Redshirt senior Shakeela Fowler (cover photo) scored 11 points in Dayton’s Wednesday night win over George Washington. Photo courtesy of Keegan Gupta.
Sports Staff Writer
The Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team battled for a 50-44 win over George Washington Wednesday night, clinching a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season championship at UD Arena.
The Flyers extended their winning streak to 15 games as they held the Colonials to shooting just 5-23 from the field in the first half and outrebounded the Colonials 42-23 in the game, but had to come back from a 5-point deficit at the end of the third quarter.
“(Rebounding) is something that we talk about all the time,” Dayton head coach Shauna Green said. “We need to defend and then we need to rebound so we can get out and run… we beat them by 20 the last time we faced them. I thought we did a decent job especially down the stretch we had a couple of big-time rebounds.”
The Colonials got the first points of the game on a layup by graduate forward Alexandra Maund, but the Flyers answered with a 17-1 run over the next 9:31 of the first quarter.
Redshirt junior forward Erin Whalen had the hot hand early, as she shot 3-4 from the field to lead the Flyers with 7 points as the Flyers led 10-2 at the first quarter media timeout with 4:34 remaining in the quarter. Whalen also credited winning the rebounding battle as being a key for the Flyers’ win Wednesday night.
“Our posts were able to kill it down low,” Whalen said. “We knew GW likes to get the possessions on their end, so being able to get the rebounds, that always helps us get extra possessions, so that was a big focus and we were able to execute.”
The Flyers continued to exert pressure on the defensive end and held the Colonials scoreless for five minutes until redshirt junior guard Sydney Zambrotta made one of two free throws to reduce the deficit to seven at the media timeout.
Over the final 4:34 of the quarter, the Flyers grabbed 4 offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive and built the lead to 17-3 at the end of the first quarter with six players on the scoreboard.
The second quarter was a different story for the Flyers, who turned the ball over seven times and allowed the Colonials to steadily decrease the lead to just nine at halftime.
“I think our offense got really stagnant,” Green said. “We didn’t get paint touches, the ball was just going side to side instead of when we got that big lead, we were playing with the pace we wanted to.”
With six points off turnovers, the Colonials used a balanced attack on both ends – despite the Flyers 9-2 advantage in offensive rebounds – to cut the Flyers’ lead to 23-14 at halftime.
The Flyers continued to break down on the defensive end as a couple of 3-pointers from Colonials’ redshirt freshman guard Tori Hyduke cut the Flyers lead to one at 25-24 with 6:02 remaining in the third quarter.
After just three turnovers in the first quarter, the Flyers 11 turnovers over the next quarter-and-a-half left the Flyers in dire need of a basket as the Colonials took an 8-0 run into the third quarter media timeout, trailing the Flyers by just one point.
Green said the team got “stagnant” and “very, very methodical” on offense, which caused the increase of turnovers and allowed the Colonials to fight back into the game and even take the lead.
A 3-pointer from Zambrotta gave the Colonials a 27-25 lead, which they built on as the Flyers shot just 4-12 from the field in the third quarter and turned the ball over six times.
Hyduke continued her perfect shooting (4-4 on field goals, 3-3 on 3-pointers through three quarters) and swished a 3-pointer to give the Colonials a 34-29 lead with 51 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged baskets as the Colonials took a 36-31 lead into the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to the play in the post from Maund and sophomore center Kayla Mokuwah, who each had eight points heading into the fourth quarter.
“Going into that fourth quarter, the thing is I have a lot of faith in these guys,” Green said. “I knew we weren’t playing well at all, but I really believed that we’d find some way, because that’s what we’ve been doing.”
The Flyers came out in the fourth quarter with a focused mindset as redshirt senior guard Shakeela Fowler nailed a 3-pointer that sent a roar throughout the home crowd as the Flyers cut the Colonials lead to just 36-35 with 7:26 remaining in the game.
Mokuwah and Maund continued to score in the post, but a 3-pointer from Whalen kept the Flyers within two as the Colonials took a 40-38 lead into the media timeout with 4:19 remaining.
“They just had this look in their eye in that last media (timeout),” Green said. “They were saying, ‘We’re not losing this game.’ And that’s on them, that’s a credit to these guys.”
Another Whalen 3-pointer on the next possession gave the Flyers a 41-40 lead. Whalen knew she had to step up in the closing minutes and that the team looks at her for an offensive scorer and leader.
“Just to step up and try to be available the best way I can,” Whalen said. “But ‘step up’ was kind of my big thing.”
After a blocking foul that caused visible frustration for Colonials head coach Jennifer Rizzotti, senior guard Jayla Scaife put in a lay-up to give the Flyers the lead for good, as the Flyers held a 43-42 lead with 3:27 remaining in the game.
A scoop lay-up by Whalen extended the Flyers lead to three, and Hyduke’s first miss of the game and a block by senior forward Jordan Wilmoth kept the Colonials off the board.
Fowler, who had 4 points from the free throw line in the final 1:10, was fouled on a driving lay-up and calmly sunk both free throws to give the Flyers a 47-42 lead with 1:10 remaining in the game.
“Today was a lot of adversity,” Fowler said. “It hit us all at once, and we kind of were freaking out a little bit, so my mindset was to just stay poised and composed for our team and to be the calming factor. Everybody was a little bit hyped, so I just wanted to come in and make sure we all stayed even and level-headed and do what I know to do, just stay patient and let it come to me.”
Maund missed a jump shot in the paint, which was rebounded by Scaife, who finished with 7 rebounds. Fowler was fouled after getting the pass from Scaife, and once again sunk both free throws to give the Flyers a 49-42 lead with 37 seconds remaining.
Maund made a lay-up to increase her point total to 12, but it wasn’t enough as the Flyers closed out a 50-44 win to clinch the A-10 regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the A-10 Tournament, which will be played at University of Dayton Arena March 6-8.
“We got the best arena and the best fans in the country,” Fowler said. “And I stand on that. Bringing anybody into this house, it’s tough for them, I feel bad for anyone who has to come play us especially in the tournament that whoever wins gets to advance to the NCAA Tournament.”
Green said she felt more relief than happiness when the buzzer sounded but added that she was truly happy for her players.
“I wanted to win this so badly for these guys,” Green said. “For this senior group and for everyone. We’ve been through a lot the last year-and-a-half. We lost so many close games last year, we didn’t win the conference championship, but they kept believing, they stayed true to the process, and now they’ve reached their first goal, and that’s a regular season championship.”
The Flyers next game is on the road against Fordham on Saturday, and with a record of 20-7 (13-0 A-10), the Flyers will still be playing with the “1-0” mentality that has been the foundation for their 15-game winning streak.
“We go into every game trying to win it,” Green said. “We need to get better so we’re playing our best basketball come A-10 Tournament week.”