Rollin’ Around The ‘Bend
Women’s hoops heading into Notre Dame on a good roll, with a good attitude
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Defense and doing the little things can go a long way.
Georgia Tech learned just how far Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion, when they smothered Boston College, 63-47.
The win gave the Yellow Jackets their first win streak in ACC play this season and comes at just the right time, as they’re looking to make a push over their final four regular-season games — three of those against teams in the top half of the ACC (at Notre Dame on Sunday, at Florida State on Feb. 25 to end the regular season and vs. Miami on Feb. 15) and the other against always tricky North Carolina.
Thursday night was a good time for the Yellow Jackets to find their personality. They did that, grounding the Eagles, led by a tremendous defensive effort, which saw them force a season-high 35 turnovers, converting them into 26 points. They limited B.C. to 34 percent shooting and held them to single-digit-scoring in the first and second quarters and to 10 points in the fourth.
“I was just really pleased with our defensive effort, particularly in the first and second quarters,” said head coach MaChelle Joseph. “To hold an ACC team to single digits in two quarters is hard to do. So I’m really pleased with our effort and energy.”
Boston College managed 14 points in the first 20 minutes, scoring eight points in the first quarter and six in the second. Tech nearly held B.C. to single digits in the fourth, as well, allowing only 10. That stand was especially big, as the Eagles cut a lead as big as 14 in the second quarter, to five, 37-32, with less than a minute to play in the third quarter.
But a buzzer-beating jumper by point Imani Tilford pushed the lead back up to eight after three and sparked an 11-0 run to start the final quarter to pull away.
Tilford had a team-high 16 points, her first double-figure game since Nov. 25 against Baylor. Her shot at the end of the third was a momentum-changer and proved what kind of a game-changer she can be.
“She made a big play there at the end of the third quarter and kind of got her momentum going,” said Joseph. “If she can get 16 points for us on a night when (Francesca) Pan (nine points on 3-for-15 shooting) is scoring and we get Zaire (O’Neil, four points, 2-for-5) involved then we’ve got a whole different ball game if they have to guard her.”
Fellow senior Antonia Peresson added nine points, hitting three three-point field goals, showing how she, too, can change the complexion of games by forcing teams to respect the perimeter.
Forward Breanna Brown continued her late-season surge, making her second straight start. Brown had a second straight three-field goal game. She’s shooting .667 (6-for-9) over the past two games, having ripped down seven rebounds in each game.
“Breanna Brown has come on really strong of late — we’ve given her more minutes and she’s responded,” said Joseph. “So I’ve been really pleased with the play of our seniors.”
While the seniors are leading the way, freshmen also are making an impact. Point guard Kierra Fletcher had another solid game against Boston College, going for 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting, with nine rebounds — including a team-high five off the offensive glass. She also had five assists vs. two turnovers with three steals. It’s the kind of box score stuffing that Joseph likes.
“I’ve always said the ideal point guard is five points, five rebounds, five assists, five steals and she (approaches) that every game,” said Joseph of her point, who heads into the weekend averaging 6.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals (8.4, 5.8, 2.6, .88 in ACC play).
“I’m really, really pleased with her progress, especially the way she bounced back after the Clemson game,” Joseph added. “She had a game where she had a lot of turnovers which she hasn’t done this year (she had a season-high 7 after not having more than three in an ACC game and only one other game all year with more than three T.O.s). To come back and get five assists and two turnovers says a lot about her floor game.”
Then there’s her work on the boards, where her nine were second, one behind fellow freshman Lorela Cubaj. Cubaj’s 10 against B.C. gave her 18 in the last two games. Tech won the boards, 41-23, 19-4 on the offensive end.
“I was really pleased with the rebounding of our two freshmen,” said Joseph. “To get 19 rebounds between them, that’s just a lot of hard work and tremendous effort by those two.”
The effort came as junior guard Kaylan Pugh continued to her comeback from a bout of the flu and sophomore Chanin Scott sat (coach’s decision). It’s the kind of effort that will be needed on Sunday when Georgia Tech heads to South Bend.
The Jackets are 3-6 away from home, 1-5 in ACC play, while the Fighting Irish are 10-0 at home, 5-0 against the ACC. They’re winning their conference home games by an average of 27.2 points. They’re also doing it shorthanded, with a lineup that has three players logging more than 33 minutes a game and a fourth almost at 28.
“Notre Dame has, obviously, been tremendous this year. You have to give those kids credit because they’re playing 35-plus minutes a night,” said Joseph. “Notre Dame’s a tough game for us but we have to go in there and we have to work to get better. We’ve just got to go into Notre Dame with our defense and our rebounding.”
While Notre Dame beat the Jackets by 23 on January 7 at McCamish, Joseph is positive about what she’s seeing and the direction her team’s headed.
“The thing I’m pleased with is our young players have gotten a lot of experience. They have grown through these experiences and found a toughness,” she said. “We’ve gotten better. I thought the second half of the Duke game we showed a lot of resilience with those young kids and cut the lead to four points. I though Duke gave us their best shot.
“The one thing we told our kids is, ‘Defense travels. You can take your defense with you anywhere you go,’” she added. “So that’s one thing we have to do moving forward, in any game we play, home or away, we have to defend.”