It was a sloppy win, but a win nonetheless.
In Sunday’s home matchup against William and Mary, head coach Jonathan Tsipis learned that any team with a new system and new coach will still be figuring things out come November. Though the final score read 58-51 in favor of GW, it was a chaotic win that saw the Colonials give up 21 turnovers and commit 22 team fouls.
Both teams struggled to get going offensively in the first half, with the Colonials failing to score until the 16:14 mark. It’s no surprise, though, that the first basket for GW came from graduate student forward Tara Booker, who would go on to pace the team with a season-high 20 points. And the team’s offensive struggles continued for the rest of the first half in which they shot 30.6 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from behind the arc.
The early offensive woes, Tsipis said, likely stemmed from the zone defense used by the Tribe for the duration of the game.
“It’s the first team we played, including the exhibition teams, that have played an entire game of zone,” Tsipis said. “And with us being a man to man [defense], did we do the best job of simulating the 1-2-2? We tried the last couple of days in practice, but I think it’s one of those things that we’ll be better off because now we’ve seen that type of defense and we know the things that we’ll be able to get out of in our offense.”
This new look forced GW’s offense – plagued by first-half foul trouble – to give into some of the inherent traps that come with a zone defense. They consistently settled for outside shots, failing to penetrate past the first line of defenders and look for gaps deeper in the key.
“It’s kind of hard to decipher what’s a good shot in a zone because that’s what they want you to do, that’s what they’re welcoming,” Booker said. “But I think once we started working the ball inside, that it really opened up the outside.”
This change in attack led to a 26-18 GW lead at the half, despite zero points from senior point guard Danni Jackson.
Jackson, who was limited to eight minutes of play in the first half due to two early fouls, finished with seven points before fouling out in the final minute of the game. This, ultimately, forced the Colonials to put forth a complete team effort, with three different bench players logging more than 15 minutes of play.
The Colonials started the second half like an invigorated team. They continued to use their man-to-man press defense to force turnovers – 21 in total for the game – and get some quick baskets in transition. Their shooting percentage rose to 38.1 for the second half, mostly in part to better shot selection and a strong presence on the boards.
By the 10 minute mark, GW had increased its lead to 15, and with 4:40 left in the game, a lay-up by senior guard Megan Nipe capped off a 22-10 run that gave the team their biggest lead of the night, 18.
The next four minutes were “helter-skelter,” Tsipis said, as William and Mary began doing everything they could to extend the game. Using a combination of free throws and three-pointers, the Tribe quickly began hacking away at the Colonial’s lead, scoring the next 11 points to make it a four-point game with 41 seconds left to play.
The Colonials stayed composed and showed the benefits of their experience, sinking some clutch free throws of their own and forcing a final William and Mary turnover to put the game out of reach. GW held the Tribe to 26.8 percent shooting on the night – the second time this season that a GW opponent has shot below 30 percent from the field. It’s a stat that shows the early defensive success of Tsipis’ up-tempo style of play, and something the team will continue to build upon as they prepare for three straight tough road games.
“With starting five seniors, they’ve been through those wars before and that’s really helped,” Tsipis said. “Because sometimes it’s going to be a slugfest, and it’s not going to be the prettiest. And every time you go onto the road it’s going to be a challenge, but I think our team likes that challenge.”