A season that Georgia Tech women’s basketball coach MaChelle Joseph has described as a journey reached a most bittersweet destination. After winning five games to reach the WNIT championship game, Tech lost 89-79 to Michigan in triple overtime Saturday afternoon in Detroit.
With the score tied, the Yellow Jackets had two free throws to win the game with .1 seconds remaining, but missed both to send the game to overtime.
“It’s going to take a while (to get over the loss),” Joseph said by phone from Detroit.
Tech had the championship nearly in its reach. The Jackets led 67-61 with 1:23 left in the fourth quarter after a basket and free throw by forward Elo Edeferioka. But two long 3-pointers by Michigan guard Katelynn Flaherty tied the score, the second with 9.6 seconds to play. Edeferioka had two free throws with .1 seconds left to win it, but missed both, sending the game to overtime tied at 67-67. Tech has struggled from the line all season, ranking 331st of 345 Division I teams at 61.5 percent.
“I just felt like there was no way we were going to let that slip away,” Joseph said. “It doesn’t really come down to that. It comes down to other things. I’m just really proud of the growth of the team.”
Tech (22-15) saved the game in the second overtime, coming back from a 76-72 deficit in the final minute with a jumper by Edeferioka with 39 seconds left to cut the lead to two and then tying the score with 12 seconds remaining on a Francesca Pan layup after she had gained possession with a steal.
“Francesca Pan showed all season long she’s one of the toughest freshmen I’ve ever seen,” Joseph said of the ACC freshman of the year.
In the third overtime, Tech suffered a critical loss when point guard Imani Tilford fouled out 47 seconds into the period. That left the Jackets without their floor leader and their leading scorer and second leading rebounder, forward Zaire O’Neal, who had fouled out in the fourth quarter. The Jackets scored one basket in the final overtime, a 3-pointer by guard Cha’Ron Sweeney.
“It’s tough for us to complete without our go-to players,” Joseph said.
It was just the third triple-overtime game in school history and first since January 1996. Tech, which was making its first WNIT championship game appearance, will return the vast majority of its production next season.
“It’s going to make us hungrier to be that close and taste it and have it jerked away from you, pulled out from underneath you,” Joseph said. “It’s like, wow. I was proud of them. They left it all on the floor and competed for 40 minutes and then some, three overtimes. If we have to go down, that’s the way we wanted to go down.”
O’Neil led Tech with 21 points. Edeferioka added 11 with 17 rebounds and five blocks.
Michigan (28-9) was playing the game on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy because of a conflict with its own arena. The Wolverines won their first WNIT title after reaching the semifinals the past two seasons. Tech lost to Michigan 92-52 in December in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at McCamish Pavilion, one of the most lopsided defeats in Joseph’s 14 seasons.