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Hokies' Rally Falls Short

DePaul's Lead Too Much for Va. Tech; Liberty Upsets Penn St.: DePaul 79, Virginia Tech 78

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 21, 2005; Page D12

Virginia Tech was on the verge of getting blown out by DePaul. Down 20 points in the first half, the Hokies appeared incapable of generating enough offense to match the high-scoring Blue Demons.

Then, slowly, they began to chip away, and it looked as if Virginia Tech might steal this victory.

DePaul's Caprice Smith, right, blocks a shot by Virginia Tech's Dawn Chriss. (Chris Gardner -- AP)

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But in the end, the Hokies' remarkable second-half comeback fell short. Jenni Dant heaved a shot from the left baseline that somehow found the bottom of the net with 4.9 seconds left to lift fifth-seeded DePaul to a 79-78 victory over the No. 12 Hokies last night at Comcast Center in an NCAA tournament Chattanooga Region first-round game.

The Hokies (17-12), who trailed 42-25 at halftime, had a chance to win in the final seconds. After Dant scored, Carrie Mason threw a long pass to Kerri Gardin, who was streaking down the court. The ball slipped past Gardin's outstretched fingers and across the end line, putting an end to Virginia Tech's impressive rally.

"I'm extremely proud of how our team battled tonight," Hokies Coach Beth Dunkenberger said. "We lost the first half pretty badly, but we came back in the second half and played with so much heart and determination. Just one break here, one break there, and it's a different game. . . . And when you play with that much heart and that much determination, I can't be disappointed."

Although the Hokies fell short in their upset bit, No. 13 seed Liberty stunned fourth-seeded Penn State, 78-70, in its first-round game. The Lady Flames (25-6) advanced to face DePaul tomorrow night.

"I don't think it's sunk in totally," said Liberty center Katie Feenstra, who scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. "I'm still kind of jittery, but I'm so happy. I don't even know how to express how happy I am. We've wanted this so bad for so many years, and we finally got it."

It was Liberty's first win in the NCAA tournament in its ninth consecutive appearance. After making three consecutive round of 16 appearances, Penn State (19-11) bowed out in the first round for the first time in four years.

Leading 32-27 at halftime, the Lady Lions fell behind 2 1/2 minutes into the second half and never recovered. Liberty built a 10-point lead eight minutes into the half and was up 66-52 with 5:37 to play.

Penn State, which shot 37 percent from the floor, took 13 more shots than Liberty, but made one less field goal.

Early on, it looked as if the Hokies were going to be handed one of their worst NCAA tournament defeats as Virginia Tech made only two field goals in the first seven minutes, missing 8 of its first 10 shots.

Compounding their woes, the Hokies were facing the most prolific scoring team in Division I. DePaul (26-4), which averages nearly 83 points per game, scored on five of its first six possessions to take an 11-4 lead. Less than 10 minutes into the game, it was ahead, 26-8.

The Blue Demons' commanding lead started to unravel late in the first half as they became careless with the ball. During a span stretching from late in the first half through the second half, DePaul turned the ball over on 15 of 27 possessions. The Blue Demons had seven turnovers in the first five minutes after halftime and had 19 turnovers 25 minutes into the game.

The Hokies capitalized on DePaul's sloppiness by going on a 19-6 run. Because they were turning the ball over so often, the Blue Demons made only eight field goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half.

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