Tennessee Falls Short in Hard-Fought Battle With No. 9 Virginia Tech

Photo Credit: Cayce Smith/ Tennessee Athletics
By Chloe Levering

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. –The Tennessee Lady Vols (4-5) fought until the very last seconds in Sunday afternoon’s matchup with No. 9 Virginia Tech (8-0), despite being down three key players.

“I thought we played well enough to win, but just needed to make different plays,” head coach Kellie Harper said, “whether that was on the offensive end or defensive end.”

Prior to the start of the game, it was announced Jillian Hollingshead, Jasmine Franklin, and Rickea Jackson were all out for the game. According to Tennessee Athletics, both Hollingshed and Franklin would not play due to concussion protocols and Jackson was out indefinitely, due to a coach’s decision.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Jackson proved to be a very prominent figure on the court for the Lady Vols. The senior forward was the lead scorer in five of Tennessee’s matchups so far, including UMass, Indiana, Rutgers, UCLA, and Eastern Kentucky.

“I think everybody has to step up,” Harper said when asked about filling Jackson’s role on the court. “We’re trying to help that also with some play-calling and put our players in positions to be successful and take advantage of matchups in certain situations. We’ve got players that will be able to do that.”

The Hokies opened the first half strong, leading as much as 12 points in the first quarter. However, with a 7-0 run in the second quarter thanks to buckets from Jordan Horston, Marta Suárez, and Tamari Key, the Lady Vols closed the gap to 34-30 at halftime.

Virginia Tech head coach Kenny Brooks praised Horston following the game. “Jordan was just unbelievable,” Brooks said. “She’s a tremendous athlete.”

Despite the loss, Horston secured a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds. For Virginia Tech, Kayana Traylor emerged as the leader with 18 points.

Lady Vol starting center Tamari Key had a game herself, totaling 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The 6’6 senior was up against Elizabeth Kitley for the Hokies, a senior of the same height.

“We made an emphasis to shut her down,” Key said, reflecting on last year’s matchup with Virginia Tech. “I think we did a good job of that in this game.”

The Hokies returned with a 10-0 run early in the third quarter, which contained a near-20-minute delay due to technical difficulties with the goal shot clocks.

“I said, ‘Let’s take advantage of this. Let’s let this be a reset for us, not the other team,’” Harper said. “‘Let’s make sure we’re ready to go and we come out strong.’”

Tennessee definitely did just that with a very physical and full-team-involved final quarter as the Lady Vols closed the gap to only two points with 10 seconds left in the game. However, after a foul on Suárez sent D’asia Gregg to the line, she locked in a 3-point lead with only seconds left for the Lady Vols to tie up the game with a three. Horston took her best possible look before firing from the arc, but the basket would not go.

“We got to see effort in our group,” Brooks said. “We’re all trying to figure it out at this junction of the season. If we can continue to win while we’re trying to figure it out, I think it’s a bonus for us.”

However, Tennessee outrebounded Virginia Tech by 15, an accomplishment that both Horston and Harper attribute to productive practices during the week.

“We’ve been having great practices building up to this,” Horston said. “I feel like we were locked in. We had a lot of urgency.”

The Lady Vols are back in action and seeking out their fifth win of the season against Chattanooga on Tuesday in Thompson-Boling Arena. The game is set for 6:30 p.m. EST and will air on SECN+.