Women’s basketball takes down Howard behind historic night from Robertson

Photo credit: Greg Fiume

By: Liam O’Murchu

Women’s basketball opened their season with a tight 64-58 victory over Howard on Monday evening. The Revolutionaries (1-0) roared out to a big first quarter lead before battling back and forth with the Bison (0-1) for the remainder of the game.

“We had opportunities to fold but we really continued to grind it out for the entire game.” GW head coach Caroline McCombs said. “We had players stepping up and making big plays. I think we’re still learning and growing but I’m excited about this group and where we’re headed.”

GW was led by sophomore guard Nya Robertson, who put up a career-high 29 points and matched a single game program record with eight three pointers. The Revs relied heavily on the three ball, not scoring a field goal inside the arc until two minutes into the second half.

The Revolutionaries offense went through Robertson from the jump but the three point shooting was slow to pick up. GW missed their first four three pointers but quickly turned it around, scoring their next three, and grabbing an 11-4 lead heading into the first media timeout.

The Bison were stifled down low early, as the new addition to the frontcourt, graduate student and Boston University transfer Maren Durant made her presence known with a block and four rebounds in the first quarter. You’d expect 6’2 Durant’s presence to open up the offense down low for GW but they sputtered down low early and their troubles continued throughout the game.

“We’ve got to do better with our fakes and things like that.” McCombs said. “Even when we go inside out, re-attacking. I thought their close outs, we could have done a better job of attacking. We want to have more twos attempted.”

Robertson paced GW early with 14 points on 4-for-7 shooting from three point range, who proved for a second straight year that the Bison simply cannot guard her. She had her coming out party at Burr Gymnasium last year, setting a career high in points that she bested tonight.

“They’re down the street so I just go out there, go fight and do what I have to do.” Robertson said.

The Revs led 24-9 at the end of the first quarter despite shooting only 6-for-21 from the field, due in large part to their defense, which limited Howard to 3-for-14 from the floor in the first stanza. The Bison also struggled with foul trouble early, as two starters, senior guard Iyanna Warren and sophomore forward Nile Miller, picked up two fouls in the first quarter.

Although the two would only play a combined 34 seconds in the second quarter, Howard stormed back, limiting GW to eight points and two field goals (both of which came from Robertson). The Revs led 32-28 at halftime but Howard had all the momentum going into the break.

A standout player from my perspective was graduate student wing Madison Buford, who transferred from Hampton this offseason. Although a lot of what she did didn’t show up on the stat sheet, it was clear that she is a great fit for a program that puts a heavy emphasis on defense and hard work. Late in the second quarter she dove for a loose ball and into the padded courtside seats. She managed to jump over those seats but ran head first into the metal barrier separating the lower bowl seats from the court. The crowd was immediately hushed as everyone expected the worst out of a scary collision. But just like that Buford immediately popped up and yelled “I’m alright!” and the crowd went into raptures with cheers.

“She’s experienced.” McCombs said. “She’s been through a lot of basketball games. And when you have people like that, they are more aware of everything that’s going on. She plays with a sense of urgency.”

Robertson continued to shoulder the scoring load, scoring eight of the team’s 15 third quarter points. However, her shooting remained inefficient and her teammates couldn’t buy a bucket. The Fort Worth, Texas native tied two program records tonight. Her eight made three pointers matched Cathy Joens’ effort from 2004 while her 18 three pointers attempted equaled Lisa Cermignano’s output from a game in 1995.

On the other end Robertson was matched up with Warren, who found her scoring touch after spending the first half in foul trouble. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying from Robertson, who held her to 1-for-14 from the floor in the game as a whole. Nine of Warren’s 11 points came from the free throw line but Robertson and company did a nice job putting the clamps on her otherwise.

“She didn’t do well from the field, but when we fouled her she went to the free throw line and made us pay in that way, so that’s what good players do.” McCombs said.

Heading into the final period, the Revolutionaries lead stayed at four as the Howard contingent in the stands started getting into it. GW needed someone other than Robertson, who had 28 of the team’s 47 points, to step up and score some points. That someone was graduate student wing Essence Brown, who had nine unanswered points at the beginning of the quarter to go with three rebounds and a block in the fourth quarter.

“My mindset was just to bring energy defensively.” Brown said. “And when I have that energy defensively it can carry me on offense. So I was just taking what the defense was giving me and trying to help us, so I just got in the flow.”

The Galax, Virginia native is one of four graduate students who decided to return to the program and use their final year of eligibility in Foggy Bottom (Mayowa Taiwo, Faith Blethen and Taylor Webster are the others). There will be a game when each of them is needed to will the team to victory, and Brown’s turn came on opening night. One of the big differences between this team and previous years of McCombs’ time at GW is that they have experienced depth to go with talent all over the floor. That experience was a big part of what pushed them over the edge against a Howard team that was one game away from the NCAA Tournament last year.

The Bison got within a point at the beginning of the fourth quarter but couldn’t get over the hump and headed back across DC licking their wounds. Redshirt freshman guard Tyana Walker led Howard with 16 points, three rebounds, and two assists in her first collegiate game. Next up for the Bison is their home opener against Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday night.

For the Revs, they will look to move to 2-0 on Friday evening as they travel to Manhattan (who actually play in the Bronx. Don’t ask). Tip-off for that one is at 6 PM and it can be streamed on ESPN+ and WRGW.

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