With nine minutes and 53 seconds remaining in the first half, graduate student center Sara Mostafa jumped up to the backboard and landed on the hardwood with her first offensive rebound. Then, after missing a contested layup, Mostafa elevated again and corralled another board. Going up to the hoop one last time, she drew a foul, earning herself a trip to the line.
Though not a flashy sequence, that snapshot from Sunday’s game against Rhode Island serves as an apt example of the Colonials’ relentless style of basketball. It’s a style that helped GW (8-11, 2-3 A-10) easily take down the Rams, 57-43, and one that may give the team a chance to make up ground in the A-10 standings as the season gets hot.
After suffering a tough loss against Dayton on Thursday, head coach Jonathan Tsipis praised his team for responding with such an unselfish and energized performance against the Rams.
“I thought my team came out with great energy and really did a great job of rebounding the ball and pressuring the basketball defensively,” Tsipis said. “That led us to get in our transition game much more effectively, especially in the first 12 minutes of the first half. And then in the second half, it was the same thing.”
From the tip-off it seemed clear that the Colonials’ speedy play, especially in transition, would take a toll on the comparatively slower Rhode Island defense. Senior guard Shi-Heria Shipp, a player that Tsipis said brings a unique edge to the floor, looked poised to take control of the offensive attack from the start.
Finishing with 12 points on the day, Shipp was just one of the many rotating pieces in the GW lineup that contributed to the victory. Thanks in part to a smothering man-to-man defense that confused the Rams, and also because of a season-low 13 turnovers, GW established a fast-paced and deadly offensive run in the first half.
Though the Colonials shot only 36.4 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes, 11 second chance points helped the cause, as did a growing reliance on Mostafa and graduate student forward/guard Tara Booker, who took high percentage shots that helped GW tally 20 points in the paint by the end of the half. Mostafa ended the game with a total of nine points, and Booker compiled 12 of her own.
Referring to last Thursday’s Dayton game, Tsipis said his team grew from the bad loss – and then showed off what they learned on the court.
“When you work on something that an opponent has done to you, it’s a little more eye-opening,” Tsipis said. “Off makes, off misses, we were able to push the ball. And again, now we have post players running and getting into good position where they can help contribute.”
Despite taking a couple of blows from the Rhode Island’s offense at the close of the first half, mostly strikes from three-point land, the Colonials returned to domination shortly after the second half began. Sophomore guard Chakecia Miller wreaked havoc on her Rhode Island counterparts, tallying steal after steal and finishing with an impressive 10 takeaways by the final buzzer.
On the offensive end, GW roared forward with ease, opening with three consecutive buckets, the final one a product of a nifty dish underneath the hoop from senior guard Danni Jackson. Jackson, who has been struggling from the field this season, hit a three from the corner with just under four to play. It was a shot that not only brought the Colonials’ lead to 14, but also one that visibly sapped Rhode Island’s already dwindling energy levels.
Though the Rams found some open looks that technically kept them in the game, the depth of GW’s bench coupled with their aggressive transition offense proved far too difficult a task for Rhode Island to overcome. The Colonials never lost their lead in the second half and ultimately ran away with the win.
For the Colonials’ offense to have worked so effectively Sunday, Tsipis and his players agreed they not only needed the starters ready to perform right out of the gates, but also for bench players, like Mostafa, to enter the game with seamless energy and focus.
“We’re always going hard for everything because coach [Tsipis] demands perfection. We strive for that everyday at practice so that’s how we’re able to carry it over to the game,” said Mostafa.
Booker added that, as one of the starters, it was a plus to know confidently that there would be no “drop off” in quality of play when bench players entered the game. Because of the effort from freshmen like guard Alexis Chandler, who routinely took over at the point guard position, the five players on the court were always able to pick up where the previous five left off.
With a growing offensive chemistry that manifested itself fully on Sunday, Tsipis has high hopes for the Colonials as they head into the final – and most significant – third of the season. But at the same time, he knows, there is still plenty of work to be done.
“We have to be able to execute better in the half court, whether it’s man or whether it’s zone,” Tsipis said. “Sometimes too, I think, we got a little content with keeping the ball on the perimeter.