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Nov. 9, 2013

Sting Daily
By: Jon Cooper

Friday evening at McCamish Pavilion was supposed to be the first act of the Tyaunna Marshall Farewell Tour. It turned out to be the first look at the Kaela Davis Coming Out Party.

The latter worked fine for Georgia Tech fans, who still saw their team leave the floor 1-0, following the 79-57 win over Coppin State.

Davis, making her collegiate debut, was fashionably late in arriving, needing more than 16 minutes to score, but once she shook off the slow start, she was nearly unstoppable. Davis scored 20 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, both game-highs.

That stepping up proved important, as Marshall, who came into the season with realistic expectations of making a challenge at Kisha Ford’s all-time school scoring record, didn’t play, as she was rested, for precautionary reasons, having suffered a concussion during the week. In addition, guard Aaliyah Whiteside also had missed practice time during the week.

That made the opener, always unpredictable, a little more so for head coach MaChelle Joseph.

“We’d kind of gotten into our rotations with Ty at the point and Kaela and Aaliyah on the perimeter and then we had those injuries and everybody was kind of thrown for a loop,” Joseph said, who raised her record to 10-1 in season-openers and 8-1 in home openers. “We came into this game expecting them to play zone but I guess I didn’t expect 40 minutes of zone on every possession. I thought that we struggled a little bit at first to find ourselves and then we changed our offensive sets and we were able to get some easy baskets and I thought that got us going offensively.”

Davis personified the Yellow Jackets struggles coming out of the gate, as she started 0-for-6 with five turnovers during the first 16:26 of her career. The Yellow Jackets led 21-16 at that point.

Those early struggles caught Joseph off-guard, but not that was about the extent of the worries about her.

“I was a little surprised that Kaela got off to a slow start because she’s been so consistent,” she said. “There was no doubt in my mind that she was going to come back because I hadn’t seen her go for long periods of time without making plays and getting done what she usually gets done.

“It was good to see her bounce back from that and have the mental toughness not to get caught up in it and overcome it,” she added. “That’s what great scorers do. They may miss their first 10 but they know they’re going to make their next 10. She came out with that mentality and put us on her back a little bit. She really made her presence felt.”

Davis’ slow start surprised Joseph but her response stunned the Eagles and quashed any thoughts of Coppin State hanging around long enough to pull off an upset.

She began the onslaught with a 73-second display of full-court domination in which Davis was involved in all 10 points of a 10-1 run that stretched the lead from seven points to 16. At the 2:40 mark she grabbed the rebound of a Dawnn Maye missed jumper and laid it back in for her first collegiate points. Twelve seconds later, her steal and outlet pass to Maye pushed the lead into double-digits for the first time in the game. Then, 14 seconds after that, Davis cashed in a turnover, nailing a three for a 14-point lead. Still feeling it on Tech’s next possession, Davis buried another three to give the Jackets a 16-point lead.

Finally, just before the half, she made another steal and outlet pass leading to a fastbreak lay-up by Frida Fogdemark, extending the lead to 37-20, where the teams went into the break.

Davis credited her teammates for keeping her up mentally.

“It took me a little bit to get going but my teammates are great,” she said. “They kept me encouraged, told me to stay positive. My teammates provided encouragement from the jump. They told me I had to have a positive attitude, stay confident out there. Everybody kept me encouraged, confident the whole time.”

Among the most positive was Marshall.

“Ty was encouraging from the sidelines,” said Davis. “She’s a great leader whether she’s playing or not playing. She’s still here. She’s still being a great leader, still being positive with everybody. We knew we had to step up and do our parts and do them a little bit better than we’ve been doing. She was encouraging everybody, was being positive so we all knew we had to step up and get things done. “

In the second half, Davis felt much more comfortable and held court. She shot 4-for-8 in the second half, 2-for-5 from three, while grabbing six rebounds, four on the offensive end.

The Jackets pushed the tempo and pushed the lead to as much as 29 in the final 20 minutes. Defensively, they smothered the Eagles, who finished the game shooting 31.1 percent, and forced 23 turnovers, good for 22 points.

Joseph was pleased with her team’s fight and ability to make adjustments in battling the Eagles’ zone. She also was pleased with the interior play of sophomores Nariah Taylor and Roddreka Rodgers.

But, as coaches do, she pointed to issues that go beyond not having Marshall in the lineup, problems that took place when Marshall was out there, which again reared their ugly heads.

“The fouls and the turnovers,” Joseph said. “I mean 25 fouls and 26 turnovers, that’s not going to beat anybody. That’s what I told them. Those are two things that have been our Achilles” heel all preseason and those things have to get fixed. Those are signs of a young team, turnovers and fouls. That’s what beat us last year. That’s why we have to fix those two things, and free throw shooting (Tech shot 58.3 percent: 14-for-24, 8-for-15 in the second half).”

Davis believes the team will be better and looser when it takes the floor at McCamish this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. to take on Western Carolina, having gotten that first game out of the way.

“I think there’s always a kind of first-game jitters kind of thing,” she said. “To be able to come out and get a great team win, I think is definitely a positive attitude and there should be a lot of enthusiasm going into Sunday.”

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