Young Georgia Tech women’s basketball team still learning after loss to Florida

Coach Nell Fortner's Jackets are 5-2. (AP file photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Coach Nell Fortner's Jackets are 5-2. (AP file photo/Karl B. DeBlaker)

Georgia Tech sophomore guard Tonie Morgan sprinted down court in the second quarter Wednesday, eying the basket. She slowed down briefly as she reached her destination, outworking her defender to score from under the hoop as she put the Yellow Jackets up by seven against Florida.

Morgan, who had a breakout freshman year in 2022-23, was key to sparking Tech’s brief scoring surge in the second quarter. But the Jackets’ offensive output didn’t outweigh their defensive woes as they fell to the Gators 68-58 at McCamish Pavilion.

“We just made some poor decisions tonight,” coach Nell Fortner said. “We did. We talked about different places where the ball was not going to be able to be passed, and we continued to try and pass it. I think it’s a sign of youth.”

Tech (5-2) is a remarkably young team. Among the Jackets’ key contributors Wednesday: freshman guard Rusne Augustinaite, who has played just seven college games; the sophomore Morgan; and junior Kayla Blackshear, who has only played significant minutes in one full season.

Their efforts powered Tech to a lead throughout much of the second quarter. Augustinaite was especially sharp, scoring three 3-pointers in the first half, while Morgan went 5-for-9 from the field.

But defensive woes emerged toward the end of the second quarter, proving insurmountable in the third. Of the Jackets 15 turnovers on Wednesday, seven came in the third quarter. Florida took advantage, scoring 26 points in the third period after tallying just 27 in the first half.

Fortner said the Jackets must improve on defense, pointing to mistakes like struggling with rebounds and failing to guard the post, leading to three-pointers for Florida.

The Jackets are 0-2 against their sole Power Six opponents: the Gators (6-1) and Creighton, which defeated Tech 57-46 on Nov. 23. Tech is a little more than halfway through its non-conference schedule before it opens ACC play against No. 15 Florida State Dec. 29.

What Morgan has taken away from the first half of non-conference play: the importance of ball security.

“Turnovers at the end (against Florida) cost us the win,” Morgan said. “Non-conference and conference we’re going to have to value the ball. We (also) got outboarded, so we’re going to have to capitalize on all those things.”

Morgan, a member of the 2022-23 ACC All-Rookie Team, has emerged as a leader on the young team. While several Jackets are still adapting to the college game, they’re showing glimmers of promise.

Augustinaite was seemingly unstoppable on Wednesday, going 6-for-10 from the 3-point line en route to a 30-point performance. Blackshear led the defensive effort, tallying 10 boards.

Fortner said several players are still developing, and it’s on her as a coach to recognize that, teach them and have patience. But the Jackets can’t keep making the same mistakes, she said.

The hope throughout non-conference play is growing tougher and getting closer as a team, Fortner said. When under pressure, she said the Jackets need to learn their lesson, move on and improve from it. This will be put to the test as Tech returns to play against Nebraska Saturday.

“A lot of the non-conference is your team getting to know each other under duress,” Fortner said. “Right now, it’s been tough for us.

“I thought we battled in the Creighton game. We defended them well, but we just didn’t score well. But we were under a lot of duress in that game — (the Florida) game also. Even though you lose, you have to grow from it.”

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