Fortner was part of the home and house scheduling with his former employer, who is 2-0 this season and picked to finish 13th in the SEC.
“I loved my time in Auburn,” she said. “Auburn was a good place.”
Tech started the season with home wins over Georgia State (60-42) and Kennesaw State (65-39). They could be considered simply victories over overwhelmed higher-percentage opponents, but the Jackets’ play on defense took Fortner a bit by surprise. After losing three starters, most notably two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year Lorela Cubaj, Fortner was ready for the team’s change in style. Where Cubaj was the backbone of a team that led the ACC in scoring defense and ranked second in defensive field goal percentage, Fortner expected a team that could win with more speed and offensive firepower.
But, as of Tuesday, Tech ranked sixth in Division I in defensive field goal percentage (25.9%) and sixth in scoring on defense (40.5 points per game). They were 272nd (36%) and tied for 244th (62.5ppg) in the corresponding offensive categories. Fortner said he didn’t expect this level of defensive play.
“I’m really happy with our defence, without a doubt,” she said. “(Associate head coach/defensive coordinator) Tasha Butts has done a great job of really hammering that house and working hard at it, and it’s so incredibly important early in the season because your offense is just a little bit slower to come forward. “
While Tech’s defensive numbers can be attributed to the level of competition, it’s worth mentioning that many of the Jackets’ peers were also facing teams in lower-level leagues and aren’t having as much success. Also, for convenient comparison, both Kennesaw State and Georgia State faced other power conference opponents (Ole Miss and Florida State, respectively) and fared much better on offense against those teams than against the Jackets. Georgia State shot 23.6% from the field against Tech but 42.6% against the Seminoles.
“You have to keep getting better at defending more stock,” Fortner said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re trying to get there. I think (Wednesday) will be a really big test for us.
Fortner used the same starting lineup for both games: guards Cameron Swartz, Bianca Jackson and Tonie Morgan, forward Kayla Blackshear and center Nerea Hermosa. Hermosa alone played for Tech last season as she made her second straight NCAA Tournament. Swartz and Jackson moved in the offseason and Blackshear between semesters last year, and Morgan is a freshman.
While Tech outscored Ole Miss and FSU defensively against Kennesaw State and Georgia State, those teams also shot better than the Jackets.
“You’re talking about a lot of players playing together for the first time and understanding and learning about each other, trying to play a little bit faster,” Fortner said. “We will continue to work on it and see how we can progress in that area. It’s just going to take some time.”
Wednesday brings another opportunity. Prior to that, Fortner had not scheduled any tours for his team. The Jackets are staying in a hotel near downtown Auburn, “so they can walk, if they want, to Toomer’s Corner, and I could tell them a little bit of Toomer’s Corner history, something like that. The kids just want to get ready for the game.”