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#TGW: Growing Pains

Jan. 19, 2015

By Jon Cooper The Good Word

Coach MaChelle Joseph has known all season long that there would be days like Sunday. There’s no way to avoid them with more than half of her roster still experiencing collegiate firsts.

Yesterday was one of those firsts — their first overtime game in ACC play.

It ended in a disappointing 75-72 loss to Pittsburgh in front of a good crowd at McCamish Pavilion. The loss dropped the Jackets (12-7, 2-3) to 0-2 in overtime games this season — they lost a tough 79-73 game at No. 16 Michigan State on Dec. 4 — and put them on only their second losing streak of the season. Their previous streak was two games, with the second loss of that one being the OT loss to the Spartans and preceded a season-high five-game winning streak.

Kaela Davis scored a game-high 31, her fourth career 30-point game and third of the season, with six rebounds and two steals, and Roddreka Rogers had her fourth double-double of the season with 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds to lead the Jackets. Aaliyah Whiteside added 14 and nine, and Zaire O’Neil just missed her second career double-double with nine points and eight rebounds, adding a pair of blocks.

Led by the trio of Rogers, O’Neil and Whiteside (37 points, 30 rebounds), the Jackets won the battle on the boards, 48-44, grabbing 23 offensive rebounds to 18 for Pittsburgh (12-5, 2-2). They also outscored Pitt in the paint, 26-22.

“I thought they got a lot of hustle points,” said Joseph. “They played hard, they gave everything they had for 40 minutes. I thought they really did a great job.”

While they made the hustle plays the Jackets struggled making shots against the ACC’s second-ranked team in opposing field goal percentage, shooting only 30 percent over the second half and overtime (33.3 for the game), did not make a three-point field goal in 10 tries in the second half and overtime and managed only 13 second-chance points despite the 13 offensive boards.

“I thought we got pretty good shots. I thought [Monica Wignot] did a great job blocking some shots (she had nine) but outside of that I thought we got great looks at the basket,” said Joseph. “We have to make shots. I thought there at the end we had a wide open three. You’ve got to knock those shots down. Those are the shots you’ve got to hit to win in this league.”

The game was close throughout, as neither team led by more than eight and there were 11 ties and seven lead changes. Adding to the frustration, was that despite trailing for almost the entire second half, Tech had a three-point lead inside of two minutes in the extra session, and a two-point lead with a minute left, but they could not get a stop, allowing a pair of threes by grad student Wignot, then a pair of free throws by senior guard Brianna Kiesel to push the lead to three.

Tech also was unable to execute on their final possession, as the play broke down and a desperation three by Whiteside misfired.

“It wasn’t executed at all,” said Joseph. “We had five people playing out of position. That’s what foul trouble does, that’s what injuries do at the end of a game. We’re trying to run an end out of bounds play to get a shot for Kaela. I said if the shot didn’t go then we would run a play for a three between [Katarina Vuckovic] and Kaela. We never got into it.”

“We were trying to get a shot for Kaela but it ended up they double-teamed her, so we passed to Kat and then she passed to me,” said Whiteside, who went 0-for-3 from three, snapping a streak of six straight games with at least one three-point field goal. “I called for it but I kind of fumbled it and tried to get up a shot just to give us a chance. It just didn’t go in.”

The Jackets trailed by as much as eight with 13:46 left in the first half, but went on a 15-1 run to take their biggest lead of the game, a six-point edge. Davis sparked the run with a four-point play, Rogers added four straight points and Whiteside had four points in the run, which Davis punctuated with another three-point shot. Davis would hit one more three, with 31 seconds left in the half, to give Tech a 35-33 lead at the break, but the Jackets would make another the rest of the game and went cold in the second half.

Conversely, Pittsburgh hit 6-of-13 from three, 3-of-5 in overtime.

“I think [Wignot] did a really good job of knocking shots down,” said Whiteside. “I think the three really killed us, just at close times in the game, the last two threes, they did a great job just knocking down shots.”

Tech also struggled putting the brakes on Kiesel, whose seven assists were two more than the Jackets, who had a season-low five assists. The Jackets put the task on freshmen Imani Tilford, who fouled out with 2:40 remaining, Antonia Peresson, and, at the end of the game, Davis.

“Obviously, Imani gives us a lot of great minutes on the defensive end,” said Joseph. “I thought tonight she played in spurts but you expect that of a freshman. It’s hard to be consistent as a freshman.”

The Jackets got a reprieve at the end of regulation, as, on the Panthers’ final possession, Kiesel drove almost uncontested through the lane and to the basket, only to see her layup hang on, then roll off the rim.

But they could not take advantage.

Georgia Tech has a tough road ahead, as the Jackets travel to South Bend to take on No. 7 Notre Dame on Thursday then, next Sunday visit Virginia, where they won last season but are only 2-26 all-time.

As they prepare, they’ll make Sunday a memory, but not an empty one.

“It’s a learning experience,” said Rogers. “We’re going to take this loss forward to the next game. So hopefully we can put it together for the next big team that we play and just come out with a win.”

“We just have to keep our heads up, keep playing together,” said Whiteside. “Fix a few things here and there and keep improving defensively. It’ll definitely get tougher but we have to stay together as a team.”


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