March 22, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Georgia Tech was left to rue a quarter that slipped away and a season that ended earlier than anybody had in mind, yet head coach MaChelle Joseph Tuesday evening thanked seniors Aaliyah Whiteside and Roddreka Rogers for helping the Yellow Jackets return to their roots.
Whiteside scored a game-high 25 points with eight rebounds, and Rogers added seven rebounds in Tech’s 64-61 loss to Tulane in the second round of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
Their careers on The Flats are over, but they helped the Jackets (20-13) get back to all-out, unselfish play.
“We’re going to take a step back and evaluate the things we did well this season and the things we didn’t do well,” the head coach said after Tech couldn’t overcome a second quarter that saw the Green Wave (23-11) score 28 points.
“Right now all I can think about is our seniors, Aaliyah Whiteside and Roddreka Rogers, the four years they gave to our program and the leadership they provided this year, the toughness they showed night in and night out . . .
“I thought Aaliyah and ‘Dreek did a great job of getting us back to our core values, and being the leaders on and off the floor that we needed to re-establish ourselves as an NCAA Tournament team. That’s our goal. We feel like we got away from that for a couple years.”
In three quarters in McCamish Pavilion, the Jackets played much as they had in winning their final four ACC games plus a game in the conference tournament, and in a 73-56 win over Mercer in the first round of the WNIT.
Tuesday’s second quarter, however, was more than Tech could overcome. Tulane scored 28 points, twice as many as in any other period.
The Jackets jumped out to a 9-1 lead and led 18-8 after the first quarter.
As sophomore Imani Tilford found foul trouble, though, the Jackets struggled to re-engineer themselves.
Whiteside pushed the lead to 24-13 on a 3-pointer with 8:00 left in the second quarter. From there, the Green Wave scored nine consecutive points and sizzled on offense. They scored on nine of their final 12 possessions in the period after Whiteside’s long ball.
Tilford was limited in the first quarter by two fouls and picked up her third with 4:04 to go in the second period, as Tulane guard Kolby Morgan scored on a layup. She added a free throw to pull the Green Wave within 26-25.
With Tilford out, sophomore Antonia Peresson slid to point guard. Morgan took off on the way to scoring 22 points for Tulane.
“When our point guard went out . . . it threw us completely off kilter offensively and defensively because she’s such a key to everything we do on both ends of the floor,” Joseph said. “Then, you had Antonia playing out of position and we don’t have a lot of stuff to get her shots at the point . . .
“I was more surprised that we weren’t able to take advantage of their sets. We went over them for three days. I’m really surprised we weren’t able to take away that isolation play they kept running for Morgan.”
Tied at 36 entering the second half, the Jackets fell behind by nine in the middle of the fourth quarter before making a hardy run at Tulane.
Whiteside, whose 644 points this season were eight short of Kaela Davis’ school record of 652, helped Tech close within 63-61 with two free throws with 15.4 seconds left. The Jackets fouled Tulane sharpshooter Leslie Vorpahl (16 points) with 10.3 seconds remaining and she made the second free throw.
After a Tech timeout, the Jackets tried to tie the game with one shot but the Green Wave covered it up. Tilford’s off-balance pass as she drove the lane late was intercepted by Tulane’s Morgan to end the game.
The Green Wave beat LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama of the SEC, and Virginia of the ACC. Six of Tulane’s losses were to NCAA tournament teams (UConn, South Florida, and Florida State). The other five were to WNIT teams.
“I thought Tulane did a good job of switching,” Joseph said. “It was the exact play we wanted, and Antonia Peresson just didn’t get open for a 3. She’s been our go-to 3-point shooter all along and we had to go to her at that stage of the game.”
Rogers was named to the All-ACC Academic team for the second straight year, and will leave Tech as the school’s third all-time leading rebounder with 963.
Graduate student Irene Gari, who played at Texas-El Paso before coming to Tech for one season, pitched in three points in her final college game.
Departing players have paved the way for teammates and future Jackets.
Tech will have two transfers next season. Point guard Kaylan Pugh will be eligible in the second semester after transferring in December from Ohio State, and 6-foot-2 junior Elo Edeferioka of Hofstra will give the Jackets serious size.
Add returning starters Peresson, Katarina Vuckovic and Tilford, the growth of players like Zaire O’Neil and Martine Fortune plus incoming freshmen Zutorya Cook and Anne Francoise Diouf and the Jackets will seek to return to the NCAAs.
“Obviously, I’m excited about next year and not only the players we have returning but the players we had sitting out who couldn’t play this year, and a redshirt we had this season,” Joseph said. “I think they’re going to be impact players for us.
“But right now all I can think about is our three seniors, and this isn’t the way we wanted it to end.”