On Thursday, March 1, the Tech women’s basketball team traveled to Greensboro, NC, seeking the first conference championship in program history.
The Jackets made it all the way to the finals, but ultimately lost to No. 6 ranked Maryland by three points.
The first opponent for Tech was the fifth seed in the ACC, the North Carolina Tar Heels. The matchup closely resembled the teams’ early season matchup — a game that Tech won 56-54 — with Tech beating the Tar Heels this time 54-53.
The game started slowly with both teams combining for 29 points in the first 12 minutes of the game. Tech trailed for those 12 minutes until sophomore guard Tyaunna Marshall hit a jumper that gave Tech a 16-15 lead.
Tech held onto its one-point lead until roughly the four-minute mark in the first half, but then Tech finally started to pull away with a 12-7 point run to end the half. The run was led by senior point guard Mo Bennett, who scored the last seven points of the half for the Jackets on two threes and a free throw.
Bennett played a big role in the game for the Jackets off of the bench, scoring 11 points. Her play led Tech’s bench to outscore North Carolina’s bench 14-5.
Tech was able to take advantage of North Carolina’s turnovers in the first half and scored 11 points off of 16 first half turnovers.
The second half was a different story for Tech as the Tar Heels only turned the ball over four times and dominated inside the paint with 20 points.
Scoring points in the paint allowed North Carolina to take a four-point lead with four minutes to go in the game, but a layup from Marshall with 1:35 to play sealed the win for the Jackets.
Marshall finished the game with a team-high 21 points and added five rebounds. It was Marshall’s sixth 20-point game this season, and the 12th time she led the Jackets in scoring.
“Marshall took over the game at the very beginning and then just decided not to be denied and went to the rim about three or four times in a row and was able to capitalize. That, and our defense at the end of the game, getting stops when we needed to, was huge for us,” said Head Coach MaChelle Joseph.
The Jackets caught a break later that day when the ninth-seeded North Carolina State Wolfpack beat the first-seeded Duke Blue Devils. This set up Tech for a semi-final game with N.C. State instead of No. 5 ranked Duke.
The Jackets dismantled the Wolfpack en route to an 87-61 victory. The win put the Jackets into the title game for the first time in 20 years and the second time in school history.
Tech’s bench played a big part in the win again, this time outscoring its opponents 32-12. However, the real reasons that Tech won was because it shot the ball at a 22 percent higher rate and completely outplayed the Wolfpack on the boards, 53-28. N.C. State finished the day with an equal number of rebounds on both the offensive and defensive glass.
N.C. State led the game 9-8 four minutes in, but that proved to be the last time that the Wolfpack would have a lead. From that point, Tech finished the half on a 42-23 point run, leaving the outcome of the game in very little doubt.
It was more of the same for the Jackets in the second half. They held a 36-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the game before finally taking their foot off of the pedal.
The entire game played like a highlight reel for many Jackets who clearly took advantage of a less-skilled N.C. State team. Tech’s biggest performers were Marshall, senior guard Metra Walthour and senior center Sasha Goodlett, who scored 20, 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Goodlett led the team in rebounds with 10; Marshall followed closely with nine. Walthour proved to be the team’s biggest distributor with a team-leading six assists.
Tech ended up benefiting from playing a lesser opponent in N.C. State, but the team would not have the same luxury in the championship game against Maryland. Tech played up to the level of competition, but fell just short to the Terrapins, 68-65.
Tech had two players with over 20 points in Marshall and Goodlett but, in the end, Maryland forward Alyssa Thomas’s 29 points were too much.
Tech started the game off with a three-pointer from Walthour, but found itself down by a handful of points for most of the half. The Jackets found themselves behind by eight with two minutes left in the first half until they went on a 7-1 run that was capped with a buzzer-beating three from Marshall.
The strong ending to the first half provided some momentum for the Jackets heading into the second half. They quickly took a one-point lead when Walthour hit another three-pointer.
However, Maryland came right back and neither team reached a lead greater than four until there were seven minutes left in the game. At that point, Maryland took a five-point lead and held the lead for the next five minutes until Marshall sparked a rally to bring the contest to a one-possession game.
The end of the game was set up for a thrilling finish, but Tech missed a total of six shots in the game’s final two minutes. Tech’s final shot was a three-pointer from Walthour that would have sent the game into overtime. Walthour’s shot ended up being an air ball, and Maryland took the title.
“The way we play defensively, it’s really hard to play consecutive games—back-to-back-to-back— and to do it at a very high level is almost impossible. And I thought that, for three days consecutively, my team stepped up and played defensively as well as any team I’ve ever seen three nights in a row, playing 94 feet for 40 minutes,” Joseph said.
Tech will look to continue its stellar play in the NCAA Tournament next week. However, with its loss in the championship game, Tech lost a guaranteed berth in the NCAA Tournament. As a result, the Jackets will be watching on Selection Sunday to see who and where they will play.