Hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. I spent mine in Daytona Beach covering Georgia State women’s basketball. Saturday, I caught a morning plane to Atlanta and then drove north to Waleska for the NAIA playoff quarterfinal match between Reinhardt and Montana Tech.

Georgia State first. The Panthers split their two games in Daytona, losing to Penn State 69-42. The Lady Lions knocked off Tennessee earlier in the week, and continued their stellar play. It was 16-9 after the first and 30-16 at the half. The Panthers also mustered a 27.4% from the floor while Penn State shot 40.6%, but Penn State hit 7 more three pointers as Georgia State continues to have a poor outing from outside the arc. Kennesha Nichols led the Panthers with 12 points.

The American game was different. The Eagles held a 32-24 halftime edge before Georgia State ran off a 21-11 third quarter and held onto a 45-43 lead going into the final frame. Then both squads defenses rose to the occasion. Jada Lewis scored all 8 of Georgia State points, helped by a pair of clutch three-pointers. But American got 10 points, and we were tied at 53 heading into a period of free basketball.

Georgia State held a 56-55 lead with 15 seconds left and were inbounding the ball near their own sidelines. KK Williams let the ball get away on the inbound pass. American fed Elina Koskimes in the left side coffin corner. She buried a three-ball and American went up 58-56 with 5 ticks left. The Panthers rolled the ball to half court, and found Tiffany Holston on the right wing. The 6’1″ graduate student buried the outside shot at the buzzer for the victory. Holston had yet to attempt a three for Georgia State and had only made 7 in her career at Albany State, but this one was a biggie. She wound up with 10, along with Astaja Tyghter. Lewis was credited with 12. (I had her with 14, but I wonder how much aggravation I’ll have to go through to prove it.)

It’s clear that Georgia State has a improved defense over last season. Turnovers are down, rebounding is up, blocks are up, and steals are up. But shooting percentages and assists are down. With Madison Newby out, no one has picked up the slack on the assists. It’s more of an assist-by-committee approach. Jaylyn Harrison is getting some minutes at the point, and she has shown to be adept and moving the offense even if she isn’t getting assists or points.

As I talked about earlier, the tournament was relocated to the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach after the Zika virus scare caused it to get pulled out of Puerto Rico. I spoke with a tourney organizer, who confirmed the CDC no longer classifies Zika as an imminent threat. The tourney had kind of a slap-dash feel to it. I had a problem getting official stats and game notes.

But the bigger issue was the rims. They seemed tighter than normal. There were more missed shots that caromed over the back of the backboard than I saw all season. Georgia State missed more layups precisely because they couldn’t get a favorable bounce off the rims. Shots ran off them. Both teams had to play with those conditions, but it seemed to hurt the Panthers more.

Georgia State has only 2 games in the next three weeks, which is a great lull after 5 games in 10 days. Georgia Tech is first from McCamish Pavilion this Saturday. The Jackets enter 6-1 after a loss to Michigan as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Georgia Tech’s roster reads like a list of delegates to the United Nations. They have seven players from overseas, including two from Italy and others from as remote locales as Senegal, Romania, and Nigeria. Pronunciation might be my hardest challenge.

I will be working this game for the Georgia State Radio Network and using it as a lead in to the final Panther football game of 2016, a contest at Idaho. I have a lot of skills, but I haven’t mastered being in two places at the same time. The Reinhardt Eagles of the NAIA will be hosting a semifinal football match up versus St. Francis of Indiana. I had to make a choice. I went with Georgia State

It’s a shame, because a lot rides on this contest. Reinhardt has scored an astounding 70 rushing touchdowns, including two in a 27-0 victory over Montana Tech in the quarterfinals. To put this in perspective, the Orediggers have been playing football for 109 years, Reinhardt only four. LJ Stegall had two touchdowns, giving him 51 rushing and receiving in his storied career. St. Francis will present a tough challenge, but coach Drew Cronic won’t have to go far to motivate his squad. The Cougars knocked out Reinhardt last year in the Eagles’ first ever postseason game. That contest started in rain and ended in snow. Ryan Thompson hit Gordon Dudley for the game’s first touchdown. Thompson’s arm has proved to be a major threat, as he’s thrown for 21 TDs. It proves that the Eagles are multi-dimensional, and that should help.

One more stat. That was the second shutout in program history. The first was against Cincinnati Christian back in September, in Cincinnati Christian’s second game of existence. Yes, the Montana Tech was missing their top QB and running back, but the Eagles are growing in all phases.

If Reinhardt wins, I’ll be available to do the Championship game of the NAIA, in, wait for it, Daytona Beach. At this rate, the Hilton Ocean Walk hotel should just call itself ‘John Morgo’s Official Hotel of Daytona Beach.’

That’s it for now. I hope everyone does well in getting ready for Christmas.

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