This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Matt Cullen.
With 17 seconds remaining in the game, the Colonials had possession, down two, with a chance to tie it up or go ahead. They swung the ball around the perimeter until it found the hands of senior forward Jonquel Jones on the left side of the floor. Jones rose up and released a three-pointer with the entire stadium watching.
It rattled off the rim and fell into the hands of a Wildcats player, eliminating the Colonials’ final chance at advancing beyond the NCAA Tournament first round.
It was a defensive battle in Columbia, S.C. as the No. 8-seeded Colonials (26-7, 13-3 A-10) dropped their matchup to No. 9-seeded Kansas State, 56-51. The teams combined to shoot only 32 percent from the field, force 36 turnovers and block 21 shots.
“We played like we belonged here today and we were not just satisfied with being in the NCAA tournament. But you know what, Kansas State played a better second half from an execution standpoint,” head coach Jonathan Tsipis said.
Coming into the game, the momentum was on the Colonials’ side. They had more than a week of rest after winning their second consecutive Atlantic 10 title and defeating fellow NCAA Tournament participant Duquesne. On the other side of the court, the Wildcats (19-12, 8-10 Big 12) were coming off three straight losses, including a first round defeat at the hands of West Virginia in the Big 12 conference tournament.
That momentum continued for the Colonials early in the game. Their defense stayed active and picked up four blocks before four minutes ticked off the clock. That allowed them to go on an early 6-0 run sinking three open jumpers from mid-range.
The Wildcats, led by junior center Breanna Lewis, did not allow the early struggles to get out of hand. Lewis fought back, sinking all three of her field goals and adding a blocked shot in the first quarter. Along with their improved offense, Kansas State’s defense was keeping the ball out of Colonials senior forward Jonquel Jones’ hands on offense. A last second Wildcat jumper in the paint completed the comeback knotting the game up at 14 at the end of the first quarter.
Lewis slowed down for the rest of the first half and the majority of the second half because of foul trouble. She did not end up scoring for another 28 minutes, but finished with a solid 13 point, eight rebound night after getting back into rhythm in the final minutes.
At the beginning of the second quarter, the Colonials responded with effort on both sides of the floor. Jones got to the line, knocked down her free throw attempts, and recorded her second and third blocks on back-to-back possessions. A jumper and a physical and-one layup by junior guard Hannah Schaible extended the GW lead to 21-16.
The remainder of the play in the quarter was much slower, preventing the Wildcats from closing the gap or allowing the Colonials to pull ahead. There were no made field goals for nearly six minutes before the offense picked up in the final plays. Jones was able to convert a three-point play and junior forward Caira Washington finished a layup to give the Colonials a 31-22 lead going into the locker rooms.
Neither side was holding on to the ball well in the first half, stopping any big runs from happening and keeping the Colonials under pace for their average of 71.8 points per game. Both teams had racked up 11 turnovers including a couple ill-advised passes for each side.
“[The turnovers] got us out of our momentum and shots that we should make didn’t fall,” Jones said. “It was the small stuff.”
Despite the mistakes, both teams moved the ball well and played more of a half-court style. The Wildcats had assists on all nine of their field goals while the Colonials only had one play without an assist in the first half. Graduate student guard Lauren Chase finished the game with only four points and five assists, but she was attacking the gaps in the defense and finding her teammates open all over the court which was valuable in the interior-focussed defense.
The second half started with the Wildcats completely in control. The Colonials had trouble holding on to the ball, turning it over two times leading to two open layups for Kansas State. On their third turnover Wildcats junior guard Kindred Wesemann hit a transition three from the free throw line, bringing the run to 9-to-0 and tying the game up 31-31.
GW got a four-point lead after a layup by Jones and a couple 1-for-2 appearances at the line. That lead was not maintained because the Colonials turned the ball over five more times in the quarter and shot only 2-14 from the floor.
“The turnovers really hurt us. That was the run in the beginning of the second half. We had all the momentum going into halftime. [The turnovers] gave them confidence,” Tsipis said. “It gave them life.”
The Kansas State defense was focused around keeping the Colonials out of the paint and especially keeping the ball out of Jones’ hands. The Wildcats were constantly switching between a 2-3, 1-3-1, and a box-and-one zone to keep the GW frontcourt off balance.
In the final frame, the Wildcats held their lead, but it was never out of reach for either squad. The Colonials fell behind by their largest margin of the game, five points, with under eight minutes to play. Jones led the comeback, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter and facilitating the GW offense through her hands.
“Jonquel did a good job of not getting frustrated. She was 5-for-13 and got to the line 12 times, she had 13 rebounds and six blocks. We just needed a little bit more help,” said Tsipis.
In the end, it came down to free throws and an offensive rebound. After going only 2-9 from the charity stripe in the first half, the Wildcats we able to hit their final two free throws and force the Colonials to take a three-pointer. Those shots were only made possible after Kansas State senior guard Brianna Craig grabbed a long offensive board with only seconds to play, stopping the Colonials from having a chance at the lead.
“I was hoping I’d get one more chance to coach them in practice, one more chance for a shoot around, and to be able to play in a second round game and put ourselves in a position to do great things. But, that doesn’t take away from the great things that we were able to accomplish throughout the year,” Tsipis said.