Georgia Tech's home opener is Tennessee victory

Photo by Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics.

Georgia Tech wanted to celebrate their first game at the McCamish Pavilion with a victory, but Tennessee wanted to bounce back from a loss to Chattanooga. In a battle of Top 25 teams, the Lady Vols prevailed.

(ATLANTA) It looks like Georgia Tech has it all this year- a refurbished arena now known as the McCamish Pavilion, huge HDTV Jumbotron, and the experience of coming off a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Visiting Tennessee is a school that is used to having it all, but is starting a new era under head coach Holly Warlick. Both schools wanted to beat their first Top 25 team this year, but only one could - Tennessee, winning 71-54 in front of the fifth largest crowd ever at Georgia Tech.

“We probably spent eight hours in film after that [Chattanooga] game,” said Tennessee sophomore forward Cierra Burdick, referring to Chattanooga’s upset of Tennessee in their season opener. “The biggest thing that we just focused on was bouncing back. It was so important to us. Obviously, we played terrible against Chat. This was night and day. And I’m just glad we were able to come back and bounce back the way we did.”

Georgia Tech got off to a poor start, racking up five fouls in the first two minutes and Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph would find herself shuffling her lineups early. Tennessee attacked from outside, with two early 3-pointers from Cierra Burdick to put the Lady Vols up 13-6 with 16:34 to go in the first half.

The Yellow Jackets had a lot of difficulty under the boards, with Tennessee dominant under the basket and getting plenty of second chances.

"I think when you have six freshmen and you’ve lost the majority of your inside players,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said. “it was obvious tonight that we lived and died by the three point shot, we didn’t ever establish an inside game.”

Traveling calls plagued the Yellow Jackets early in the first half, and the Lady Vols looked more like the pressing and hustling team with the Yellow Jackets forced to respond and unable to breach Tennessee’s 2-3 zone. Tennessee freshman forward/center Bashaara Graves was a force to be reckoned with under the boards, putting Tennessee into a double-digit 27-16 lead with 7:54 to go.

“She’s a beast,” said Burdick. “I mean that’s the only way to put it. Bashaara played great in that exhibition game, she played great against Chat and she played great tonight. She’s so consistent with it, and she just doesn’t let up. I mean the girl constantly is crashing the boards. She’s getting her shot. She battles. She gets beat up down there. She gets beat up like Glory Johnson got beat up last year, and she still remains calm and she still does what she does best.”

“A lot of kids these days, they don’t want to be on the block,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “They hate it. Most kids want to catch and face up. Bashaara loves being on the block. She can face up. She doesn’t mind being on the block, she doesn’t mind doing the dirty work. She doesn’t mind getting rebounds.”

Tennessee kept their double-digit lead through the most of the first half, with Graves threatening a first-half double-double and any Georgia Tech drive to the basket suffocated by two Tennessee defenders. Aside from some bursts of hope provided by Georgia Tech junior guards Dawnn Maye and Tyaunna Marshall, it was all Tennessee and the Lady Vols led 45-30 at halftime.

“I’ll tell you this much,” Warlick said, “I love man-to-man defense. If somebody said, 'What is your philosophy?' I want to get after you, I want to play man-to-man, I want to run. But I hope I’m becoming a smart coach, and we’ll do what we have to do to win. So we had to play 2-3 today. However style I want to play, that’s great, but the bottom line is – did you get the win?”

“I think when [sophomore guard] Sydney Wallace picked up two fouls the first minute of the game, that threw our complete game plan off,” Joseph said. “When you’re best scorer’s not in there early on in the game it was hard for us to make plays because so much of what we do against the zone is predicated around her. So obviously we need to look at that and make some adjustments.”

Graves finished the first half with 14 points and eight rebounds (and five offensive rebounds) with Ty Marshall scoring 11 points and Dawnn Maye 10. Tennessee won the first half rebounding battle 27-19 with a 13-5 offensive rebounding advantage. The Lady Vols scored 24 of their points in the paint and had 11 assists. Another telling stat: two of Georgia Tech’s starters – senior forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter and freshman center Nariah Taylor – were held scoreless in the first half.

But at the beginning of the second half, it was Tennessee’s turn to get into foul trouble. Tech went on a 9-0 run led by Ty Marshall to close the score to 45-39 before a media time out. Tech kept coming, closing the score to 45-43 on baskets by Maye and Marshall but Tennessee answered right back on an offensive rebound by freshman forward Jasmine Jones and a layup by freshman guard Andraya Carter. With 11:43 to go, Tennessee led 52-43.

And it kept coming. Neither side looked particularly efficient, but it was Tennessee that scored the points, an 18-0 run by the Lady Vols after being ahead by just two. The Yellow Jackets had opportunities but were incapable of finishing at the basket. With Tennessee up 60-43 with 9:00 to go, Georgia Tech called a timeout but could not stop the bleeding.

The Yellow Jackets were held scoreless for over eight minutes until senior forward Danielle Hamilton-Carter finally ended Tennessee’s scoring run. But by that point, the Lady Vols led by twenty and it was all over but the final whistle.

Tennessee’s Bashaara Graves finished the game with 18 points and 12 rebounds, playing 36 minutes. Cierra Burdick had 16 points and six rebounds, and Jasmine Jones finished with six points and 11 rebounds.

For Georgia Tech, Ty Marshall led all scorers with 18 points and eight rebounds in a losing effort. Dawnn Maye scored 12 points and had four rebounds but the Georgia Tech bench only provided ten points. Georgia Tech took 21 3-pointers during the game, and Joseph said that a Yellow Jacket team taking so many threes is “not our game”.

“I think this was great for us,” Joseph said, “because it exploited all of our weaknesses. It gave us an opportunity to see the things we need to work on moving forward.”

Georgia Tech’s next game is against Kennesaw State on Tuesday night at home in Atlanta at 7 pm ET. Tennessee’s next game will be against Rice in Knoxville, also at 7 pm ET this Thursday.

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