Jan. 14, 2016
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Ciani Cryor gets it.
She’s also giving it…as well, as if not better, than she’s been getting it.
Her career is fewer than 20 games old — Georgia Tech (10-7, 0-4) plays game No. 18 tonight against North Carolina (12-6, 2-1) beginning at 7 p.m. at McCamish Pavilion, then No. 19 on Sunday, a 2 p.m. start, against Virginia (12-5, 2-1) — but already, the 5-5 fireball from Philadelphia, is showing unfreshmanlike explosiveness and defensive tenacity.
Cryor has led the Jackets in scoring in two of their first four ACC games, and she’s gone off for her two career-best-scoring games, getting 19 at No. 3/3 Notre Dame on Dec. 30 in the ACC opener, and 18, on Sunday, in Tech’s last game, at No. 19/19 Florida State. The highly touted freshman is averaging 10.5 points per game (second on the team) vs. 7.6 in non-conference play and is shooting 47.2 percent, 40.0 from three-point range, up from 44.3 and 28.6. She’s done this while actually playing fewer minutes (20.5 vs. 21.6).
She’s on her game, for sure. But it was always just a matter of time.
“The hardest part of adjusting was improving my game. This is not high school. I can‘t do the things I did in high school in college,” said Cryor. “I had to be smarter and take better shots, picking and choosing when I should score and when I shouldn’t score and just running the team. It feels good. I feel like I’m playing my game again.”
“Aaliyah told me, ‘We need you. We need you to rock with me. Start scoring the ball.’ Coach Jo also told me to start scoring the ball,” Cryor recalled. “I like to score the ball, so when they said that I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to start doing that AND pass.’ It just flowed right into the game.”
Getting into the flow of games was understandably tricky for the freshman, who started the first eight games of the season, sat the next seven, and has regained her starting spot in the last two games. She found the seven games she came off the bench refreshing and a learning opportunity.
“It helped me because I was brand new to college,” she said. “Coach Jo, I love her, she gave me the opportunity to start. I felt like I was ready but I wasn’t ready because I was telling myself, ‘I need to sit down first and watch the beginning of games and then get in.’ But now, since I’ve been playing a lot of minutes I feel like I’m ready to start.”
Cryor played 40 minutes in the 75-69 loss to the Seminoles, becoming only the second Jacket to do so this season (Whiteside is the other) and the first freshman in recent memory to start and not leave the floor.
“It was a long game. I just felt like my energy and my confidence motivated me and kept me going,” she said. “I never thought, ‘Oh, I’m tired.’ I just thought, ‘I’m going to fight! Fight! fight! until the end of the game.’
“At the end of the game I was like, ‘Salute to Aaliyah for playing 40 minutes,’” she added, with a laugh. “She’s done it in a lot of games. My legs were tired but I bounced back.”
That she played against two of the top guards in the ACC in Brittany Brown and Leticia Romero didn’t even enter her mind.
“Those girls were pretty good, but I don’t care what your name is or who you play for,” Cryor said. “I’m going to guard you like it’s the last possession of the game every possession. I’m like, ‘I’m going to go hard, so YOU better go hard because I’m always going to go hard and I’m never going to stop.’ It was fun.”
She hasn’t been fun to play against, as her tenacity and quick hands have allowed her to create 36 steals (second on the team only to fellow guard Imani Tilford’s 38), a 2.1 steals per game rate that ranks ninth in the league and second (behind only fellow guard Imani Tilford’s 2.2), on the Jackets, who rank second in the conference at 11.7 spg.
“Defense wins games. That’s where I get my momentum from, from defense. Getting stops, that’s when I get hyped and that’s when I score,” she said, breaking into a smile. “That’s where it all starts, from defense. Not just for me but for my whole team.”
Cryor has already seen some of the best guards in the ACC, the result of the Yellow Jackets having played three of the ACC’s top four teams, two of those, Notre Dame and Florida State, on the road. Throw in Louisville and they’ve played four of the top six teams.
Things don’t get any easier, as next up are the Tar Heels and Cavaliers, which make it six games against the top eight teams in the conference.
Cryor speaks for the entire Georgia Tech team in response to that challenge, when she says, “Bring it!”’
“We may be 0-4 but I still have the confidence and I know my team still has confidence,,” she said. “We know they were the top teams. So now, we’re not saying that it’s going to be easy because with the ACC you never know. We’re going to go out and play hard, like we played against all those teams. We’re going to continue to play hard. We feel like we’re real close. Really close to being good.”
They hope to be good starting tonight, ideally, right from the start. It’s something with which the team has struggled. They faced a 17-point deficits at FSU and were down 22 at Notre Dame but made huge runs in both games to make it close.
Cryor assured that that relentlessness will never go away.
“We’ve got heart and we don’t lay down for anybody. No matter if they’re up 25, we’re not going to stop,” she said. “Coach Jo, she’s a fighter. So that’s where we get it. It starts with her. She always tells us, ‘It’s not over.’ We tell ourselves, ‘It’s not over,’ and we just fight. We’re Tech Tough.”
The Jackets plan to come out swinging against the Tar Heels, who have taken four of the last five in the series, a run that followed Tech’s series-best five-game winning streak then offer a similar rude greeting to the visiting Cavaliers, against whom they’ve won four straight, six of the last seven games overall and three of the last four at home.
“We’re not going to wait until we get down and then try to come back. We’re going to play hard from the beginning,” said Cryor.
And while the Philadelphian in her has enjoyed quieting crowds on the road — “I like that,” she said laughing then, putting her finger up to her lips and making the shush sound — Cryor can’t wait to do her thing at home.
“I love playing at McCamish,” she said. “The home crowd, I like that. It just feels good.”