#TGW: Looking to Rebound

#TGW: Looking to Rebound
Georgia Tech women’s basketball looks to rebound after a couple of tough losses
By: Jon Cooper

MaChelle Joseph was at a loss Sunday afternoon as she took out frustrations on a clementine following Sunday afternoon’s 77-54 defeat at the hands of No. 2 Notre Dame.

“I think we had a hangover effect from the Syracuse game (Thursday night’s 88-77 loss),” said Joseph. “We were very disappointed.”

As she discussed the loss to the Fighting Irish that dropped the Jackets to 12-5, 1-3 in ACC play, her disappointment wasn’t as much with the result Sunday as the response to Thursday — or lack thereof.

“When you have five seniors, we expect better leadership coming back. They’ve been in these battles for four years. You have to know how to bounce back,” she said. “It takes a lot of leadership by your seniors. I’ve said it every year, ‘You’re only as good as your seniors.’

“This is one of our most talented teams but we’re young and inexperienced and we need our seniors,” she added. “We need our seniors to come in off the bench and settle everything down and get stops and score for us.”

The Jackets trailed 9-2 only 2:15 into the game Sunday, trailed by 11 at the 5:00 timeout and never got within single-digits the rest of the way, trailing by 13 at the break and by as much as 30 in the second half. But the number that stood out to Joseph was Notre Dame’s 56-22 edge in the paint.

“That’s about toughness,” she said. “Anyone that gets 56 points in the paint, that’s about toughness. I don’t think that’s ever happened in my career.”

It’s the second straight game that the Yellow Jackets have allowed a season-high in PIPs, as Syracuse scored 38, and it’s the third time in four games that opponents have hit at least 30 points in the paint. Notre Dame had a 34-8 edge in that category at halftime, outscoring the Jackets, 20-2 in the second quarter.

While the team’s getting stuck in Syracuse for two days due to the weather could have been a factor Sunday, Joseph would have none of it.

“I’m not gonna make excuses. There are no excuses,” she said. “We got back (Saturday) at 3:00, had a practice until 5, then turned around and played the No. 2 team in the country at 2:00 the next day. That was tough. It was a tough, tough, tough thing for us but that’s too bad. That’s the way this league is. It takes a lot of toughness, it takes a lot of leadership by your seniors. I couldn’t control the weather but yesterday maybe we practiced too hard, I don’t know. We just didn’t have the energy that you would expect a group of five seniors to have.”

Tech struggled on both ends of the court on Sunday, shooting 30.8 percent for the game, 14.2 percent in the first half (5-for-35), and 0.90 in the second quarter (1-for-11).

Joseph made it clear at the half and during the postgame that that kind of play won’t stand and the seniors need to make a statement.

“I basically just challenged our seniors,” she said. “This is one of the worst losses in their career and I really challenged them.”

The halftime speech made an impression as the Jackets came out on an 8-0 run and held Notre Dame scoreless for the first 4:36 of the stanza. They’d outscore the Fighting Irish, who were playing only seven due to injuries, 16-14, then 20-15 in the fourth, but they’d dug themselves too deep a hole.

Kaylan Pugh sledgehammered her way to a team-high 17 points, going 5-for-8 and hitting seven of the nine foul shots she earned the hard way at the rim.

On the day, Francesca Pan scored 12 points, although seven of those points came in a 2:11 span in the final 3:00 and Elo Edeferioka and Zaire O’Neil combined for nine points on 4-for-15 shooting.

The Yellow Jackets held their own on the offensive glass, winning that battle, 13-5, but they could not convert, getting outscored 8-5 in second-chance points.

“We missed a lot of layups and we missed a lot of offensive putbacks and wide open shots,” said Joseph. “You have to knock those shots down against a team like Notre Dame.”

Freshman point Kierra Fletcher was a bright spot despite a 2-for-10 shooting day.

“Even though Kierra Fletcher didn’t have her best game, I thought played fearless and tried to make plays for her team,” Joseph said.

Nonetheless, Joseph’s counting on the seniors to teach the youngsters to develop that swagger.

“I think that we’ve got a bunch of young kids that are figuring out this league and it’s an unforgiving league and if you don’t show up every night and every day at practice focused and paying attention to the game plan it will take advantage of you,” she said. “So that’s one of the things we have to do a better job of in the next couple of games.”

The next two games are at NC State and at Pittsburgh — both winnable games, but only if the team shows it can win on the road. Again, Joseph challenged the seniors.

“This is a real gut check for us,” she said. “We’re going to have to figure out what our identity is going to be as a team. Our seniors are going to have to figure out what they want their legacy to be because right now, along with me, they’ve got to give the toughness.

“This senior class has not learned how to win on the road, so they’ve got to figure that out,” she added. “One of the things I said when we went to those seven straight NCAA Tournaments, ‘Winning breeds winning.’ Once you learn how to do it you know what to do.”

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