Georgia Lady Bulldogs Basketball versus Cincinnati Bearcats

Georgia guard Mackenzie Engram (33) shoots and scores a layup against Cincinnati during the Lady Bulldogs versus Bearcats NCAA basketball game, at Stegeman Coliseum, in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday Dec. 23, 2015. Engram scored a total of 11 points against Cincinnati, one point behind the team point-leader Shacobia Barbee. ©2015 Randy Schafer (randy.drum.schafer@gmail.com)

Ever since Mackenzie Engram was diagnosed with a heart condition, pericarditis, back in January, her presence on the court for the Georgia women’s basketball team has been missed. 

But on Friday night as the Bulldogs opened their 2016-17 season against South Carolina State, Engram was anything but missed, as she helped lead Georgia to a 64-50 victory. 

From the moment that Engram stepped up for the opening jump ball, it was apparent that she was ready to get out there.

“I am proud and glad to be back on the court,” Engram said. “[After tonight] I’m just excited for the rest of the season.”

Besides winning the tipoff, Engram led the team offensively with 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Assistant head coach Karen Lange commended her junior forward for her resilience to fight through her serious illness for a good portion of last season and said that to have her back out on the court gave her joy.

“I was so happy for her to have her chance to be filling good, to be healthy and to get back out there,” Lange said. “I know she has been missing it since January.” 

However, Engram wasn’t the only Georgia player with an impressive opening night as three Bulldogs posted career highs in various offensive categories, according to Lange.

The first period saw Georgia jump out on a 6-0 run, but two fouls by the Bulldogs defense allowed South Carolina State to catch back up and eventually go ahead 14-13 with two minutes left in the first period.

Leading 16-14 at the start of the second, shots started falling for the Bulldogs as they went on a 9-0 run with 6:14 left before halftime, with four coming from junior point guard Haley Clark.

Georgia in the second period alone scored 20 points in comparison to South Carolina State’s seven, heading into halftime with a 36-21 lead.

A common theme for Georgia during the first half, and throughout the whole game, in fact, was hitting the offensive glass. The Bulldogs finished the night with 26 offensive rebounds.

“[Offensive put backs] is something that we have been working on and something that coach has been stressing to us because we lost about 60 percent of our rebounding [in last year’s senior class],” Engram said.

Lange echoed Engram and said that rebounding the ball has always been something Georgia has prided itself on.

“Part of our identity that we want to make this year is to be a great rebounding and defensive team,” Lange said. “For us to go in and have 26 offensive rebounds, I think is very good.”

Coming out of halftime, South Carolina State put up nine unanswered points to close Georgia’s lead to 36-30. That was, until Engram put up six points of her own to again stretch the Georgia lead to 44-30 with a little less than five minutes left in the third.

With a comfortable 12-point lead going into the fourth period, Georgia set on defensive cruise control, only allowing South Carolina State four points in the first six minutes of the final period. As time ran out, Georgia tallied a final score of 64-50. 

Along with Engram, leading the Bulldogs offensively was senior Pachis Roberts, notching a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. And out of the eight Bulldogs who saw the floor on Friday, all but two produced offensively. 

“I thought you saw tonight the different ways we can score in transition, off offensive rebounds, going inside, somebody taking a jump shot or hitting a three,” Lange said. “I think that is going to continue to evolve because we are nowhere near where we need to be offensively.”