In a game that saw 16 lead changes, No. 11 women’s basketball trailed No. 14 George Mason Wednesday with less than seven minutes to play. With the season on the line in the Atlantic 10 tournament, redshirt sophomore forward Mayowa Taiwo nailed a layup to put GW ahead.
A quick jumper from the Patriots edged them in front, but Taiwo sank two shots from the charity stripe to give GW a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Colonials (9-13, 5-9 A-10) overcame the Patriots (3-19, 0-14 A-10) 62–56 in a hard-fought battle from start to finish. The victory marks the third GW win over the Patriots this year but the first single-digit victory after squashing George Mason by more than 25 points in their previous two matchups.
“It might look like the first two games were easier, but George Mason still challenges every game,” redshirt junior guard Gabby Nikitinaite said. “George Mason still challenges us every game. Today was a special game because it’s tournament time, so nobody wants to go home. But we figured it out in the end.”
Taiwo spearheaded the Colonial offense with 17 points and inched toward a double-double with nine rebounds. She fired at a 54.5 percent clip and hit 5-of-6 from the free throw line. Head coach Jennifer Rizzotti said Taiwo was a “rockstar” after the effort.
Nikitinaite amassed 16 points while shooting 4-of-8 from deep and 6-of-11 from the floor. Freshman center Ali Brigham also went 6-of-8 from the field to tally 13 points on the day.
“We haven’t won a lot of close games this year,” Rizzotti said. “We needed to feel that success at the end of a basketball game where we could get a bucket, get some stops, make some free throws and figure out how to win.”
Junior guard Maddie Loder set the tone of the first half with a three-point bucket off a pass from Brigham. The Patriots responded with a trey of their own and went on to score two more. Taiwo kept the Colonials in the game, scoring three consecutive layups to keep the deficit manageable.
Both teams lit up the basket as the Colonials shot at a .533 clip and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc while the Patriots shot at a .429 clip from the floor and 5-of-9 from downtown in the first quarter.
The Colonials retook the lead when Nikitinaite connected from deep before the Patriots scored another pair of threes to go up by 5. Whitney sank a three off a turnover with 16 seconds left to keep the game tied 19–19.
The Patriots kept their foot on the gas early in the second quarter, putting up four points before sophomore Essence Brown sank a bucket from deep. The Patriots answered with another trey to regain a four-point lead before conceding a wide-open three-point bucket to Nikitinaite, allowing the Colonials to come back within one at 30-29.
The shot spurred an 11-2 tilt or GW that sent them into the locker room ahead 37–32. The Colonials limited the Patriots to just one three-point basket, while hitting 3-of-4 of their own. GW continued the hot start offensively, shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second frame.
Brigham took control of the third quarter early with a pair of layups before dropping two straight fouls, relegating her to the bench for much of the quarter.
The Patriots took advantage of her absence, hitting 2-of-4 from deep and 5-of-10 from the floor to tie the game at 45 with just over a minute to play. The Colonials’ shooting took a steep dive as the squad converted just 5-of-18 from the field and 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.
“I thought about putting her back in, but I just didn’t want to risk her picking up her fourth and then being tentative for the entire fourth quarter,” Rizzotti said. “But it was tough not having her out there, and not having Neila really in a flow today really affected our offense.”
Redshirt junior Neila Luma struggled throughout much of the game, netting zero points and shooting 0-of-3 from the floor. For a player who averages a team-leading 6.2 boards, Luma nabbed just three off the glass in the win. Nikitinaite salvaged the quarter by driving in yet another trey to keep the Colonials in front 48–45.
“If we could just last through that quarter and get to the fourth quarter and be able to play the rotation that I wanted, we would be okay,” Rizzotti said. “But it definitely got a little scary there.”
The Patriots clawed back in front in the fourth frame, but Taiwo found her rhythm yet again to recapture the lead. Despite shooting just 3-of-8 from the floor, the Colonials locked down the Patriots’ deep game, forcing the Patriots to miss all four attempts from distance. Taiwo drained two more from the free throw line to stifle the comeback and secure a 62–56 victory.
“Our defense wasn’t the best the whole game,” Taiwo said. “We really made an emphasis to keep trying to improve throughout the game so we can get good stops, even if we weren’t scoring. I think that’s what really helped us pull this game out.”
With the victory, the Colonials will face off against No. 6 Richmond in the second round. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. Thursday.