The Colonials clinched a spot in the Atlantic 10 championship Sunday afternoon with a 57-52 win over St. Bonaventure. It was a valuable victory – one in which the team maintained a solid rebounding advantage and stopping transition scoring.
Coming off a two-game losing streak, the Colonials (12-14, 6-6) entered the Smith Center replenished with focus and tenacity, which was evident in the team’s offensive drives and defensive rebounds in the first half.
The Bonnies shot the first trey of the game, marking the only time that the Colonials were not tied or on top on the scoreboard. GW had an impressive start to the game, striking with quick field goals in the paint, scoring on baseline drives and converting 100 percent of its first-half free throw attempts.
“The energy comes from one person at a time. We really feed off of each other,” senior forward Megan Nipe said. “One person is energetic and hyped, we all eventually get there and that’s what makes us successful. When we are energized and motivated, I think we intimidate other teams.”
Halfway through the first, the Colonials got into a steady rhythm. Nipe totaled five rebounds, and senior forward Shi-Heria Shipp put six points on the board, converting three of her four attempted field goals.
The Colonials’ first-half strategic edge over the Bonnies was evident in the defensive rebounds and steals made by the unrelenting seniors Danni Jackson, Shipp, and Nipe. Jackson grabbed an impressive rebound, wiping across the floor for a save, with a little over two minutes left in the first.
Shipp scored 10 points in a commanding run, and Nipe countered the Bonnies’ shooting attempts with eight rebounds out of her eventual 13 in the game – her career high. Jackson and Shipp each ended with 12 points, while Nipe added 10 and graduate student forward Tara Booker added 11. Sophomore Chakecia Miller also added a career-best 10 rebounds.
“It’s really just a personal focus of mine, making sure I crash the boards every time,” Nipe said. “I think I just knew that this game would come down to whoever put up [a win] on the boards, and if we get out and run off the defensive rebounds, that would give us a big advantage.”
Even with a five-point lead over the Bonnies at the end of the first, 30-25, the Colonials only converted 39 percent of their field goal attempts. The team’s focus in the second half was to dominate the court: Even with missed layups and open shots, the players sought to keep the momentum going to stop St. Bonaventure’s ball movement.
In the second half, the Colonials continued their push with an impressive trey by Booker and five more rebounds from Nipe. The moves furthered the team’s dominating defensive execution, which greatly improved throughout the season.
“We’ve challenged our guards, and from day one, we’ve talked about the question, ‘Can we be a good rebounding team?’ ” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said. “I think we are our best when we rebound it, transition and attack off the dribble.”
GW remained in control of the court and held a strong advantage in the second half until the last two minutes of the game, when fouls against GW led the Bonnies to pull the score within four points. However, the Colonials countered with two quick baskets, closing the game with GW on top.
Tsipis said his team played its best basketball of the season, and attributed the win to its success on stopping transition scoring and rebounding the ball. GW closed the game holding the Bonnies to 32.1 percent shooting and grabbed a 49-35 advantage on the boards.
“The two biggest things that go overlooked especially, is that you can stop a team that likes to go on transition if you control the backboards, because they’re not able to defensively rebound and get the ball out,” Tsipis said. “I think the other thing is that emphasis of us trying to stop the ball early, and that’s been a ‘three-headed monster’ we’ve been working to fight. I think they are all doing a better job at slowing the ball down, and they did a good job of recognizing their team shooters and drivers and playing them accordingly.”
The Colonials have two more games until the A-10 championship begins. They will head to Xavier Wednesday for the final away game of the regular season.