March 4, 2012
By Jon Cooper
– It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Ty Marshall’s final shot, a long three-point attempt, that just beat the buzzer was supposed to hit nothing but net. Then, in overtime, Sasha Goodlett would single-handedly foul out the Maryland frontline, which she’d already put on the brink, and Marshall would continue to drive and score with impunity. The buzzer would go off and Goodlett, the five seniors and the Yellow Jackets would make center court at Greensboro Coliseum theirs, as the band revved up “Up With the White and Gold,” into “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck From Georgia Tech.” All the while Head Coach MaChelle Joseph would beam and hug her players.
Then Joseph would then lift the trophy high, and hand it to Goodlett, who would give it to Chelsea Regins, who would pass it to LaQuananisha Adams, who would pass it on to Mo Bennett, who would give it to Metra Walthour.
Obviously, it didn’t end that way. Marshall’s three did not go in and, instead, Maryland celebrated its 68-65 victory, celebrating it’s 10th ACC Championship, in the first game since 1993 that did not have either Duke or North Carolina.
“It was just a play set up for our shooters,” said Marshall, who had her third 20-point game of the tournament, scoring a team-high 25 points, giving her 66 for the three days. “Of course, they’re shooters, so (the Terrapins) are guarding them heavy. Time ticking down, we had to get a shot off, the best shot we could.”
Ironically, Marshall’s shot, came from what two days earlier had been the spot where where North Carolina guard Brittany Roundtree’s game-winning three hit the front rim and bounced away, as the Jackets knocked off North Carolina.
The fourth-seeded Yellow Jackets battled the third-seeded Terrapins tooth-and-nail for 40 minutes for the third time this season, in what is becoming one the most dramatic series in the ACC.
Unfortunately, for the Jackets, the third time wasn’t the charm, as for the third time this season Maryland prevailed. The three games were decided by a total of 14 points.
The way things started out, it looked like the third time wouldn’t be close. The Jackets turned the ball over eight times in the first 10 minutes. Marshall, who had shot a sizzling 59.3 percent (16-of-27), was 2-for-10. Meanwhile ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas was a one-woman show — with 10:00 left in the first half, she had outscored the entire Georgia Tech team, 13-9 — as Maryland opened a 17-9 lead. Thomas would finish with a career-high 29 points and earn Most Outstanding Player honors.
“I thought [Marshall] did a great job down the stretch and really took over the game in the second half,” said Joseph. “She was 7-for-10 in the second half. I’m really proud of her. I thought Sasha all along has been one of the top five players in the ACC. I thought Ty Marshall, they had no answer for her for a while then Alyssa Thomas responded. That’s what great players do they make plays. I though Sasha Goodlett, Ty Marshall and Alyssa Thomas are three of the best players in the ACC.”
But this is Georgia Tech-Maryland and the Tech wasn’t quite ready to board the bus.
“I think we switched what we were running and made some adjustments on offense and defense and gave ourselves an opportunity to win,” said Joseph. “We felt we were just as good as Maryland, we played them very close throughout the course of the season the last couple of years.”
The Jackets fought their way back, hanging tough on the boards — the rebound battle was 33-31, Maryland, as the Terps grabbed one more offensive and defensive rebound — and, when Marshall buried a three from the top of the left side with Maryland stopper Laurie MIncey in her face, to cut the deficit to 29-27 at the half, suddenly, hope was restored.
In the second half, Marshall picked up her game, She hit 7-of-10 in the final 20 and scored 18 of her 25 points, leading the Jackets, who shot 52.2 percent and 72.2 from the line (13-for-18). Goodlett had the other half of her 20 points, shooting 2-for-3, 6-for-9 from the line. She also had assists on back-to-back possessions to give Tech an early second-half lead.
Tech’s defense also clamped down. They forced Maryland to miss 10 straight shots over a seven minute span. But the Terrapins’ offensive rebounding kept Tech from pulling away. Maryland actually overcame a three-point deficit in the run, as Maryland converted 7-of-8 free throw attempts.
The Terps finally snapped their drought, as Thomas hit a pair of jumpers, then Kim Rodgers hit a pair of threes, one from the left side, one from the right, as part of a 12-5 run that snapped a 47-47 tie and gave the Terps a 59-52 lead inside of seven minutes.
Again, Tech fought back, as Goodlett and Marshall combined to score 11 straight points in an 11-2 run that gave Tech a 63-61 lead with 2:05 to go.
The Jackets would not get another field goal.
They committed a costly turnover, and missed their final six shots.
“I really felt like tonight we needed to hit more shots from the offensive end,” said Joseph. “We had great opportunities, but we didn’t convert. When we got down we clawed and dug our way back and played extremely hard and in the last minute we had a chance to win.”
In the last minute they had that chance hindered by what appeared to be a couple of bad breaks — a non-call on a Regins put-back, then a missed call with 17 seconds and Tech down 67-63, when Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins dove on the floor for a defensive rebound. Hawkins could have been called for traveling and should have been called for her foot touching the end line. Neither was made. The call that was made was rather puzzling to Joseph, although she refused to use it as an excuse.
“Our team played very hard and it was unfortunate for it to come down to that,” she said. “At first I thought it was an inadvertent whistle because it came from the far end of the court I thought Maryland called a timeout because they were obviously trapped. I was surprised at the call.
“Really one play doesn’t make the game,” she said. “I thought it was a well-played, well-officiated game to that point.”
Two free throws by Marshall and a missed Maryland free throw gave Tech one last shot, but Marshall’s long three was off the mark.
“I’m really proud of the way they came out night after night and stepped up on the defensive end,” Joseph said. “The way we play defensively, it’s really hard to play consecutive games — back to back to back — and to do it at a very high level is almost impossible. And I thought that, for three days consecutively, my team stepped up and played defensively as well as any team I’ve ever seen three nights in a row, playing 94 feet for 40 minutes.”
It was a tough way to end an ACC season for the Jackets and a bitter pill to swallow for the seniors. Goodlett finished with 20 points and eight rebounds, but all five contributed. Regins had seven points and four rebounds, three on the offensive end, Bennett grabbed five boards, second on the team, while Walthour added eight points (2-of-3 from three) and Adams played a gritty game in the paint.
Joseph will be counting on the senior leaders to get the team ready for the NCAAs. The Jackets will have to wait eight days to find out where they’re going in what will be their school-record sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
“I don’t think I have to say anything,” said Joseph. “I have such great leadership with my five seniors. This team understands what we’re playing for and they understand how much it means to us to win and advance and to play in consecutive nights in the ACC Tournament. All that does is get us ready for the NCAA Tournament and motivate our team and give us motivation going tint for the Tournament. It was a great experience.”
Goodlett, who fought back tears throughout the press conference is certainly ready.
“I’m not satisfied,” she said. “How I played in the tournament was okay. Was it great? No. Was it magnificent? No. I feel i have a lot of room to grow. It woke me up a little bit. I’m ready for the next game and I’m ready to go after it.”
And you know what they say about the danger of waking a a sleeping giant.