With William and Mary holding a tenuous 71-69 lead over Old Dominion after 39 raucous minutes Sunday, head coach Debbie Taylor used her last timeout in an effort to keep her team composed before pandemonium broke loose in the last 60 seconds. The Tribe had the ball, but Taylor was focused on defense, imploring her team to not surrender an inch when the Monarchs took over possession.
“You have to get a stop. You get that stop, [and] the game’s over,” she said.
Coming out of the timeout, sophomore forward Jazmen Boone barreled into the lane and drew a shooting foul. She missed both free throws, though, and Old Dominion called its last timeout with 45 seconds left. A defensive lapse then gave ODU an easy shot at an equalizer, but the Monarchs’ Jackie Cook blew the layup. The Tribe took over with a two-point advantage and a mere 20 seconds left, but the fun was far from over.
With everyone in the building on their feet, ODU’s full-court press quickly forced the Tribe to cough it up. The Monarch’s had one last shot to tie it up, but amid the din, senior center Jaclyn McKenna stayed cool, drawing an uncontestable charge call against Monarchs forward Laquanda Younger.
The Tribe’s ensuing inbound pass went to sophomore guard Anna Kestler, who deftly maneuvered through the full-court defense to find senior guard Taylor Hilton, who was promptly fouled. ODU was the heavy favorite, entering the game as the fourth-ranked team in the conference, but Hilton sank both free throws, the buzzer rang out and the College (4-14, 2-5 CAA) topped the Monarchs (13-6, 4-3 CAA) for just the second time since 1975.
After the game, Taylor was unhesitant in describing the Tribe’s late game effort.
“[It was] one of my proudest moments here as a coach,” Taylor said.
The Tribe’s stellar offensive performance had its roots early in the game. Junior forward Kaitlyn Mathieu, who started for the second consecutive game, couldn’t in the early part of the matchup, pouring in three three-pointers in the first 8 minutes. She turned her early success into a big 19-point, 10-rebound game.
“It’s a great feeling. My confidence is just getting higher and higher,” Mathieu said.
The College started 8 of 9 from the field to take a 21-14 lead with 11 minutes left in the half. But, typical of this roller-coaster of a game, the Monarchs surged back as the Tribe’s simmering shooting started to cool off. The Tribe defense was repeatedly out-positioned on the offensive boards during the latter part of the half, leading to several easy buckets. Old Dominion weathered the Tribe’s early surge to take a 31-30 halftime lead.
As the Tribe’s offensive rhythm faltered early in the second period, it fell back on the dependable shooting of senior guard Janine Aldridge, who didn’t disappoint. She hit every big shot en route to a monster 26-point game on 11 of 15 shooting.
“I just wanted the win and I went after it in the second half,” Aldridge said.
For a team that largely lives beyond the three-point line, the success of Aldridge and Mathieu in that area gave the rest of the team something to feed off. With most of the Old Dominion defense swarming around the perimeter, McKenna and Boone secured for the Tribe pivotal points from inside the key that their opponents had little answer for.
“Jackie McKenna had a mismatch and Jackie’s a really good post player,” she said. “Jazmen Boone can get to the rim and we were really trying to get the ball down the court and past the press quick.”
Although she failed to score a single point in the matchup, sophomore guard Anna Kestler was a deadly weapon in breaking down the defense. Kestler was able to dribble through the Old Dominion full-court press time and time again while dishing out a team-high seven assists and surrendering zero turnovers in the second half.
“Her passing ability is ridiculous, she sees people that I would never be able to find,” Mathieu said. “She fakes me out in practice sometimes, that’s how good she is. She’s a great point-guard.”
The College’s defense played better and better as the second half progressed, notching steals and denying Old Dominion any second chance points off offensive boards.
Tellingly, it was a drawn charge that turned out to be key play of the game, not any one of the numerous converted jump-shots. For all the offense’s firepower, it was defensive discipline that won the day.
“We’re competing harder, we’re playing harder and that’s what it takes to compete in this league,” she said.
The Tribe brings their two-game winning streak on the road to UNCW on Thursday.