Richmond, VA -- After watching Duquesne make 11 three-pointers in the first three quarters, George Washington's defensive adjustments made all the difference in the final period; the Colonials only allowed one field goal in the fourth, en route to a 63-60 win in today's Atlantic 10 Championship game. This is their second consecutive season reigning as tournament champions.
"We know we can play a certain way, and we know we can get a win in a game where we have to fight and scrap," Hannah Schaible alluded to George Washington's necessary shift in intensity after cruising to easier wins against George Mason and VCU.
Schaible led the way offensively with 17 points, but it was her defense that impacted the game most. Deva'Nyar Workman torched the Colonials for 18 points in the first 30 minutes, but was held to one point thereafter once George Washington coach Jonathan Tsipis entrusted Schaible with the tough task of defending her.
Duquesne's first trip to the A-10 title game started promisingly; the Dukes led for much of the game until the closing stanza. Co-Player of the Year April Robinson got off to a quick start, scoring five points in the opening minutes. She and Amadea Szamosi, sparked the Dukes on offense, and a quick barrage of threes helped establish an early Duquesne lead.
But Robinson quickly cooled off from the field, especially once Jonquel Jones was subbed into the game three minutes into the contest. Jones instantaneously shored up the Colonial defense; the Dukes missed 12 of their 14 shots after her substitution, going six minutes without a basket after their quick start in the first.
Thankfully for Duquesne, the Colonials were having their own shooting struggles. George Washington was focused on getting the ball into the post early, almost force-feeding Jones in the paint, but it resulted in more turnovers than points for the 2015 A-10 Player of the Year.
The Colonials caught a break when Szamosi collected her second foul a minute into the second, sending what was previously Duquesne's best scoring threat of the quarter to the bench. However, Kadri-Ann Lass and Angela Staffileno picked up the slack for the Dukes, contributing 15 points between the two of them.
On the other end, Jones finally found her stride, sparking a five-minute run where George Washington made all six of their field goal attempts, with Jones assisting or scoring on each one.
The Dukes ended the half with a Staffileno three ball, stretching the lead to seven before the half.
George Washington came out of the break much more aggressive on the offensive rebounds, extending possessions and looking more and more like the team that had breezed through the earlier two rounds. Two quick fouls to Szamosi and her size took her out of the game, feeding right into the Colonial's size advantage.
George Washington capitalized, tying the game on a Lauren Chase layup before a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Robinson re-established the Duquesne lead; it was Robinson's first field goal since the first quarter.
Jones attempted a fourth quarter takeover, but missed shots and turnovers prevented the team from taking full advantage of Duquesne's dreadful fourth quarter shooting. Jones made up for it on the defensive end, though, blocking four Duquesne shots in the quarter.
Two of those rejections came from a 90-second sequence where Jones single-handedly changed the momentum of the game. Her offensive rebound put-back gave George Washington a four-point lead, then her block on Szamosi set up a fast break short corner jumper to give the Colonials their biggest lead of the game at six. Jones sent back another shot on the ensuing possession, giving, even more, life to the already crazed Colonial bench.
Duquesne got the benefit of a travel call on Caira Washington during a scuffle for a loose rebound, eventually sending Workman to the line for a chance to make it a one-possession game. But her second free throw found iron, giving the Colonials a three-point lead with only 17 seconds on the clock.
However, the Dukes smothered everyone on the inbounds play, forcing a five-second violation that gave Duquesne one last chance to tie. The Dukes put the ball into the hands of their playmaker, running Robinson off of three screens in a row. But the Colonials switching forced her into an off-balanced contested three, sealing the win for the Colonials.
And scrap they did. Duquesne's hot shooting in the first half might be demoralizing to other teams. But Coach Tsipis knew the Colonials had a chance if they kept playing their game. "One of our goals was that if we kept the game close towards the end, we could have a little more depth," he said, making note of the fatigue that affected Duquesne after two exhausting wins.
With an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in their pockets, Tsipis knows his group doesn't need any motivation to stay competitive with one prize already won this year. "When you've won two regular season championships and two conference tournament championships, it's easy to get this group in that mindset."
With a healthy Jones back into the lineup just in time, the Colonials are setting high expectations for themselves in the rest of March.