this.”

Tech made only seven 3-pointers Thursday, but four of them came in the game-ending run.

Virginia Tech defeated Duke for the third straight time, including a win in February 2020. This is the first time Tech has pulled off three straight wins in the series.

In last month’s meeting, Duke was without its leading scorer, freshman guard Shayeann Day-Wilson, because of COVID-19 protocols. Day-Wilson had 10 points Thursday.

But Duke was without two starters Thursday. Celeste Taylor, who averages 11.7 points and a team-high 6.1 rebounds, missed the game with an arm injury. Lexi Gordon, who averages 9.8 points, missed the game because of COVID-19 protocols. It was the first game either has missed this season.

“I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said. “We have enough.

“It really comes down to execution more so than it comes down to who’s able to play that night.”

Elizabeth Kitley had 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Hokies.

Azana Baines, who played for Duke two seasons ago before transferring to Tech, had eight points and a career-high 16 rebounds off the bench. Last month’s meeting was the first of two games she had missed; Brooks had declined to say if it was because of COVID-19.

“She’s our enforcer. She’s the muscle,” Brooks said. “She was going up and getting grown-woman rebounds today.

“She was phenomenal. And she’s catching her second wind.”

Elizabeth Balogun (15 points) scored to give Duke a 48-46 lead with 6:05 left, but Tech answered with the 19-6 run.

Kayana Traylor made a layup for Tech to tie the game at 48. Sheppard sank a 3-pointer to give Tech the lead for good at 51-48 with 5:09 to go.

After Balogun scored for Duke, Traylor made a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 54-50.

Kitley scored, was fouled and made the free throw for a 57-50 lead. Sheppard drained another 3-pointer for a 60-50 cushion.

Day-Wilson made two free throws, but Sheppard answered with another 3-pointer for a 63-52 lead with 1:19 to go.

“They made some tough shots [in the run],” Lawson said.

Tech shot just 36.9% from the field, but Duke shot only 35.7%.

Duke led 32-25 at halftime but made only seven baskets in the second half.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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