Three overtimes bring Michigan the women's NIT championship over visiting Georgia Tech Saturday afternoon; television viewers were shut out of this 89-79 thriller
Underdog Yellow Jackets kept pace until the third OT
By ARNIE LESHIN
No April 1st joke, but if you missed it, there was a women's National Invitational Tournament (NIT) playing its championship game that day.
Too bad it wasn't on national television because host Michigan and visiting underdog Georgia Tech must have put on quite a show in the three overtimes that brought an exciting 89-79 title for the Wolverines.
Michigan went 28-9 and finished third in the Big 10 at 11-5, but was a team on the bubble that failed to make the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech did not fare as well, winding up 22-15 while placing 10th in the ACC, but played its best ball in gaining the NIT final.
The home court, though, might have given the Wolverines a lift with the support of their fans. If there was any home cooking, it would perhaps be where the Yellow Jackets had two more field goals and converted 10-of-14 free throws, but Michigan made good on 23 of 28 from the foul line.
Then again, 24 turnovers didn't help Georgia Tech, but it hung tough until the home team took over in the third overtime. It outscored the Jackets, 22-12, in the overtimes, but it was in the last one that decided the tight game.
That was when 5-foot-7 junior Katelynn Flaherty and 5-11 junior Hallie Thome again took charge for Michigan. Flaherty had the game-high 27 points to go with a quartet of 3, and Thome added 25 points, but in the third overtime the two scored five points each and the visiting team didn't have the answers to being outscored 13-3.
And so the Wolverines became the 20th champion in the 20 years of the tournament. Plus, Flaherty became the second player in program history to reach 2,000 points.
It was 15-14 Michigan after one quarter and 28-27 at halftime. In the third quarter, the Wolverines had a 24-15 advantage, but late in regulation, they trailed 67-61 until a 3 tossed in by Flaherty tied the game at 67 with 10.2 seconds left. Georgia Tech's 6-2 junior Elo Edeferioka was fouled with 0.6 on the clock, but missed both.
In the first OT, the Yellow Jackets' 5-2 Cha' Ron Sweeney, one of two seniors on the roster, knotted it at 70 on a 3 with 1:04 to go, then blocked a shot at the buzzer. Her teammate, 6-1 freshman Francesca Pan, forced the third overtime with a steal and fast-break layup to tie the score at 76-all.
It was the first WNIT championship game to go into overtime.
One thing the Ramblin' Wrecks dominated in was off the backboards when they pulled down 56 rebounds to Michigan's 38. That was due mainly to 17 brought down by Edeferioka and 15 by Pan. Both played 50 minutes, but teammates 5-5 junior Imani Tilford and 5-11 junior Zaire O'Neill, fouled out in OT, and two others had four personals.
Edeferioka also put in 11 points and blocked five shots. She's from Nigeria on a roster that includes two players from Italy and one apiece from Serbia, Romania and Portugal. Only one hails from Georgia.
No one fouled out for Michigan and 5-7 senior Sierra Thompson played 55 minutes and Thome 52. Helping along was 5-7 senior Allie Dunston with 13 rebounds and Thompson with 15 points.
Both teams tossed up 79 shots from the field, with the Wolverines making 29 and Tech 31. Michigan was good on 9-of-29 tries from the 3 and the Jackets were 7-for-23.
One daily newspaper had Washington State, which lost in the semifinals to the Ramblin' Wrecks, in the title game, as well as the wrong final score, but it was Georgia Tech and Michigan that put together quite a season finale.