When you work in multiple sports, certain times of the year can be fun and difficult at the same time. Like this part. My duties with Reinhardt football and Georgia State women’s basketball are running into each other. The Eagles continue their NAIA Playoff trek this Saturday where they host Montana Tech. But before then, I am traveling to the poorly named San Juan Shootout at Daytona Beach. This Thanksgiving excursion was supposed to be held in Puerto Rico, but the Zika virus threat forced the relocation. There are actually two of these tourneys. The Christmas one moved to Las Vegas. I think I’d rather have that, but Daytona is fine.
Georgia State finished off a three-game homestand with a 2-1 record. They decimated an overmatched Allen, 96-58, lost to UNCW 72-66, and outlasted Kennesaw State 62-59. UNCW blistered the nets in the second quarter, going six of eight. It was part of a 30-9 frame. The Seahawks were up by as much as 16, but GSU whittled it down and took a 1 point lead in the fourth, but were done by going 0-6 from the line.
With Kennesaw State, the game was nip and tuck, but the Owls held a 1 point lead 59-58, but the Panthers scored the last four to win. During my radio broadcast, I mentioned this could be a replay of UNCW, but freshman Jada Lewis sunk 2 foul shots in the closing seconds to ice it.
In my preview, I mentioned that if freshmen like Lewis and Jaylyn Harrison got significant playing time, it meant they outplayed the old hands. I was half right. I forgot about injuries. Madison Newby, the reigning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, is out for the season after a foot injury suffered in practice. They will try to get her a medical redshirt and save a year of eligibility. Makeba Ponder was injured at the end of last season and is trying to work her way into shape. Her 3-point touch has been absent, as she is only 15%. It is a streaky shot, and she is too good for this to go on all season.
The point has been entrusted to Lewis. She broke Te’A Cooper’s record for most 3 pointers in a career while at McEachern. And she has responded at this level, averaging 15 ppg during the homestand. Tiffany Holston has dominated and will shock the league. She had double-doubles in the two wins, including 19 against KSU, with nine of those coming in that critical fourth quarter.
Based on the UNCW and Kennesaw State, it looks like the Panthers will use a point-guard by committee approach. The Panthers do have quality guards to pull this off. Harrison, Kierra Henry, Ponder, KK Williams, and Lewis have all shown they can do it. With Holston getting most of the minutes in the middle, Haley Gerrin and Alaysia Mitchell can be effective when they enter to spell Holston. They’ll be rested. Hopefully, the tweeners like Tatianna Jackson and Astaja Tyghter can exploit mismatches.
But Georgia State has a tough opponent to start things off. The Panthers draw Penn State for a Thanksgiving throwdown. The Nittany Lions shocked the basketball world with their 70-56 win over Tennessee. Teniya Page averages 21.5 ppg. Penn State is 3-1, with their only loss to Drexel. It is a big challenge, made more so by this stretch where GSU plays four games in six days. The Panthers have tangle with American on Friday, but American will also play a back-to-back, so both teams should be on equal footing.
Looking around the Sun Belt, Arkansas State is the only winless team at 0-4, but the Red Wolves dropped a tough decision at home to Florida. Arkansas State has seven freshmen and Brian Hoyer time to get everyone on the same page before the conference slate. UT-Arlington is 3-0 with wins over Western Kentucky and Wichita State. UL-Lafayette is 1-1 with a win over McNeese State and a loss to top-ranked Notre Dame. Jaylyn Gordon and Simone Fields combined to lead the Cajuns in that McNeese State victory. Gordon was suspended in the middle of last year, and the Cajuns struggled after that. If she is back, her teaming with Fields could make an imposing squad. In the Notre Dame, a power failure in the second quarter forced everyone to find a different arena. I can’t imagine the logistical nightmares that produced.
Georgia State will spend Saturday in Orlando before coming back to Atlanta on Sunday. I, however, will fly back on Saturday so I can call that Montana Tech-Reinhardt quarterfinal. While the Atlanta sporting oxygen will be devoted to Georgia Tech-Georgia, this contest will be the biggest event ever in Waleska. If you’re wondering where Waleska is, don’t feel bad. Not many people can find it on a map. It’s about 45 minutes northwest of Atlanta, or 5 miles north of Canton. The NAIA National Championship is also held in Daytona Beach, irony of ironies. I may be back in this area next month.
I may write a more detailed preview of this match up later in the weekend. In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving, and if your plans include travel, please stay safe.