Nov. 11, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Season openers can be tough.
Season openers with six freshmen against a quality opponent, especially one with a burr under its saddle, can be even tougher.
That’s what No. 22/20 Georgia Tech faced in its 2012-13 season opener against No. 20/16 Tennessee.
The sledding would be too tough as the Jackets fell, 71-54, in their McCamish Pavilion debut, in front of a crowd of 5,571, the fifth-largest in program history.
But what made this loss particularly tough to take for Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph was her team’s lack of toughness.
“I was very disappointed in the way we opened up this new arena tonight,” said Joseph, who suffered the first season-opening loss in her 10-year tenure at Georgia Tech and her first in eight season openers at home. “It’s obvious tonight that we lived and died by the three-point shot. We didn’t ever establish an inside game. I’ve been talking about it all preseason. You have to play with a certain amount of toughness on the inside. Obviously tonight we did not do that. Outside of Ty Marshall we didn’t have a lot of toughness out there.”
Marshall, who is on the preseason John Wooden Award watch list, led the Jackets with 18 points and eight rebounds. The entire rest of the front court totaled eight points.
The lack of an inside game became even more glaring when Tech’s main outside weapon, sophomore two-guard Sydney Wallace drew her second foul 53 seconds into the game. She’d play eight minutes in the first half and only 21 for the game, finishing with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting, 2-of-7 from three.
“That threw our complete game plan off,” said Joseph. “When your best scorer’s not in there early on in the game, it was hard for us to make plays because so much of what we do against the zone is predicated around her. So, obviously we need to look at that and make some adjustments.”
Looking to replace Wallace’s production, junior point guard Dawnn Maye put up four threes, Marshall and senior forward Jasmine Blain also each tried their hand at threes. Tech managed only one of six makes from them. Meanwhile starting forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter and center Nariah Taylor didn’t get any shots. The lack of looks inside the paint, where Tennessee outscored Tech, 40-24, bothered Joseph.
“You look at our stats, we didn’t have any post touches,” said Joseph. “Our post players didn’t get enough shots. Even though they’re young, we have to go inside and play off them. We didn’t do that. That’s one of the things we will definitely be working on.”
The lack of toughness on offense bothered Joseph, but the lack of toughness inside defensively may have hurt more.
Led by the front court of sophomore Cierra Burdick, making only her fifth career start, and freshman Bashaara Grave, making only her second, the Lady Volunteers dominated the paint. Burdick was all over the court, hitting all six of her first-half shots, splitting the damage evenly from in front of and behind the three-point line. She took five total shots in Friday night’s season-opening loss to Chattanooga. Graves, who went for 18 points and 12 rebounds on the day, had as many offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes as the entire Georgia Tech team. Tennessee held a 27-19 edge on the glass in the first half, with 13 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. That led to 10 second-chance points and helped the Lady Vols open a 16-point lead and leave the floor at intermission up 45-30.
Joseph peeled the paint off the freshly painted McCamish Pavilion locker rooms at halftime.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever given up 45 points at halftime since I’ve been at Georgia Tech,” she said. “So I said I was very disappointed. They came out and punched us and we didn’t punch back. They got us on our heels on defense and we never recovered from that.
“I think our problem right now is some of our upperclassmen were knocked on their heels and they never recovered,” she added. “Chelsea Regins and Sasha Goodlett grew in this program and grew toughness throughout their four years here. They came and they would deliver the first blow. Tonight I didn’t have any inside game that delivered the first blow.”
The Jackets did throw some punches coming out of the locker room, going on a 13-0 run over the first 4:35, sparked by Marshall’s seven points and a three from Wallace. They cut the lead to two and got the ball with a chance to tie the game. But Hamilton-Carter got stripped by Burdick, then, after a Graves miss, freshman forward Jasmine Jones grabbed the offensive rebound and scored on a put-back. Tennessee would score the next 16 points.
By the time Hamilton-Carter ended the run with a layup, only 6:46 remained and the Jackets were down by 18, in too deep a hole to climb out.
“We made an adjustment at halftime, we went to full court man, got out of our presses and we wanted to make them score over us instead of past us,” said Joseph. “So we had some success with that, but we didn’t sustain it.”
In the end, Joseph didn’t blame the freshmen. In fact, she praised guard Brittany Jackson, who came off the bench to score seven points in 10 minutes on 3-for-5 shooting (1-of-2 from three) and forward Roddreka Rogers, who had two rebounds, two assists and played with energy in her 11 minutes.
Nor did she blame the various Tennessee zone defenses, something Joseph said she and the team knew was coming.
“We took 21 threes. That’s not our game. That’s not how we play at Georgia Tech,” she said. “That’s one of the things I have to evaluate. But this is good for us. It’s the first game of the season. I’ve always said this team is on a journey. We’ll be playing our best basketball in February. I’ve got to figure out those pieces right now.”
The Jackets will have two days to regroup before they take the floor at McCamish again against Kennesaw State. Joseph believes her team can have a bounce-back similar to the one Tennessee had against her team. The Lady Vols lost their opener Friday night at Chattanooga, 80-71, coincidentally, starting the Holly Warlick era the same way legendary coach Pat Summitt started her tenure, back in 1974.
“It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you respond to it,” said Joseph. “It’s a good sign for their team that they were able to be resilient, bounce back and show that kind of toughness. Now it’s on our team to be able to do that.
“This is one of the first top-20 teams we’re playing,” she continued. “We’ve got six more before we even start ACC play. This is going to go on weekly. We’re going to play a top-20 team. We’re going to have to show some kind of toughness and some kind of resiliency. If I have anything to say about it or do with it we’re going to find some toughness.”