By Ryan McCord
When Hofstra head women's basketball coach Krista Kilburn-Steveskey was asked during the preseason to name a CAA team that will be tougher to beat on the court than its status on paper would imply, she immediately responded with Lea Henry's Georgia State squad.
So when the rookie head coach and her Pride found themselves trailing the Panthers in the first half at home on Sunday, there was hardly a sense of shock in the locker room.
What may have shocked the Pride, however, was Georgia State's mammoth sophomore center, Marcquitta Head. Participating in 36 minutes off the bench, Head not only towered her way to a triple-double (14 points, 16 rebounds, 11 blocks), but had all-CAA performer Vanessa Gidden and the rest of the Pride jumping through hoops just to get a decent shot at the cylinder.
"The first half was indicative of what conference play is all about. We knew we could run on them, but we didn't quite test it enough in the first half," Kilburn-Steveskey said.
With no choice but to find a way to neutralize Georgia State's imposing force in the paint, Kilburn-Steveskey's squad motioned in favor of crashing the boards and outrunning the Panthers' handcuffing half-court style in a 66-48 pull-away victory.
Gidden was a by-product of Hofstra's second half turnaround. Her first half offensive struggles were clearly influenced by Head's presence and Georgia State's array of double teams in the paint. The Pride senior then countered by taking her game outside the key in half court sets and outrunning the heavy-footed Georgia state center in transition.
"We went into this game knowing she was a good player, we respected her," said Gidden, remarking on the aggressive play of Head. "It was all about what we were doing on offense. It wasn't about Georgia State, but what we had to do in order to win the game in the second half."
With Hofstra's bench proving to be a non-factor (1-4 shooting in the first 20 minutes) offensively, it was up to the quartet of seniors to break out of their early shooting woes in a hurry.
Gidden, Lizanne Murphy, Cigi McCollin and Lana Harshaw shook off an 11-35 team shooting start and outscored the entire Georgia State roster, 32-17 in the second half to ensure that the Pride would tie the program's division I-A mark for record (5-1) to start a season.
"We're learning every day. As long as we follow what she's [Kilburn-Steveskey] doing, we're going to take the steps forward to accomplishing our goals, which is an NCAA championship," Harshaw said.
A forward from Wildwood, N.J., Harshaw continued to showcase a steady diet of high percentage shots (7-for-9 shooting), while chipping in with five rebounds, one block, one steal with zero turnovers in a game where exchanging possessions played a major factor in the final score.
The Pride not only outscored the Panthers 20-11 in points off turnovers, but netted 20 more points in the paint thanks to more of an up-tempo style of play in the second half, which the visiting team might not have been mentally prepared for.
"We didn't have the same fire and intensity in the second half like we did in the first," said Henry, who is just two wins shy of 200 victories at the program. "Hofstra is a good team."
With just minutes left to play in the contest, Gidden was able to account for some poetic justice on Head. After Head made life miserable for Gidden throughout much of the first half, the senior forward returned the favor, deflecting a Head field goal attempt late in the game, tying her for first all-time in school history.
"I don't really have a technique, I just try to go out and play hard on defense," said Gidden, who stands with Diane Leonard (1978-82) at the top. "That really gets me going."
Gidden and Kilburn-Steveskey were able to make light of the shot-blocking irony contributed by Head during post game interviews that saw plenty of smiles following the Pride's first CAA win of the season.
"We may have dangled the bagel a little bit too much, exposed the ball," said Kilburn-Steveskey, a Georgia native. "That'll be great film to see. We'll fix that for sure."