Pan leads basketball into ACC tournament

Photo by Tuna Ergan Student Publications

Tech women’s basketball recently completed a remarkable upset when they defeated the number four team in the country in the North Carolina State Wolfpack on the road, 65-61. The victory was Tech’s first win over a top ten team on the road in over eight years. The game started well for the Jackets, with the team taking the lead in the first few minutes. Francesca Pan had a particularly strong performance as she put up eight points in the first half. The Jackets closed the first quarter with a one-point lead at 18-17. However, the Wolfpack picked up their energy in the second quarter and turned the lead into a five-point deficit for the Jackets.

Going into the second half, it seemed likely that NC State would assert themselves as the superior team and put the game away at home, something they had successfully done many times this season. However, the Jackets came out of the locker room hot, making 12 or their 15 shots in the third quarter, with Pan scoring 13 points in the first six minutes alone. The Jackets led by as much as 11 and ended up carrying a six-point lead into the final period after outscoring the Wolfpack 26-15 in the quarter.

The fourth quarter was back and forth but Pan once again came up big when it mattered most. She hit two clutch three-pointers and, as the game was coming to a close, she made two consecutive free throws to put the game away. It was a scintillating performance for Pan, who never left the floor and finished with a career-high 30 points on 11-24 shooting from the field and four three-pointers. The senior sank more threes than the entire NC State team (three) and more than all of her teammates combined (two).

Another story in the evening was the strength of the Jackets defense. The team held star NC State guard Aislinn Konig scoreless the entire game. Konig has averaged double-digit points over the past two years. Tech’s defense has been impressive throughout the season, and first year Coach Nell Fortner has made a noticeable impact by emphasizing excellence on that end of the floor throughout her first year as head coach. The Jackets returned home after the thrilling victory to face two more of the top teams in the country in fifth-ranked Louisville and 17th-ranked Florida State. Louisville entered the game on a roll, having also defeated NC State on the road before routing Notre Dame 82-49 to take the number one spot in the conference from the Wolfpack. They proved to be too tall of a task for the Jackets, who were looking to take down the top team in the conference in consecutive games. The Cardinals left Atlanta with a 58-47 victory, limiting the Jackets to only six made field goals in the second half. However, the Tech women’s team rebounded very nicely this past Sunday against Florida State, completing a season sweep of the Seminoles with a 65-62 victory with Pam pouring in another 23 points.

The Jackets currently stand at 18-10 on the season and eighth place in the ACC, trailing Syracuse by only a half game. Tech started the season with hopes of clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament, and these hopes were boosted by a 14-3 start to the season, but the team had slumped recently and struggled to close out key games. With the threat of losing a spot in the tournament looming, a win over the number four ranked team in the nation is a significant boost to Tech’s resumé and potential to secure a spot in the tournament. While the team is by no means guaranteed to make the cut, the momentum that could come from such a win may be exactly what the team needs going down the stretch of the regular season and into the ACC tournament.

Tech concludes their regular season schedule on Sunday at Clemson. The ACC tournament begins next Wednesday in Greensboro, NC and runs until Sunday. The team’s performance there will likely go a long ways towards determining whether or not they qualify for the NCAA tournament in March. This would be a significant accomplishment for Fortner in her first year, as Tech has not made the tournament since 2014.