Late Collapse Undoes Women’s Basketball in A10 Tournament

Photo credit: GW Athletics

By Liam O’Murchu (@Liam_0__)

Women’s basketball saw their season end on Thursday evening in the Atlantic 10 tournament with a 75-68 loss to St. Louis thanks to a disastrous fourth quarter.

The 10th seed Revolutionaries (13-18, 6-13 A10) got 23 points from sophomore guard Nya Robertson, who was named to the All-Atlantic 10 Third Team on Monday. But her efforts weren’t enough as the Billikens (16-17, 10-9 A10) outscored GW 30-12 in the fourth quarter. #7 SLU was led by graduate guard Kyla McMakin, who had 22 points on 6-for-14 shooting from the field.

“I thought we competed at a really high level for three quarters and things started to unravel late in the fourth quarter.” GW head coach Caroline McCombs said. “We weren’t playing our best. It’s a little bit of a microcosm of our season. We hadn’t learned how to have success for four quarters.”

Both teams started hot from the floor, with GW making their first five shots and SLU beginning 4-for-5. At the first media timeout, the Revs were up 12-10 behind seven points from graduate guard Nya Lok in her final game in Buff & Blue. In the first quarter as a whole, GW shot 9-for-16 from the field and led 21-14 10 minutes in. For a team that has struggled offensively this year, scoring 21 points in the first quarter was just about as good a start as they could’ve imagined, especially considering they were playing the second ranked scoring offense in the A10.

“This game meant a lot.” McCombs said. “We have a lot of seniors in that locker room. We came out really excited and ready to play and had a 21-point first quarter.”

The hot shooting did not continue into the second quarter for GW, who made just four shots but made up for it with seven trips to the line in the second period. Robertson accounted for two of those field goals and five of those free throws, tallying eight of the Revs’ 15 points in the second quarter. SLU ripped off an 11-0 run heading into the second quarter media timeout, forcing McCombs into a timeout with 4:08 remaining before halftime as the Billikens took a 29-28 lead.

Throughout the second stanza, GW had six turnovers, three times as many as they did in the opening quarter. SLU capitalized on these mistakes and converted them into nine points off turnovers. McMakin and senior forward Peyton Kennedy combined for 19 of the team’s 34 points in the first half, and the Billikens were shooting 50% from the field and beyond the arc at the half. GW led 36-34 despite a lackluster second quarter, something they made a habit of this season (they were outscored 461-403 against D1 opposition in the 2nd quarter this year).

Robertson stole the opening inbound of the second half and converted a transition layup but made only one more shot in the third quarter in seven total attempts. Fortunately, the other Nya (Lok) woke back up and hit two huge three pointers late in the quarter to put GW ahead 56-45 heading into the final period. In the third quarter the Revs flipped the switch, forcing nine turnovers and converting them into 13 points. Meanwhile, SLU attempted only eight shots from the field, making three of them.

To say the tides turned in the fourth quarter would be an understatement. The Revolutionaries shot just 3-for-17 from the field and 1-for-9 from three while the Billikens hit eight of their 12 field goal attempts and cashed in on 13 of 16 free throw attempts.

“We’re playing an NCAA tournament team.” McCombs said. “They’ve been here before, they made a huge run last year. It’s just about understanding that we have to take care of ourselves and do the right things for the next 10 minutes. And we weren’t able to do that and things continued to spiral. Unfortunately that was probably our worst quarter of the season.”

With 4:30 remaining, Robertson finished through contact in the lane to stop an 11-3 Billikens run to start the fourth quarter and push the GW lead to 61-56. As she was running back on defense, she pointed at her defender. Without hesitation, the closest referee called a technical foul on her, awarding SLU two free throws and possession of the ball. From my view, this is where things really began to unravel, as the Billikens made both free throws and scored a layup to pull within 61-60 at the 4:18 mark.

“We already had a warning, we knew that.” McCombs said. “We hit a big shot, we’re up. I think we had a lot of momentum. It was a huge game changing play for us. It was a huge swing. Those are the sort of discipline things that we have to do a better job of. We talk about controlling the things that you can control. And that was something that we imposed on ourselves.”

Call me crazy (and I’m obviously biased), but calling a technical foul in that spot is a mistake. Robertson didn’t scream at her defender, she simply pointed. If you’re not allowed to let the defender how you feel after a big basket, why are we even playing basketball? Maybe it’s the right call by the letter of the law, but maybe the letter of the law is wrong.

Either way, GW allowed 15 points in the final four minutes and couldn’t buy a basket for love nor money, which is why they lost the game. The Revs struggled mightily from the free throw line, making only two of their six free throw attempts in the last two minutes of the game.

“We need to be more disciplined as we move forward in the future of this program.” McCombs said. “What happened there can’t happen again.”

Ultimately, the Revolutionaries choked and the Billikens showed up when it mattered most, which is why St. Louis will advance to take on #2 VCU Friday at 5 PM on ESPN+.

The loss marked the end of the GW career of eight players, Mayowa Taiwo, Nya Lok, Maren Durant, Faith Blethen, Asjah Inniss, Taylor Webster, Madison Buford, and Essence Brown. 

Taiwo, who has played more games than any other GW women’s basketball player (135) and sits third in program history in all-time career rebounds with 1,037, will be missed in particular. The Hanover, Maryland native started her career in 2018 but redshirted her freshman year. Throughout a dark period of GW women’s basketball history in comparison to the 18 NCAA Tournament appearances in 42 years beforehand, Taiwo has been a bright spot.

“It was hard.” Taiwo said when asked how she felt leaving the floor for the last time as a Rev. “The hardest part was definitely looking over at my parents. That’s when it got me. It’s meant the world to me playing for this program, playing for this school, and playing with these teammates. It was definitely hard stepping off one last time.”

Even as she lacked size against many opponents, Taiwo made it clear that she was a presence on the boards, averaging 7.7 rebounds per game, with her ability to grab offensive boards standing out (she had five on Thursday). But the attribute that always impressed me most was her active hands. She averaged 1.6 steals per game throughout her career but her ability to disrupt opposing frontcourt players always gave them fits.

“Mayowa has such a quiet personality, but when she speaks there’s so much wisdom and people listen to her.” McCombs said after the win over St. Bonaventure earlier this year. “She’s such a floor general out there but from a different position than the point guard, as she’s under the basket. She’s an elite defender. I’ve always known that about her. But when she makes shots, I think that’s fun.”

“She’s just elite.” McCombs said moments later. “You want to have those people on your team. She’s just elite in the way that she can guard the ball.”

In year three of the Caroline McCombs era, GW was a disappointment. This was the year they were supposed to put it together with a veteran core and the returning A10 Sixth Woman of the Year. But they couldn’t do so because of early season injuries and an inability to put the ball in the basket or play well for all four quarters.

By my count, GW women’s basketball has four open scholarships heading into the offseason assuming every current roster member with eligibility stays (**If I’m wrong, please let me know**). Next year is a make or break year for the coaching staff and it all starts with what they can do in the portal along with keeping Robertson in DC. How NIL factors into that remains to be seen, but a storied program like GW can’t have 6+ years without sniffing the NCAA Tournament like the Buff & Blue has had.

“Seeing how this year unfolded, we’re going to start early with our building of everything that we do next year.” McCombs said. “On the court, off the court, all those relationships are going to matter. We’re going to be young. We need to find some older players as well. Reinventing ourselves this offseason is going to be really important for us.”

I’d describe this program as a dozing off giant (not sleeping yet!) within the Atlantic 10 but a few more bad years and they’re in a spot that’s difficult to get out of, especially in the ever-evolving college basketball landscape. 

This is my last GW women’s basketball game for WRGW and I’ve enjoyed every moment. I’ll miss Nya Robertson scoring at will and the quarters they scored two points just the same (okay, maybe I won’t miss those quarters). I’ve spent a lot of my time in college caring about GW women’s basketball and even if the results haven’t gone the way I’d hoped, it’s been a joy. Thank you all for reading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *