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The GW Hatchet

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Colonials roar to victory with suffocating second half

Senior Danni Jackson looks for an opening to send the ball to a teammate during Friday’s game. Becky Crowder | Senior Staff Photographer

Jonathan Tsipis answered a key question in his Division I head coaching debut: yes, he can make halftime adjustments.

Heading into the break, the Colonials had a mere three-point lead on UT Arlington, born of a sputtering offense that closed the half with 30.2 percent shooting. After halftime, by the time the final buzzer sounded, GW had added 53 points to the board – almost exactly double its first-half total – for the 80-47 final margin.

“There was a lot of energy and adrenaline, especially in the first half. We let it get the best of us at times. What I tried to tell the team was that I felt like we worked hard on the defensive end, we were trying to do the right things offensively, we were just putting too much on each others’ kind of collective, individual shoulders,” Tsipis said. “This group is a lot of fun to be around. And I think, at times, they’re trying so hard for each other that they’re kind of spinning their wheels.

The first half didn’t see things click for either team, the game scoreless through the first three minutes of play. The Colonials struggled to find offensive footing, watching shots sail wide or rim out, wrapping the half with 30.3 percent shooting, 0-for-4 from the three-point line and having committed 10 turnovers.

A lot of it was first-game jitters, both players and coach agreed. Senior forward Megan Nipe, who went 0-for-5 in the first half, said the pressure to be “on” in her final Colonial debut was crushing over the initial 20 minutes of play.

Adding to the nerves was the intense, highly physical nature of play. Both teams took the court with high levels of energy, exiting the first with 18 combined fouls. Two of those went to sophomore guard Chakecia Miller, who was relegated to the bench for the rest of the half, hampering GW’s offense by forcing senior guard Danni Jackson to spend most of her time at the point, rather than switching to the two slot on some possessions.

“If somebody gets two fouls, they’re going to be next to me for the rest of the half, unless there’s dire circumstances,” Tsipis said. “We like Danni to have that balance, to play the point, as well as be off the ball, and she was at the point for most of the first half.”

But the first wasn’t wholly without positives. Despite their frustrating performance at the basket, the Colonials remained focused on the gritty aspects of play: hustling back on defense, crashing through traffic in the paint and gathering a 24-17 rebound advantage.

It was a focus that set GW up well for its second-half turnaround, and one that fell in line with what Tsipis preaches daily in practice. He doesn’t ask his team to be perfect, the head coach said, but he does expect perfect effort.

“I think one thing we talk about a lot is, what are you able to control. The one thing that a lot of people get caught up with is the ball going in the basket. And sometimes you can’t control that,” Tsipis said. “I think the team has done a really good job of understanding you can’t control an official’s call, you can’t control sometimes when you have a layup that feels great and it rolls off the rim.”

As soon as the whistle blew on the second half of play, it was almost as if a different Colonials squad was on the hardwood. Nipe exemplified the transition, opening the half with a quick series of blows in the form of four baskets, two rebounds and two steals.

“I think it’s just recognizing that I had those first game jitters. It’s senior year, first game, you want to play well. But when you’re nervous, it’s hard to make your shots when you’re that nervous,” Nipe said. “It was pretty much talking to myself, my teammates talked to me, they believe I can make the shots. It was all about believing in myself.”

The rest of the Colonials followed suit. Their energy level was high and the team was clearly feeding off each other on the court. GW’s offense exploded, increasing to 52.5 percent shooting – including 75 percent beyond the arc – and the Colonials upped their number of rebounds on the game to 54.

GW’s crushing press defense, which was visible in the first, found renewed legs in the second, the team holding the Mavericks to 29.6 percent shooting on the game, nabbing 17 steals and forcing 33 turnovers that it converted into 40 points. After a system last season that focused largely on zone defense, the Colonials’ transition into its effective press has been almost seamless.

Head coach Jonathan Tsipis talks to his team during a media timeout. Samuel Klein | Hatchet Staff Photographer

“It’s really all about energy, our press, and we brought a lot of energy into the second half,” Jackson said. “It’s really just a team effort when it comes to our press.”

GW’s success spread across the stat sheet. Four Colonials reached double-digits in points: Jackson, with 13 and seven assists, Nipe, with 12, nine boards and four steals, Miller, with 12, and senior forward Shi-Heria Shipp, with 11 and eight boards.

It was Shipp that provided a clear jolt of energy off the bench for GW, drawing five fouls as she relentlessly chipped away at the Mavericks’ defense. Tsipis has asked Shipp to provide that key sixth-man role for the Colonials this year, seeking her out as a vital addition to the starting lineup.

“She’s a physical defender who’s going to take the ball to the rim with reckless abandon,” Tsipis said. “I really have seven starters, depending on the opponent.”

Also on full display Friday night was the clear camaraderie among GW’s ranks. Jackson, Nipe and Tsipis couldn’t help themselves from grinning their way through the postgame press conference, and the Colonials’ bench was fully engaged, exemplified by the celebration that erupted when sophomore walk-on guard Maria Saia scored her first collegiate points in the final minute of the game.

GW began the game with a starting lineup of seniors and graduate students, and closed out play with freshmen and sophomores on the court. It was fitting that Tsipis’ first victory also provided a glimpse into the future of his program.

“I have four freshmen that, they work every single day in practice,” Tsipis said. “I do have great goals for them. And part of that is understanding that to be a great player in college, you have to practice hard every single day. And they’ve got good role models.”

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