Tech women emerge victorious in season opener

Freshman guard Loyal McQueen scored 12 points in her collegiate debut against Georgia State, helping Tech to a 24-point victory over the Panthers. // Photo courtesy of GTAA

Tech accomplished a new first on Nov 25, playing it’s first basketball game during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the women’s team taking on the Georgia State Panthers from down Marietta Street. While many parts of the experience were (hopefully) temporarily different, it was still refreshing to be able to take in some live sports in person. 

Differences started appearing from the moment people walked up to McCamish Pavilion. The old student entrance is now the media/staff entrance, so students enter through the main entrance at the corner of Fowler and 10th. Masks were required, the giveaway table had a plastic barrier with an opening at the bottom for the giveaway (a tumbler for this game) to be distributed to each student. Sanitizing stations were aplenty on the concourse. The pep band and cheerleading crew were spaced out in the usual student sections, with both contingencies much smaller than usual. Team benches and the scorers table now occupied where the student courtside section used to be. The usual scorers table now served as a seating area for security and staff. Any unused seats were locked with zip ties.

Even with the newness of it all, the basketball was unchanged and as fun as it always is. Georgia State won the opening tip to start off what would be a very sloppy quarter for both teams. Airballs were shot by both teams, Georgia State was able to get a couple open threes off but couldn’t find the rim. A quarter of Tech’s 12 points were via free throws in the first quarter. Tech was also finding open shots and getting good outlet passes, but not everything was clicking fast enough to get easy shots at the rim. This was not surprising for the first game of the season.

In the second quarter, the Jackets took control of the game. Junior transfer Lotta-Maj Lahtinen sparked the offense by speeding up the ball movement to create a ton of great shots for herself. The whole offense moved around her and the Panthers didn’t have an answer. Lahtinen had two steals within a minute, the second one leading to a layup for senior Lorela Cubaj that would jumpstart a scoring run that effectively locked up the game. Lahtinen would make three of the next four Jacket buckets, aided by Tech’s first three pointer of the game by redshirt junior Sarah Bates. The defense got tougher in the lane and kept the Panthers to only 8 points in the second quarter, putting the Jackets up 28-13 at halftime with no discernable momentum shift that could give the Panthers any breathing room to come back.

Georgia State posed the biggest threat in the third quarter despite it being Tech’s highest scoring quarter. The Panthers did much better blocking the lane and getting free throws. The quarter as a whole was rugged and could’ve been further exploited by the Panthers, but Tech kept making shots when they needed it, led by freshman Loyal McQueen and Cubaj. Lahtinen was on the floor for most of the third quarter and added two assists, both to Cubaj. 

Tech entered the fourth quarter up 20 points and cruised through the last ten minutes of the game with ease. Bates kicked off the quarter with her third three pointer of the game, and Lahtinen knocked down a jumper on their next possession. Both teams had a scoring drought that lasted until the middle of the quarter. GSU finished the game with a trio of three pointers by Taniyah Worth, Moriah Taylor, and Kamryn Dziak, leading to a final score of 62-38.

Lahtinen, Bates, and McQueen all finished with over 12 points. Lahtinen was the only Jacket with a double-double, grabbing 10 rebounds, second on the team to Cubaj’s 14. Cubaj was one bucket away from a double-double of her own. Even with the Panthers leading the free throw battle early, the Jackets ended up with a higher percentage of 55% to Georgia State’s 42.9%.