Redshirt junior forward Elo Edeferioka leads tenacious Jackets past Princeton in non-conference finale
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Elo Edeferioka learned a lot during the year she sat out last season after transferring to Georgia Tech from Hofstra.
One of the most important lessons was that of accountability. If you’re not doing your job, you’re going to hear about it.
That lesson was brought home Thursday night in McCamish Pavilion during halftime of Georgia Tech’s 67-51 win over Princeton. Coach MaChelle Joseph told the 6-2 redshirt junior forward from Warri, Nigeria, all about how she and her teammates weren’t getting the job done on the boards, as Princeton held a 19-13 edge, 9-3 on the offensive glass.
Edeferioka responded in the second half, pulling down seven rebounds (four on the offensive end) and pouring in 12 of her game-high 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, as the Jackets caught up on the boards, eventually outrebounding the Tigers, 45-41 (although they still were outrebounded 17-13 on the offensive glass), while keeping Princeton at bay, leading by double digits for all but 22 seconds of the second half, by as much as 21 and never less than nine. Freshman Chanin Scott also had 10 rebounds (four offensive) — her second double-figure rebounding game and a nice bounce-back from the Middle Tennessee State game, where she went without a point or rebound.
“Even though I may be having a bad game on offense one thing I always have to bring to the table is rebounding. I cannot go a night without bringing anything to the table,” said Edeferioka, whose 17-point, 10-rebound effort was her second double-double of the season. “So when Coach Jo came in the locker room she got on me about rebounding and I said, ‘I got you, Coach. It’s my fault because I missed a couple of boards.’ I had to come back and I had to bring something to the table for my team.”
She brought it on both ends, grabbing four rebounds (one offensive, three defensive), blocking two shots and scoring eight points on 4-for-4 shooting in the first 4:26 of the third. Edeferioka scored the Jackets’ first eight straight points of the second half and six straight overall as part of an 11-2 run that countered the Tigers’ 5-0 half-opening run which cut Tech’s lead to 35-26.
“We were getting outrebounded at halftime so I was really unhappy about that,” said Joseph. “I thought the second half we really turned that around. I thought Elo Edeferioka really started the second half out controlling the boards. When we can get rebounds we can score in the paint.”
The Jackets had their way in the paint pretty much all night, outscoring the Tigers, 42-10, and 40-6 over the final three quarters after being outscored, 4-2 in the first 10 minutes.
Edeferioka and Zaire O’Neil did the majority of the damage, combining for 30 of the PIPs on 13-for-21 shooting, a 59.1 percentage.
“That’s a phenomenal number. That’s what we’ve been working for all year,” said Joseph, whose team recorded its 11th non-conference win, the most since earning 13 in 2009-10. “Last year we had Elo in practice and we felt like we had two of the best post players in the ACC. We knew eventually that they were going to come around. Elo had a slow start to the season and Zaire had a couple of slow games, but right now, at the right time, they’re really stepping up and giving us what we need.”
The defense also stepped up, forcing 18 turnovers, which they turned into 20 points, committing 12 steals (a career-high seven of them by point guard Imani Tilford), and matching their season-high with seven blocks (three each by Edeferioka, her Yellow Jackets high, and Katarina Vuckovic, matching her career high, and one by O’Neil). Tech’s physicality gave Princeton’s leading scorer Bella Alarie fits, limiting her to eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and holding her scoreless for the game’s first 23:37.
“I thought we did a good job of being physical with her,” said Joseph. “That was the game plan coming in, that we were going to keep a hand on her all the time off the ball. She scores a lot of her points in transition and we didn’t let them run. We were able to smother rebounds and keep them from getting out in transition. I thought when they couldn’t run in transition that really affected their ability to make plays.
“We did a great job of getting stops and in getting in the passing lanes,” Joseph added. “When we switch and we’re physical we’re able to get deflections and I thought we did a really good job with our weak side defense.”
When Tech gets back to work against Notre Dame, Edeferioka will look to pick up in 2017 where she left off in 2016. Over the year’s last four games, she averaged 11.0 points and 8.8 rebounds, while shooting 52.9 percent (18-for-34). In that span, she recorded three double-figure-scoring games and a pair of double-doubles — just missing a third on Dec. 22 at Middle Tennessee State, when she had 10 points and nine rebounds.
That kind of solid play in the middle is something upon which the Jackets are counting.
“She’s really coming into her own and playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of poise, and a lot of effort,” Joseph said. “I think as long as we can play with that kind of consistency and get our post players the ball we can really be competitive in the ACC.”
Elo feels she’s turned a corner from where she was early on, when she had two double-figure games in the first three, then didn’t score more than four points in any of the next six games. But hasn’t done so alone.
“It’s the positivity from my teammates,” she said. “The start of the season I was struggling, trying to learn the system, after sitting out a whole year. It was really hard for me. But right now I’m starting to play freely and learn the system more. My teammates have been there for me all the way and I really appreciate them.”