#TGW: Tough Lesson

Zaire O'Neil chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and a career-high five blocks against Syracuse.
Feb. 9, 2015

By Jon Cooper The Good Word

Young teams “take their lumps” as they grow. That’s just a fact of life at all levels.

Of course, those lumps are supposed to be metaphorical, symbolizing learning how win games, often against top-ranked teams, and almost always more experienced ones.

Sunday afternoon at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech’s Women’s Basketball team hit the trifecta against No. 25 Syracuse — an experienced team, ranked in the top 25 that literally inflicted those lumps with a bruising brand of basketball. It added up to a 65-60 loss, Tech’s fifth in seven games, with all five coming against teams ranked or receiving votes. Nine of Tech’s 10 losses are to top-25 or RV teams.

“I’m proud of the team for battling back,” said Joseph, whose team is 14-10, 4-6 in the ACC. “It’s disappointing to lose to another top-25 team. It’s one of those things where our freshmen and sophomores are getting tremendous experiences. They’re learning on the job so-to-speak. I’m trying to figure out ways to compensate for experience. I felt like we fought back. Every time we got down 10 we battled back. We never quit and that’s a great sign for our team.”

After the game with Syracuse (17-7, 7-4), the team literally had signs, as in bumps and bruises, that illustrated they’d been through the wringer.

“I think it was the most physical game I’ve seen in two years,” said Joseph.

Kaela Davis had 18 points and matched her season-high with nine rebounds to lead the Jackets. Junior Aaliyah Whiteside gave another inspired effort with 17 points, including shooting 11-for-11 from the foul line, and six boards, while freshman Zaire O’Neil chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and a career-high five blocks, getting three of them to break her previous best in the game’s first 1:42.


 

 

Syracuse jumped out to a 7-0 lead and never led by fewer than four the rest of the way. The Orange, who came in averaging 7.5 three-pointers per game, second in the ACC, nailed six of them in the first half and led by 13 with 2:11 left in the half. But the Jackets showed the fight they displayed all afternoon, closing the half on an 8-0 run, with Whiteside and Roddreka Rogers (six points, nine rebounds, including a game-high six on the offensive end) each scoring four, to pull within 35-30 at the break.

A 7-2 run by the Orange pushed the lead back up to 10, where it stayed pretty much the rest of the half, despite the Jackets adjusting and holding ‘Cuse to 1-for-7 from three in the second half. Tech closed on an 8-2 run, including a pair of Davis threes, the last one just beating the buzzer, but it was too little too late.

Joseph chalks Sunday up as another learning experience.

“There’s no teacher like experience,” she said. “That’s one of the things that when you’re playing so many freshmen and sophomores, it’s difficult to fast-forward and tell them what it’s going to be like in these ACC matchups.”

O’Neil, 23 games into her college career is learning rapidly.

“A top-25 team, it’s not even that, all ACC games are tough. Everybody’s a good opponent,” she said. “We have to learn how to battle back. We can’t get too down from this one. We have another game. We just have to prepare for that one.”

While the Jackets need to put Sunday’s loss behind them, the lesson of battling adversity will stay with them and came on a good day, as Sunday was Girls and Women in Sports Day.

“This is a really important day for us,” said Joseph. “Our guest coach today was the leader of Girls on the Run and we had a bunch of our alumni back. It was just a really special day for us. We take seriously our role in being role models for young women and girls in sports. It’s one of those things where we were able to give back today and play hard for those people that came out to support us.”

The day meant as much to the Yellow Jackets players as they did to the young fans in attendance.

“No doubt about it. You look at our players in particular. There were players before them that came and gave back and made their opportunities possible,” said Joseph. “That’s one of the things I try to remind them, is never forget where you came from. Those people that set an example for you.”

“I’ve benefitted a lot, because even at the younger age you have to play with boys for a long time before you’re at an old enough age to play with all girls,” said O’Neil. “So I feel like there should be more resources for the younger girls than just teaching them how to play, getting them to where they want to be at this level. A lot of people decide they want to play college ball maybe freshman year of high school, maybe seventh or eighth grade. It should start at a younger age. With boys they’re training them from age five or six. They should do the same with girls.

“I tell young girls that all the time because they don’t have that person who tells them, ‘You can be good in books AND you can be good in basketball.’ Or ‘You can be good in books and you can still do sports,’” she added. “So I think all female collegiate athletes are role models just because you’ve gotten this far because of your talent and you’re still getting it done in school.”

The Yellow Jackets will try to get it done on the court starting Thursday night at McCamish Pavilion, against NC State (13-10, 4-6). Tipoff is at 7 p.m. They have six games remaining, three of them against teams either tied or behind them in the ACC.