Four-guard attack just right for Yellow Jackets, too much for Georgia State
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph has coached long enough to know that little things can make a big difference.
On Saturday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, less than 36 hours after one of the toughest losses of her coaching career, she made a small change to her starting lineup. It made a huge difference as her team topped Georgia State, 73-42, and could mean even bigger things down the road.
Joseph put a team out on the floor that the Georgia State coaches probably didn’t recognize and future Yellow Jackets opponents had best get to know.
It was a smaller five, with four players 6-1 or shorter — 5-5 point Imani Tilford, 5-9 Antonia Peresson, 6-0 Chanin Scott, and 6-1 Francesca Pan. Center Elo Edeferioka, who stands 6-2, was the only true big. This is on a team that boasts seven players 6-1 or taller.
“I thought that was the one takeaway from the Michigan game,” said Joseph. “That was our fourth BCS-level game in a row and I noticed that every one of [our opponents] came out and tried to go with four guards against us because of our size.”
After Saturday, opponents may need to think twice about implementing that strategy.
Scott and Tilford each recorded their first collegiate double-double as the Jackets dominated virtually every aspect of the game.
The Jackets had a 62-33 edge off the glass, 28-12 on the offensive end. The latter led to a 19-9 advantage in second-chance points. Scott and Tilford each pulled down 11 rebounds. Tech one-and-done GSU almost the entire first quarter, limiting them to one offensive rebound, that coming in the final 21 seconds.
“I thought we did a really good job with [Scott] because she was around the rim,” said Joseph. “I think that she was able to beat the other post players down the floor in transition, which is huge for us because with our bigs we weren’t able to do that. I saw the other night against Michigan where [Tilford] was beating everybody down the floor but no post player was engaging [forward Hallie Thome], and so she was able to block her shots because our posts were so far behind her.
“I thought, ‘One of the things that we’re going to have to do is adjust going down the stretch,’” she added. “Because a lot of the ACC teams are looking at their stats and they’re playing four guards. I knew Georgia State was going to play four guards. Mercer’s going to play four guards. We made that adjustment. Chanin was able to adjust very well to learning offenses at a different position and defensively I thought she gave us a spark as well.”
Georgia State may have known Tech’s strategy but had no answer for it.
The Jackets trailed 10-7 with just under 3:00 to play in the opening stanza before breaking the game open with a 23-2 run over the next 8:00 minutes, bridging the final 2:23 of the first quarter and the first 5:42 of the second. Tech’s defense smothered the Panthers, who after shooting 40 percent in the first quarter shot below 25 percent the rest of the game, making three field goals in each of the final three quarters. They’d make only one three-pointer all day.
Conversely, the Jackets pulled away primarily via damage from the three-point line.
They hit threes on five of seven possessions during the big run — the other possession resulted in three made free throws from Peresson, who was fouled on her three-point attempt.
Peresson hit a season-best five threes, one off her career-high, Pan and Cha’Ron Sweeney added two each, as the Jackets hit 10 of 33 three-point FGAs, both season highs, outscoring State, 30-3 from behind the arc.
Getting to play Pan and Peresson together was another advantage to the smaller lineup.
“When you have them both in the lineup to start the game, and we knew Georgia State was going to play a lot of zone, I thought it was good to stretch the floor,” Joseph said. “Antonia missed her first three shots and I just told her, ‘Keep shooting’ because I knew they were going to go in. She shot 13 threes. That’s a lot of threes but every time she shoots I believe it’s going to go in.”
Tilford shot with similar confidence. She made four of her seven shots, her fourth straight double-digit scoring game, and had her fourth straight game with at least three field goals. She has six this season, one fewer than her first two years. She even hit a jumper with 2:11 left to complete her first career double-double.
That she reached the milestone with a jumper was extra satisfying for Joseph.
“I think that was the exciting thing. It wasn’t a layup. It was a jump shot,” she said. “You know from the previous years that has not been her strength so I was happy to see that for her.”
Joseph was happy to see the team bounce back from Thursday night, part of which was a residual effect to the start of finals.
Joseph’s advice was to simply learn from the game and move on.
“We talked about it for a little bit in the locker room and decided to just throw it in the trash,” Joseph said. “It was a learning experience, it’s not going to make or break us if we don’t allow it to. It’s only a loss if we don’t learn from it. I feel we did a really good job of setting it aside and coming out today and focusing on what we needed to do against Georgia State.”
The Jackets will have until Wednesday to focus further on their four-guard approach (they face Mercer at McCamish at 7 p.m.), a strategy on which they actually are ahead of schedule.
“I was kind of trying to wait it out until Kaylan Pugh could come back and move her to our stretch-four position,” Joseph admitted. “But I realized we’ve got several games to play before she gets back so we went ahead and did it with Chanin. It’s exciting to see, that we have another option, where now we can go small. It’s very similar to what we did with Aaliyah Whiteside throughout her career and Alex Montgomery.”
Tilford likes the Jackets’ possibilities once Pugh is activated — a good sign for ACC play.
“I think we’re going to be very exciting,” she said. “If Kaylan comes in and does what we see her do every day in practice, she’s going to be a really big threat. Once we mesh together and know everybody’s sweet spots we’re going to be really dangerous.”