Recent results prepare Jackets for Devil-ish challenge

Photo by John Nakano

To say the least, this season has been a study in contrast.

While Brian Gregory and the Tech men’s basketball team struggle to find a modicum of consistency, dropping close game after close game, their counterparts are having few such issues. Fresh off a 29-point win over Clemson, last Sunday’s victory was the sixth game this season in which the Jackets (15-11, 5-8 ACC) have held their opponents to under 50 points on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, they have been held under that mark only once, an anomalous 54-42 slugfest against perennial favorite Notre Dame.

Tech’s success should not merely be marked up to a dominant defense. That is a small part of a far more valuable equation. It is the result of a coherent team, one that could pose a real challenge to a slumping Duke Blue Devils (17-10, 6-7 ACC) team.

The win over Clemson was a microcosm of Tech’s team strategy on the court. Aaliyah Whiteside led the Jackets in points scored, netting 13 of Tech’s 77 points against the Tigers. However, Whiteside was not the only leader in the swarm on Sunday. Zaire O’Neil and her 12 points played a pivotal role.

The Jackets came out swinging against a conference rival, scoring 41 points in the first half. Antonia Perresson matched O’Neil’s twelve points and two other Jackets ended the game with double digit point tallies.

Head Coach MaChelle Joseph told, “I don’t think we’ve had a game this year where we’ve had five players in double figures. I thought the younger kids are starting to get better.”

As the Jackets improve on the court, Tech fans can look forward to future seasons of even more success. It seems, though, that the faithful will not have to wait that long.  Tech prepares to meet perennial powerhouse Duke at the venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham this
Sunday at 2 p.m.  

Last year the Tech women made history, beating the Devils for the first time in more than two decades. Though  the team will no doubt miss the leadership of Kaela Davis, a then-sophomore who has since transferred to South Carolina, the team’s current iteration has the potential to edge the Blue Devils once again.

Currently holding the seventh slot, Duke ranks two slots above the Jackets in ACC women’s basketball standings. While both teams have seen flashes of promises over the course of the season, neither has been able to win conference games with frequency.

Injuries have somewhat overshadowed Duke’s growth throughout this season, as many Blue Devils have been forced to demonstrate their versatility on a daily basis. Whether due to injuries or other factors, the team has had a difficult time starting games strong as a result.

Duke’s Sports Information Department reports that the Blue Devils have only tallied 51 points during the first halves of their last three games, excluding Virginia Tech. The Jackets have had no such issue; should they race out to a significant lead early, as Miami did against the Devils, they will be well-positioned to weather a comeback attempt. With consistent scorers throughout both halves, the Jackets will force a hobbled Duke team to play uncharacteristically well early on.

Both teams have had to integrate a large number of freshmen into their lineups this season. The balance of returning and developing skill seems well matched between the two.

Ultimately, winning the contest will come down to timely stops and well-executed play in difficult situations, two particularly significant factors.

With holes in their lineup due to injuries, Duke may have more difficulty combating Tech’s united front on the court. The Jackets have proven that they have quality players outside of centerpiece and team leader Aaliyah Whiteside.

Tech has managed to develop an effective system in which the entire team works together to maximize point earning opportunities, even if those opportunities have yet to materialize tangibly in this season.

In the game against Clemson, Serbian Katarina Vuckovic posted eight rebounds, a typical performance for a Jackets team that prides itself on out-rebounding its opponents on a consistent basis. Ciana Cryor led Tech with six assists.

With another team effort like the one Tech brought against the Tigers last Sunday, the Jackets might just see another victory against Duke this weekend and perhaps even the start of a winning streak against a conference standard-bearer Blue Devils.