Women's Basketball, Basketball, Winter, Sports

Waggoner’s Return Lifts Eagles Past Georgia Tech in First Round of ACC Tournament

For its past nine games ahead of the ACC Tournament, Boston College women’s basketball was without its leading scorer, Dontavia Waggoner, due to injury. The Eagles struggled mightily without the two-way guard, losing seven of those nine games.

On Wednesday night, Waggoner made her return for her first game since Jan. 22, and it came at a perfect time. The redshirt junior showed no signs of rust, tallying a team-high 16 points. 

Behind Waggoner and center Maria Gakdeng, BC (16–16, 5–13 Atlantic Coast) ended Georgia Tech’s season inside Greensboro Coliseum, defeating the Yellow Jackets (13–17, 4–14) 62–57 in the first round of the ACC Tournament. The Eagles led by as many as 17 points and staved off a late Georgia Tech run to close out the victory.

“It’s good to get a win in the ACC Tournament with a young team,” BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “I was really proud of how we rebounded. Maria played unbelievable, and I loved the way [Waggoner] came out.”

Waggoner gave the Eagles a boost on both ends of the court all night, notching seven rebounds and three steals to go along with her game-high plus-16 while coming off the bench.

“Dontavia has that grittiness to her—that really competitive drive,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “If there’s a loose ball or if there’s a rebound that kind of looks like a staggering rebound that maybe no one can get to, she’s a player that can get to that.”

But the Eagles struggled on the offensive end in the early going, settling for many low-quality jump shots. After falling behind 7–0, BC found a rhythm, begging to work the ball inside to Gakdeng, who would receive a pass in the mid-post and either back into the paint herself or find a weak-side cutting guard for an easy layup.

Georgia Tech rode its hot start to a 12–9 first-quarter lead, but BC clicked on all cylinders in the second frame. The Eagles poured in 18 points on 70 percent shooting in the quarter to build a 27–18 halftime advantage. 

BC continued to run its offense through Gakdeng, who finished the game with 14 points on 6-of-6 shooting and seven rebounds. The overall rebounding disparity—a 45–25 BC advantage—benefited the Eagles all game.

“I think having [Gakdeng] constantly being available on the inside and having her [shoot] 100 percent from the floor is big for this kind of environment,” Bernabei-McNamee.

On the defensive end of the floor, BC implemented a zone in the second quarter that stifled the Yellow Jackets’ offense, including leading scorer and former Eagle Cameron Swartz, who recorded four points on 2-of-7 shooting in the first half. Swartz later fouled out with 7:16 left in the game and scored five total points.

“I was really proud of them,” Bernabei-McNamee said of BC’s execution on defense. “We switched up some defenses and all that takes a lot of communication.”

The Eagles built on their halftime lead in the third quarter, excelling in transition offense. Waggoner and Taina Mair continually pushed the pace to grow BC’s lead above 15 at the 2:31 mark.

BC continued to keep the Yellow Jackets quiet on offense—Georgia Tech just cracked the 30-point mark by the quarter’s end—as the Eagles led 43–30 after three periods of play.

Georgia Tech, however, did not go down without a fight, as the Yellow Jackets began the fourth quarter with five consecutive points to cut the deficit to eight. Gakdeng picked up her fourth foul less than two minutes into the final quarter, opening the door for Georgia Tech even more when the center subbed out. 

“The fourth quarter, I thought we showed a little bit of nerves and maybe we got a little bit tight at times,” Bernabei-McNamee said. 

The Eagles responded with four straight points to steady the ship, but Georgia Tech stormed back with a 15–6 run to make it a 53–50 game at the 3:24 mark amid four BC turnovers. 

“I was really proud of the effort in the fourth quarter,” Georgia Tech head coach Nell Fortner said. “I thought we fought hard, and we did some really good things.”

Georgia Tech’s Bianca Jackson came to life during this spurt, scoring 11 points in the frame. Tonie Morgan also recorded 11 points in the quarter. 

“I really felt like we were going to get that thing tied up and then it’s anybody’s ball game,” Fortner said. “But it just didn’t. It didn’t drop that way”

Three huge points—a free throw and layup—from Waggoner gave BC a six-point cushion, and each team traded baskets and free throws down the stretch until the Eagles ultimately escaped with the victory, advancing to the second round of the ACC Tournament.

March 1, 2023