With only one uniformed player left on the bench at tipoff, the starting five Colonials knew they had to leave everything on the court to come away with a victory against St. Louis.
Following a blowout loss to conference rival Duquesne last Saturday, GW (10-10) entered the Smith Center tonight looking to bounce back and earn its second conference win against A-10 opponent St. Louis. And though a limited roster plagued the Colonials in Pittsburgh, the six available players for GW were able to join together and overcome that same lack of depth against the Billikens for a 68-58 victory.
“We know that everyone thinks we’re depleted right now. They want to come at us and come in here with confidence,” head coach Mike Bozeman said. “But we’re in attack mode. We aren’t working on a hope theory. We’re working on a wish-you-would-make-a-mistake theory.”
The Colonials’ first half play was dominated by high energy on both sides of the court. Coming out firing, GW hit three of its first four shots, serving as an indication of the aggressive offensive play that would follow. But after drawing three early fouls and giving up some easy buckets on the defensive end, the Colonials found themselves struggling to keep up with St. Louis’ shooting effort, eventually going down by nine points with 5:15 left in the half.
The intensity GW had at the opening of the game returned to the Colonials for good with just over six minutes to play in the half. Led by senior guard Tiana Myers, the Colonials began what would be an impressive 20-5 scoring run, during which GW was nearly perfect from the field, hitting nine of 12 shots. Myers alone contributed 10 points during this frame, six of them coming by way of the three-ball, and ended the half with 20 points.
Myers’ 20 first half points broke her season high, and her continued success from the floor in the second half allowed her to tie her career high of 24 points, a feat she first accomplished last year at Dayton. Her performance, Myers believes, was inspired from a team discussion that occurred earlier this week.
“We had a meeting earlier this week in practice and you know, we basically said that we need to step out of our comfort zones and let go of some things. For me, it was to let my guard down and open up to my teammates,” Myers said. “I think that translated to the game. I fought for my teammates, and they fought for me.”
Junior guard Danni Jackson was also convinced of the positive impact the meeting had on the team, which she said was an outpouring of feelings that provoked the type of honest discussion needed to draw the team together.
“It was very emotional, and everyone got what they wanted to say out,” Jackson said. “I think that was the key, and now we feel more comfortable with each other and now we are playing with and for each other.”
Though the Colonials entered halftime with a mere five-point lead, as the second half began, it was clear that their aggressive play was too much for St. Louis to handle. Propelled by the momentum gained from the late first-half scoring spurt, Myers and senior forward Tara Booker started things off with two immediate field goals. By the end of the game, Myers, Booker and Jackson all landed in double figures, with 24, 15 and 15 points, respectively.
GW’s strong offense was supported by an equally commanding defense, forcing 12 St. Louis turnovers, nine of them coming via steals. It was a defensive effort categorized by awareness and grit, an effort that played just as large a role in GW’s 68-58 victory as the team’s offensive success did.
Bozeman, proud of his team’s ability to contain the Billikens’ scoring chances, couldn’t hold back his emotion when describing its second-half resilience and effort.
“I challenged these guys because in the first half we gave up 34 points. So I told them I didn’t want them to give up more than 20 points in the second half,” Bozeman explained. “And they only gave up 24 points. What more can a coach ask for?”
The positive effect of this win, Bozeman believes, will give the Colonials the inspiration to keep winning games, no matter how many players are available to play.
“We’re going to get the same energy and the same effort and the same focus when we come here on Saturday,” said Bozeman. “One of the better teams in the conference is coming in here. I’m looking forward to it and I know the girls are looking forward to it too,” he said.
The Colonials are back in action Saturday at the Smith Center to host Dayton at 2 p.m.