Jackets drop close games against their ACC foes

Junior forward Kayla Blackshear drives towards the rim against center Kyla Oldacre in the 62-60 loss against Miami. // Photo courtesy of Catey Thurston Student Publcations

After a nail-biting win over Wake Forest, the Jackets’ women basketball team headed to Syracuse, NY, hoping to secure an upset over No. 19 Syracuse. 

The Orange came into the game with a 19-4 record bolstered by their offense, which ranks fifth in the ACC in points per game. While they shoot a mediocre 32.2% from three-point range, they lead the ACC in offensive rebounds per game with 16.5 rebounds per game. Graduate student and point guard Dyaisha Fair, who came into the game averaging over 20 points per game on nearly 40% shooting from both the field and three-point range, leads Syracuse’s offense. Tech needed to slow down Fair and limit the Orange’s second chance points from offensive rebounds. 

The Jackets started well, shooting 50% from the field and three-point range in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Kara Dunn got the Jackets on the board with a quick layup before junior forward Kayla Blackshear found fifth-year guard Sydney Johnson for the three-pointer. However, Fair answered with a deep three-pointer to tie the game up. Both teams traded shots until Dunn hit a three-pointer of her own to give the Jackets the 14-11 lead. Sophomore guard Tonie Morgan  found Blackshear in the paint, but the Syracuse defense rotated towards Blackshear. Blackshear correctly re-set the offense by finding Morgan, who set up freshman guard Rusne Augustinaite to knock down the open three-pointer. Tech got a 24-17 lead with nine minutes in the second half, but Syracuse found some success against the Jackets’ defense. The Jackets then went cold down the stretch as Blackshear was the only Jacket to score again before half. Tech took a narrow 31-28 lead into half. 

Syracuse’s halftime adjustments found immediate success as the Orange mounted a 7-0 run before head coach Nell Fortner called a timeout. Immediately, Blackshear found Morgan for the layup, and the Jackets parlayed a turnover by graduate student guard Alaina Rice into an easy score. Tech did an excellent job of taking Fair out of the quarter as a scorer, but Varejão and freshman forward Alyssa Latham gave the Jackets’ defense problems. Thankfully, Blackshear, Morgan and freshman guard D’Asia Thomas-Harris all hit on late layups to cut the Jackets deficit to 43-44, Syracuse heading into the fourth quarter. 

In a pivotal fourth quarter, the two teams held at 50 apiece with five minutes left before Dunn broke the tie with a free throw. Dunn and Blackshear put pressure on the Syracuse defense and converted their layups to make it a 59-58 game. Unfortunately, Fair found Varejão for a drop-step layup that gave Syracuse the 60-59 lead with a minute left. Fair sealed the narrow 62-59 loss for the Jackets with free throws. 

Tech lost the Syracuse game due to faltering down the stretch and not getting timely stops — both needed to improve before their home contest against Miami on Sunday, Feb. 11.  Miami has the third-best defense in the ACC in points conceded per game, so it was unsurprising to see that the first quarter was predominantly a defensive battle. The quarter finished with only 26 total points scored and three three-pointers made. Morgan immediately poked the ball away from Hurricanes junior guard Ja’Leah Williams on the game’s first possession. Williams had to foul to prevent the easy bucket, but Morgan
was able to hit both free throws. 

From then on, points were in short supply as both teams did an excellent job of collecting defensive rebounds. The quarter ended with
Tech clinging on to a 14-12 lead. The second quarter saw the first signs of consistent Tech offense. The Jackets went on a 8-0 run before Williams got Miami back into the game with an and-one on Ines Noguero. Outside of four points from Morgan and a nice three-pointer from Johnson, Tech’s offensive production stagnated after an 8-0 run, but the defense did enough to preserve a solid 29-22 lead for Tech heading into halftime that reflected their cohesive play. 

Unfortunately, Hurricanes junior guard Shayeann Day-Wilson dropped 10 points in the third quarter with two momentum-shifting threes. Tech’s discipline also started to falter as the Jackets were called for five fouls in the quarter. Morgan continued to push the Jackets’ offense forward, but the team went 36% from the field and 17% from three. They could not find open looks on the perimeter or get stops on defense as the Hurricanes built a 49-44 lead heading into the fourth. 

The Jackets lost the game entirely due to their uneven fourth quarter. Over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Jackets scored three points while scoring 14 in the last four minutes. Sloppy turnovers led to squandered offensive possessions that made the Jackets’ late surge ultimately irrelevant. 

A pair of late free throws by Blackshear and Morgan made it a 59-55 game with 16 seconds left. However, Miami forced the foul on their next possession and Day-Wilson made both free throws to make it 61-55. Tech then fouled Day-Wilson, splitting her free throws to give the Hurricanes a 62-57 lead with six seconds left. Augustinaite then buried a last-second three-pointer, but the Jackets still lost 62-60. 

Fans should be encouraged by the team’s resilience and look for them to rebound against Clemson on Thursday, Feb. 15 before traveling to Raleigh to take on the No.6 ranked NC State Wolfpack in a highly anticipated and challenging matchup for Tech.