Feb. 28, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
The primary focus was on seniors Aaliyah Whiteside and Roddreka Rogers, and grad. student Irene Gari on Sunday afternoon as it was Senior Day at McCamish Pavilion. (Injured center Nariah Taylor also was recognized).
That wasn’t really news, as Whiteside headed into the game against Wake Forest leading the ACC in scoring, and was top 10 in minutes, free throw percentage and rebounding, offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding, and Rogers was top-10 in rebounding, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding and field goal percentage, have been t the team all season, while Gari has provided a leadership-by-example spark, whether starting or coming off the bench.
The trio has been the heart and soul of the 2015-16 Yellow Jackets.
But there has been another key contributor in the three-game winning streak that Georgia Tech brought into Sunday, sophomore guard, Antonia Peresson.
The 5-9 sharp-shooting two from Pordenone, Italy, has displayed the kind of three-point shooting that has made her an up-and-coming star on the international stage with the Italian National Team and makes Georgia Tech a very dangerous team to play in the upcoming ACC Tournament and in postseason.
Peresson took the court in Sunday’s season finale ninth in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage (38.6) and three-point field goals per game (2.1, with 56), a major improvement over last season’s 30.6 and 1.0 3PTFGM.
“I’ve been working extra on my shot and that’s really helped me,” she said. “I’m trying to help the team however I can. I’ve asked myself `How can I do it?’ We need a three-point presence and I’m trying to do that. I’m just trying to play my role.”
Peresson has been playing the role of marksman to a `T’ — actually to a three. Over the last three games, she’s made 12 three-pointers, shooting 52.2 percent (12-for-23). It’s easily her best three-game stretch in her nearly two seasons on the Flats and couldn’t come at a better time. With a win on Sunday and a Duke loss, the Jackets and Blue Devils would tie for seventh place in the ACC, which would work in the Jackets’ favor, as they own the tiebreaker.
Peresson’s shooting and unshakeable confidence was crucial to getting Tech that edge, in a watershed victory for this team, last Sunday afternoon in Durham, a 64-59 win over Duke at Cameron Indoor. It gave the Jackets wins over Duke in back-to-back seasons and was the first win on the Blue Devils’ homecourt in 23 years (the last win was an 86-80 overtime vidtory on Jan. 29, 1993) — nearly three years before Peresson was born.
“It was good. It’s good to make history with this team,” she said. “It was good for our seniors, for our coaches, it was a really good win.”
It looked like Georgia Tech would BE history instead of making it, as they started the game 0-for-11 and spotted Duke a 10-0 lead. But the game turned when Peresson, who missed her first two three-point attempts, knocked one down at the 4:30 mark. That got Tech on the board and, combined with a shutdown defense that shutout Duke for more than nine minutes, helped get the Jackets back in the game.
A key was that even though 10 points down, the Jackets never got down.
“They were up 10-0 but that’s where we’ve grown up in the last weeks, that we have to stay together in the adversity,” Peresson said. “That beginning was an adversity and we just stayed together. In the huddles we kept on saying, `Keep working. Keep working.’ Let’s come back,’ and we came back. It was a game where they were making a run and we were making a run and we kept staying together and at the end we won it.”
Peresson hit her next two three-pointers and the Jackets were able to pound the ball inside to Zaire O’Neil, who hit six of her eight points on the day, in a 14-0 run that gave the Jackets a four-point lead, then Roddreka Rogers, who had an 11-points-11-rebounds double-double. Peresson, who finished with a game- and career-high 20 points and six three-point field goals, also a career-best, spre to take sole credit for her part in opening the floor and loosening up Duke’s zone.
“I don’t think it was about me. I think it was about the team that put me in a position where I was able to be open. So I just had to knock it down,” she said. “It was me it also could have been somebody else. I just had to knock it down. I think we stepped up when we had to. Everybody contributed to this win and it was a total team effort.”
To prove her point, on Wednesday, when the Jackets won 86-80 at Pittsburgh, it WAS someone else, as Katarina Vuckovic had 18 and Imani Tilford added 10 in the win. Peresson did her part, hitting two more threes in four tries.
The Jackets have now won four of their last five games decided by eight-or-fewer points after losing three of the first four such games this season. Winning the close ones is a good sign as postseason approaches.
“I think so,” Peresson said. “We’re heading in the right direction. We struggled at the beginning but now I think we are understanding how good of a team we are and what everybody can bring to the table for the team. That is helping. We’re growing up day by day.
“We are understanding that we have to stay together during the adversities, the difficult moments because it’s obvious the other team will make a run, we will make a run,” she added. “We just have to stay focused on winning the last three minutes. That’s what matters.”