Chapel Hill, NC – - Elizabeth Kitley watched the ball drop through the net, heard the horn and skipped toward midcourt to celebrate with her Virginia Tech teammates on North Carolina’s home court.
Only as they started to mob her, Kitley began backpedaling before they caught up her near a midcourt table.
“I thought I’d go towards them but I know how passionate my teammates are and I knew they’d come to me,” Kitley said with a smile. “So I didn’t want to fall down and get hurt or anything.”
The 6-foot-6 senior capped a night when she set Virginia Tech’s career scoring record with her jumper at the buzzer to help the ninth-ranked Hokies beat the 22nd-ranked Tar Heels 61-59 on Thursday night, extending the team’s late-season streak to seven games.
She finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a game played in her home state, the last coming with the Hokies (23-4, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) locked in a tie game with 2.1 seconds left. Cayla King inbounded to Kitley on the right side, who had space to calmly launch about a 15-footer while UNC’s Anya Poole tried to close late.
“That’s a shot I think I’m really confident in, my teammates are confident in it for me,” Kitley said. “It felt good.”
Officials reviewed replays to ensure no time was left before declaring it was a walk-off basket in front of a stunned-silent UNC crowd.
“To be able to get a win like this and have a storybook ending with a winning shot but also becoming the all-time leading scorer ... that’s pretty cool,” Hokies coach Kenny Brooks said.
Kayana Traylor added 20 points for Virginia Tech, which overcame an awful shooting start and a season-high 20 turnovers.
Deja Kelly scored 18 points to lead the Tar Heels (19-9, 10-7), including what appeared to be a go-ahead jumper with 12.2 seconds left that had the ball rattling around the rim before dropping through the net for a 58-57 lead.
“Overall we did a decent job on (Kitley), it’s a really tough kid to guard,” UNC coach Courtney Banghart said. “They great players. ... We were two points not good enough tonight.”
Virginia Tech: The Hokies’ six-game streak including wins against ranked Florida State and North Carolina State teams before beating then-No. 9 Duke last week to avenge their last loss. Now they’re set for a double-round bye in next week’s ACC Tournament.
UNC: The Tar Heels have lost four of six, though they did get back starters Alyssa Ustby and Eva Hodgson from multi-game absences. Hodgson last played Jan. 22 before going out due to an illness and Ustby last played Feb. 2 before being out with a lower-body injury. The mission now is getting them back to full speed with one game left in the regular-season schedule.
“It’s about game pace and they haven’t played in a month or so,” Kelly said. “But they’re experienced enough to get back into it soon.”
Kitley, the reigning ACC player of the year, needed 16 points to tie the scoring record of 1,883 points set by Aisha Sheppard just last year. She cracked that midway through the fourth quarter of a tight game, taking a feed from Georgia Amoore and hitting a jumper over Poole at the 5:18 mark to tie it at 49-all.
King followed Kelly’s jumper by calmly hitting two free throws to put the Hokies back in front with 9.1 seconds left, while Ustby banked in a free throw to tie the game at 59-all but missed the second to set up Kitley’s jumper - a miss that Banghart said left her “heartbroken.”
Traylor had scored 18 combined points in her last three games and hadn’t hit double figures since going for a season-high 25 points at Virginia on Jan. 29. ... Ustby had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting. Hodgson had two points and went 0 for 4 in her return. ... Virginia Tech shot 56% after a 2-for-14 start. .... UNC scored 21 points off turnovers. ... Virginia Tech had a 41-28 rebounding advantage.
Virginia Tech: At Georgia Tech on Sunday.
UNC: At ninth-ranked Duke on Sunday.