Redshirt junior forward Elo Edeferioka raises her game, lifts Jackets into WNIT Semifinals
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Elo Edeferioka is a woman of her word.
On Sunday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, she was a woman of deed as well.
In what may have been the biggest game of her college career, the 6-2 forward from Warri, Nigeria, put up a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double, her third of the season, and led Georgia Tech to a 76-66 victory over Alabama in the WNIT Quarterfinals. The win, Tech’s season-high fourth straight, set up a semifinal matchup with Washington State Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
“It feels great. I’ve never been in this position,” said Edeferioka, who was one point shy of matching her season-high — she matched her season-best rebounding total.
A key play came at the end of the first quarter, when Edeferioka was in another position that she’d never been in — needing to take a three-point field goal. She had the ball at the top of the circle with time running down, and fired up the three-pointer. Her first career attempt was a buzzer-beater that turned a 17-14 deficit into a 17-17 tie.
“I’m 100 percent from the three-point line!” said Edeferioka, with a laugh. “I had to take that. I looked at the clock it was two seconds. I was like, ‘I’ve got this. I’m taking it.’ My teammates were like, ‘Oh, wow.’ But I just had confidence that it was going to go in.”
It’s confidence she’s been sharing with the team all year long.
“She jokes every day that she’s going to make a three in a game,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph. “When she pulled it I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ It was good to see her make that.”
The shot not only knotted the game but ignited the Yellow Jackets, who outscored the Crimson Tide 27-10 in the second quarter. Edeferioka led the way, taking over the game, scoring nine points, on 4-for-5 shooting (1-for-1 from the line), while grabbing four rebounds. She scored seven of those points in a two-minute span as part of a 21-5 run to close the second quarter that gave Tech a 44-27 halftime edge.
“Everybody was on the same page playing defense and trying to keep the lead,” she said. “So that was just what it was. Everybody was on the same page to get a stop.”
“I think it was Elo. I think Elo making those shots and those moves gave us a lot of confidence,” said Joseph. “It seemed like other players stepped up and started making plays.
“I thought Elo was all over the place,” Joseph added. “I thought she did a tremendous job defensively, obviously, today with a double-double, she did a tremendous job offensively. There’s not a lot of offensive rebounds to go get when you shoot 50 percent (GT shot 29-for-58 on the day). So that was a tribute to everybody on the team. I thought that we had balanced scoring and everybody shared the basketball and were able to make plays.”
Most of the plays Edeferioka made were down low in the post, where she proved too much for the undersized Crimson Tide. The Jackets dominated in the paint all day, holding a 38-24 edge in points in the paint, 18-2 over those 10 minutes, with 13 coming from Edeferioka (nine points on 4-for-5 shooting) and forward Zaire O’Neil (four, going 2-for-2).
“Most times when Zaire and I are on the floor I’m the four so I’ve got to stay outside more so she can post up,” said Edeferioka. “When she’s not on the floor I have to be down there and post up. So I figured I have to go to work. For us to win someone’s got to go to work. So that was what I did.”
Sunday’s win served as a measure of revenge for a two-point loss earlier in the year at Tuscaloosa, where Tech led 20-7 after one but wound up losing, 67-65.
Evening the score was paramount in the days going in.
“The other day I was telling my teammates, ‘We’ve got to make them understand that the first time was not a fluke, that that was OUR game and we just gave it to them,’” Edeferioka said. “So today we just came out and were like, ‘We have to take it from the start. We have to keep the lead the whole time.’”
They kept the lead, and grew it to as much as 24 in the fourth, by hitting their shots, their threes (7-for-16) and, especially their free throws. The Jackets made 11 of 16 — they’d made only 11 of 22 in the first meeting.
“We missed 11 free throws up there and lost by two points,” Joseph said. “We know we can play with anybody. It’s just a matter of us doing the little things like boxing out and making free throws.”
Tech won on the boards, 37-36, and while Alabama pulled to within 10 late, they were never really in danger. Joseph was okay with the Jackets finally surrendering more than 60 points in a game, as they held the Crimson Tide to 31.8 percent shooting, and 31.6 from three.
“I thought we lost our focus the last three minutes. It’s hard to keep their focus when they’re up 20 and they know what’s at the end of that clock,” she said. “Then we had to take [point guard] Imani [Tilford] out because of her hand. So it was one of those things where they were pressing us full court and we didn’t have our point guard in there. They got some easy baskets the last three minutes.”
The Jackets will now host the Cougars in the first meeting between the schools. Should they win that, they could see Michigan, in another revenge game — UM routed Tech, 92-52, at McCamish on Dec. 1 in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Joseph isn’t looking that far ahead.
“Right now I’m just excited to have an opportunity to play in the semifinals and have a chance to get to a national championship,” she said. “The next game is the only thing we’re focused on. I think we’ve done a really good job of not looking ahead and just saying, ‘Okay, one more game.’
“I thought that we had balanced scoring and everybody shared the basketball and were able to make plays,” she added. “It’s a great thing to see [Edeferioka’s] confidence growing and all the players’ confidence growing at the right time.”
Edeferioka feels they’re not done.
“Yes, I believe,” she said. “I so much believe that we can win this.”