ATLANTA — So, I may have written 350 words before January 19’s Georgia Tech women’s basketball game about how miserable this season has been, and how the Syracuse game was no different. But, the game was different, and I am now rewriting the opener to make a glorious statement...WE WON A BASKETBALL GAME Y’ALL!
Don’t get me wrong though, both Tech and Syracuse played extraordinarily sloppy basketball for large chunks of this game. Both committed several first half turnovers, Tech couldn’t use either Nerea Hermosa or Aixa Wone Aranaz effectively, and Syracuse could not get a layup to drop the third quarter. Tech had a moment where there were up four in the final quarter and could run away with it, but immediately let up a four point run. The next time they had the opportunity in the 4th quarter, the Jackets ran away with a 9-0 run to go up 67-55 with under a minute left, putting away the Orange 69-57 for ACC win #1 of the season.
Tonight turned into the game we saw what the future with Tonie Morgan will look like. Cameron Swartz led with 17 points, but Tonie’s 16/15/2 double-double line was the kind of line we knew she was capable of and Tech desparately needed.
Nell Fortner was quick to bring her up in the opening statement of the press conference: “I thought Tonie was really tough tonight. Obviously she was cramping up there at the end, but she was super tough. 16 points and 15 rebounds, that’s phenomenal numbers right there.”
Some of the issues I’ll mention later have caused adaptability problems this season, but tonight the changes worked. Inés Noguero and Kara Dunn only played a combined 14 minutes despite starting. Syracuse was fast with Dyaisha Fair and Teisha Hyman, which made the Swartz, Morgan, Jackson and Associates™ a better counter defensively. In the 2nd half, Nell rolled out a small ball lineup with AC Carter and Kayla Blackshear at the four and five, which made a huge difference down the stretch to keep bodies in front of the basket.
“I thought it was difference making because AC Carter is very versatile. If we have to post her up we can, but she can also defend perimeter players when we’re switching. Really proud of how they adjusted.”
Tech has found leads in the six game losing streak, but tonight when it mattered most they actually held onto and grew a lead after Swartz made three free throws to break a 51-51 tie with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter.
From there, Tech went on an 18-6 run, completing a 50% shooting fourth quarter that largely was based around finding looks for Morgan and Jackson.
“I think we found a little bit of an offensive rhythm with a ball screen and get Tonie and Bianca coming off of that. Bianca’s a really nice pull up shooter. Tonie can get to the hole and is fast when she gets downhill. So I thought there was a rhythm there that felt good and so we kept going to it.”
This game is completely different though if Syracuse hits layups. They were 11-24, many of the misses coming from Hyman and Fair. The Orange had many chances to pull ahead but could not get anything to drop. Same could be said of Tech though, who were 12-23 in layup opportunities. But, Syracuse attempted 11 more total shots than Tech. But but, Tech attempted ten more free throws than the Orange. Dissect it how you want, someone had to eventually pull ahead and thank Buzz it was Tech.
“We finally started contesting [under the basket] instead of fouling. The tough part for us was keeping them off the boards. They had a ton of offensive rebounds I felt like were right there in our hands but couldn’t go get it.”
Syracuse did have 15 offensive rebounds, but Tech outrebounded them 40-37 on the evening.
Now, I won’t completely ignore the part I wrote about the team’s issues. One game doesn’t nullify them all, but it certainly is necessary to start a trend of improvement.
Me and my Scions pals talked extensively in our most recent episode about the current issues bequeathed on both the men’s and women’s teams (listen here). For the Nell Fortner’s team specifically, the issues I think stem from the lack of resources to adapt to multiple unforseen problems.
Those problems were and continue to be:
- the inability for 5th year’s Cameron Swartz & Bianca Jackson to shoot and create a dynamic offense, Syracuse game excluded.
- The sudden dropoff of consistent play by Eylia Love (no longer on the team) and Nerea Hermosa, who hasn’t started since the second Belmont game in November.
- Those two problems have resulted in the need to play three inexperienced freshman starting minutes (Inés Noguero, Kara Dunn, Tonie Morgan). Raeven Boswell is the only freshman not getting consistent playing time.
Tonight was a major recent exception to the first and third points, which are directly related. Swartz did shoot 5-10 and 6-6 from the line, which is exactly the kind of game needed to win in the ACC. Games like this will need to happen again and again. At this point, Tech won’t make the NCAA Tournament without winning the ACC, so never a better time than now to start figuring things out to maybe make a dark horse run in Greensboro.
Georgia Tech women’s basketball next plays Saturday, January 22 at North Carolina at 4 p.m. TV: ACCN