By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
MaChelle Joseph’s excited, and with good reason, because Sunday will be unique at Georgia Tech as the men’s basketball team plays Belmont at noon in McCamish Pavilion and the women’s squad will take on UCF at 5.
Softball and baseball will be in action at home as well, but you’ll have to forgive Joseph if she’s oriented more toward hoops as the women try to move forward in the WNIT and the men in the NIT.
The Yellow Jackets (18-14) beat Jacksonville, 71-55, Thursday in McCamish and with another chance for her squad to lay foundation for next season, when all but two players return, there are two early buzzes building.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to host,” said the women’s head coach. “I can’t encourage our fans enough to come out and support both the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“Hopefully, people will stay downtown and come in and support our team because home teams in this tournament have an opportunity to win. It’s huge for this young team to get postseason experience.”
Tech’s women, who are in the postseason for the 10th time in 11 seasons, scored quite a postseason experience Thursday.
They were having fits for a while early, as Jacksonville’s Sherranda Reddick scored 11 points in the first quarter alone, making 3-of-5 3-pointers.
Plus, officials never stopped blowing whistles. The Jackets were called for 28 fouls, and the Dolphins were hit with 26. That made for some serious roster juggling, as three players fouled out in the game, and 46 free throws went up.
Frankly, it was kind of weird.
Fortunately, the Jackets figured out Reddick, and they had more players able to do more down the stretch.
Reddick’s trey with 1:58 left in the first quarter tied the score at 17, but Tech soon took the lead for good.
And the bench came up big.
Jacksonville’s reserves had a 6-2 scoring edge in the first quarter, although Tech led 22-20 at the end of the period.
A few adjustments and a lot of subs pushed the Jackets forward.
With a slew of players from both teams eventually in foul trouble, Tech’s bench outscored Jacksonville’s 29-8 over the final three quarters.
“We got our of our presses and started face-guarding [Reddick] and not letting her have the ball, and you saw she struggled to score after that,” Joseph said. “Any time Kaylan Pugh gets the ball, she makes something happen . . . She did a great job face-guarding Reddick in the second quarter.”
Reddick was quiet over the second and third periods as the Jackets pulled away.
With leading scorer and rebounder Zaire O’Neal deep in foul trouble – she eventually fouled out – and ACC freshman of the year Francesca Pan sick, the Jackets spread the work load around.
Starting point guard Imani Tilford scored 11 points despite pulling four fouls, Pan added nine, and Pugh pitched in seven rebounds and a couple assists.
“I thought Imani Tilford, if she wasn’t in foul trouble it was one of her better games as far as making free throws, hitting her shots,” Joseph said. “We got contributions across the board. I think our depth was a factor.”
Nine Jackets played 11 or more minutes, and while playing for the first time in two weeks since falling to Miami in the ACC Tournament, the Jackets had plenty of energy.
Tilford made all seven of her free throw attempts, and Pugh was 5-of-7 from the charity stripe. Tech hit 21-of-28 free throws overall, while Jacksonville went 9-of-18 from the line.
“We missed 254 free throws [during the season] and we lost nine games by 33 points,” Joseph said. “One of the things I’ve told our team, just trying to build their confidence, is we could be 26-5 just as easily as we’re sitting here.
“I thought we did a better job today stepping up and making free throws, and we were able to connect on 75 percent of them.”
As the season stretches on, the Jackets are looking for all the help they can get, just like the men. The crowd matters.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play here Sunday at 5 o’clock and trying to encourage people to come out and support us because the more home games you have in this tournament the more opportunities you have to win,” Joseph said. “And you could see that tonight.”