Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Norfolk State takes down George Mason

Maybe Norfolk State's women's basketball team should petition for membership in the Colonial Athletic Association. Because CAA teams sure seem to bring out the best in these Spartans.

Last month, the Spartans nearly took down William and Mary before bowing in double overtime. And on Monday, the Spartans broke through against George Mason, riding the low-post superiority of Rachel Gordon (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Batavia Owens (16 points) and some clutch plays late to a 60-57 victory at Echols Arena.

The Spartans (6-7) came in on a five-game losing streak, a stretch that included particularly disappointing results at home against South Carolina State and Radford. But NSU had it going on against Mason, particularly Gordon and Owens, who often had their way in the paint.

It wasn't just those two getting it done for NSU, either. Whitney Long scored 15 points and hit the driving layup with 47 seconds left to give the Spartans a 56-55 lead. Rae Corbo added a pair of free throws with 8 seconds to go to boost NSU's lead to three. And Recca Trice dished out 6 assists and generally held up well against Mason's often-tenacious ball pressure.

The result was a signature win for the Spartans against an in-state rival that beat them by 27 points a year ago in Fairfax, a team that beat Old Dominion by 17 points earlier this season. If the Spartans can replicate Monday's level the rest of the season, they should find themselves with a bunch of MEAC wins come March.

Then again, this non-conference season should have also taught them that if they fall short of that level, they can lose to just about anyone, too. Still, it wasn't too long ago that the NSU program was at a point where no matter how hard the players played, they still couldn't beat a team of consequence. It speaks well of how far the program has come that how much success the Spartans have against virtually any team on their remaining schedule is pretty much up to them.

Meanwhile, the Patriots (7-5) were hurt by a tough second half by leading scorer/catalyst Taleia Moton. Moton had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting and 4 steals in the first half, but went scoreless on 0-of-9 shooting (0-of-2 from the free throw line) and no steals after the break.

Reserve guard Christine Weithman picked up Moton's scoring slack with 4 second-half 3-pointers and 14 points in the final 20 minutes. But little else worked well for the Patriots after the break. They grabbed only 8 defensive rebounds and forced just 7 turnovers, numbers that cut down on their opportunities to get out in transition. Amber Easter, the Patriots' second-leading scorer, was held to just 6 points and missed the front end of a one-and-one with 30 seconds left and the Pats down one. And Easter and Mason's other bigs could do little to stop Gordon and Owens from getting what they wanted inside.

Also, it continues to look like the Patriots are one team at their Patriot Center (5-2), and something a good bit less than that team in most other gyms (2-3). With 9 of their final 17 games on the road, this is something Mason needs to address, and quickly.

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