Boston College women’s basketball opened up conference play Thursday night in a game against Georgia Tech, its first ACC opponent under new head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee. Despite losing by double-digits to the Yellow Jackets just last season, the Eagles entered the game with understandable confidence. BC’s seven true freshmen, coupled with its newly transformed team culture, seemed to forecast the perfect storm for ACC competition, which is arguably the toughest in the nation. This confidence proved to be a bit preemptive, however, as BC struggled at times against GT’s size and full-court pressure, ultimately falling to the Yellow Jackets, 81-76.
“Losing hurts, and it’s even worse when you don’t take care of your business on the boards,” Bernabei-McNamee said after, per BCEagles.com. “I hope that we learned to take our time on our shots and play our brand of basketball. Georgia Tech played with a lot of heart and grit. I hope that we learn and grow from this game, but this was one I thought we could have had.”
The first quarter set the precedent for the game, quickly transforming into a battle of the boards after the Yellow Jackets (11-3, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) won the tip. Georgia Pineau’s two free throws within the first 35 seconds of the game marked the only time the Eagles held the lead, and they quickly fell victim to cold shooting. This, combined with early success from GT’s Elizabeth Balogun, hoisted the Yellow Jackets to a quick 7-2 lead. Balogun—who would finish with 18 points and 17 rebounds in a prolific double-double—set the pace early, forcing her way into the paint in an immediate response to BC’s first two points. Combining forces with Kierra Fletcher for much of the period, the two created a nearly unstoppable offensive strategy, especially against an undersized BC defense.
Trailing by as many as seven points at the midway point of the opening stanza, the Eagles soon clawed their way back into the game. Each time BC got close, however, the Yellow Jackets answered. A layup from Pineau, two of her game-high 22 points, was followed a minute later with a silky 3-pointer by Ortlepp that cut the deficit to two. This was answered by a 13-4 run from GT, with buckets from five different players, three of which came in the paint. The Eagles’ Makayla Dickens created some momentum at the end of the quarter, hauling in a defensive rebound and taking it down the court to knock down a 3-pointer. This, followed by an emphatic rejection by Emma Guy at the buzzer, kept BC within eight.
The two teams traded baskets in the first four minutes of the second frame—the Eagles had an edge with layups from Taylor Soule, Guy, and Pineau that trimmed the lead to four points again. Once again, though, the Eagles let their opponent slip away slightly. Lotta-Maj Lahtinen hit a pair of free throws and got out in transition for a layup, sandwiching a layup from Balogun. A credit to Bernabei-McNamee’s team is due, however, as it didn’t panic when suddenly staring down a 10-point margin.
Soule converted an and-one, Pineau sunk a pair of free throws, and Dickens spun in with a good layup to make a three-point game after two missed free throws by Marnelle Garraud. The Yellow Jackets were able to harness momentum heading into halftime, though, as Fletcher hesitated below the basket and used her body to force a foul on Garraud, converting a three-point play with nine seconds remaining. Balogun snuck in a layup at the buzzer after forcing a turnover at mid-court, extending the lead back to a comfortable eight points.
The Eagles played some of their best basketball after intermission—they outscored their visitors in each of the final two quarters, but not by enough to complete a comeback win. An aggressive layup by Ortlepp pulled the Eagles within nine. As was the case for the entire game, the Yellow Jackets had a response in Balogun, who drilled a 3-pointer and a gritty layup to eventually put GT at a 12-point advantage. The Eagles proved relentless, however, with back-to-back 3-pointers for Dickens and Sydney Lowery. The Eagles embarked on a 6-0 run to close the gap, and, after the Yellow Jackets converted a pair of layups, Garraud found her way through traffic to knock down a jumper at the buzzer, bringing BC within six, going into the final stanza.
The Eagles remained poised on the offensive end throughout the fourth quarter, but found themselves unable to obstruct Yellow Jacket scoring opportunities. The game delved into a shootout, with the teams combining for 53 points in the last 10 minutes alone.
With five minutes to play, GT led BC, 67-56, largely preserving this 11-point advantage until the final moments of the game. Lowery and Dickens followed Ortlepp’s crucial 3-pointer with another pair of back-to-back threes, making it a six-point game with 1:09 left in regulation. Yet the Yellow Jackets would hit their next eight free throws, managing to keep their distance, despite another 3-pointer from Lowery with 16 seconds left.
The fact that Bernabei-McNamee’s team was within five points, even with an underwhelming performance on the glass, speaks to the level of talent she’s put together. The Eagles were outworked on the boards, losing the battle by a decisive 25 rebounds, but they still went to toe-to-toe with GT in points in the paint and had more second-chance opportunities than the Yellow Jackets. The game came down to free throws—BC only got to the line seven times, while its counterparts nearly tripled that figure with 24 attempts, connecting on 17 of them. A lot of good things stood out in the first conference game of the season for the Eagles, as did areas of improvement. Either way, it was a much better performance then the one they turned in against GT last season—a 24-point loss on the road—and that bodes well for the weeks to come.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor