Georgia Tech still cobbling new pieces together as they grab first win

Bianca Jackson heads to the basket in the Yellow Jacket’s win. Georgia Tech Athletics photo.

“Well, we’ve got a long way to go.”

That was Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets coach Nell Fortner’s takeaway from her team’s season-opening 60-42 win Thursday over the Georgia State Panthers. Despite the rout, Fortner was very disappointed in her team’s performance in what she saw as “not a very pleasant display of Power 5 basketball.”

It’s hard to disagree with her sentiment. The Yellow Jackets are a Power 5 team that made it to the NCAA Tournament last season, and the Panthers are a mid-major that didn’t even make it to the WNIT Tournament. Despite that, Tech struggled to beat a team that they really should have made quick work of.

They shot 32.7 percent for the entire game, with their two leading scorers, Cameron Swartz (19 points, six rebounds and three assists) and Bianca Jackson (18 points, five rebounds and three assists), combining to shoot just 35.7 percent from the field. The team as a whole shot just 33.3 percent from 3-point range.

“Getting to the free-throw line really helped us…I think we shot more in the fourth quarter from the free-throw line than in any other quarter,” Swartz said.

One could point to the lack of ball movement, as they only had nine assists as a team, but the Yellow Jackets also had many open shots that they missed. They had 22 turnovers as a team, which allowed Georgia State to have 15 steals as a team and for two Panthers players, Mikyla Tolivert and Tehya Lyons, both to have four steals each.

“It stops any kind of rhythm that you are trying to establish, so we have to take better care of the ball,” Fortner said.

The biggest edge that Tech had over their opponents was rebounding, as they out-grabbed them 50-30. That allowed them to dominate in paint points, 22-14, and in second chance opportunities, 13-4.

Even players who were only in single-digits in points scored were effective in dominating the boards, such as Kayla Blackshear (6 points and eight rebounds), Nerea Hermosa (6 points and six rebounds), Tonie Morgan (0 points and eight rebounds) and Camryn Harrison (2 points and seven rebounds).

Fortner made the same point that was obvious to everyone that watched this game, that with seven new players and six returning players, and having played only one exhibition game, they haven’t really had enough time to develop chemistry as a team.

“I hope it’s sooner than later, but it’s obviously going to take a little while longer just to get that understanding of how to play together and how to really want to play together,” she said.

Tech lost some key pieces this offseason – the most notable one being two-time ACC defensive player of the year and all-time program leading rebounder Lorela Cubaj, who was picked No. 18 overall by the New York Liberty in the 2022 WNBA Draft. Other key losses were Sarah Bates and Lotta-Maj Lahtinen. 

They have added three veterans through the transfer portal in Florida State’s Bianca Jackson, Boston College’s Cameron Swartz and Alabama’s Kayla Blackshear. They also added four true freshmen: Tonie Morgan, Raeven Boswell, Inés Noguero and Kara Dunn.

“I think every team needs some time to click and I think that we do a great job off the court of clicking and hanging out and I think that does help with on-the-court [chemistry],” Swartz said.

The good news for the Yellow Jackets from this ugly, sloppy win is that conference play doesn’t start until late December, so they’ll have enough time to work in the new players. Their next game is this Sunday at home against another in-state mid-major, the Kennesaw State Owls. 

Then, they play two straight SEC teams in the Georgia Bulldogs and Auburn Tigers, and end the month of November by heading down to southwest Florida to play in the Gulf Coast Showcase for three straight days.