This post was written by Hatchet staff writers Nora Princiotti and Josh Solomon.
Point guard Danni Jackson swung a pass across the court to Megan Nipe, setting up her teammate in front of the GW bench – in front of one of their last Smith Center crowds.
Jackson watched as her fellow graduate student loaded up and knocked down her third trey of the night, then crouched down, wound up and exploded with a big fist pump. The Colonials lead was back to double digits.
“At that point I knew this is our game,” Jackson said. “They had no answer for her [Nipe] tonight.”
Nipe would finish with a team-high 20 points, leading GW over East Carolina 86-68 for its first postseason win since 2008, when the team made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“It feels awesome,” Jackson said. “I don’t know whether to cry or…”
“She’s not going to cry. She’s fine,” Nipe quickly joked back.
Despite the 18-point victory, the Colonials had trouble closing out the Conference USA team who had made the WNIT just last season. A 17-point first half lead had dwindled all the way down to a one-point game with 10-and-a-half minutes to go in the second half.
Junior forward Shae Nelson led the Pirates’ surge, hitting three-consecutive three-point shots during the run. She finished with a game-high 23 points off the bench and on the defensive side, frustrated GW’s bigs until finally fouling out with just over a minute to play.
A 6-0 GW run, though, and a couple key defensive stops against the physical Pirates team helped the Colonials to never look back. GW would outshoot ECU 43.9 to 31.6 percent from the field, with its frontcourt ultimately earning the advantage, 40-26.
Pirate’s star guard Jada Payne tried to will her team to victory, recording a double-double with 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Head coach Jonathan Tsipis said the Colonials tempered the Pirates’ long-range success with an even more aggressive hands-in-your-face defense. On four of five of ECU’s first half threes, Tsipis said, GW defenders were caught with their hands down.
“We went out there and locked down on defense. We then got the stop and we scored on the other end and it just gave us our confidence back,” Jackson said. “That’s all we kept saying anyway: we’re fine, we’re fine, we’re fine.”
On the other end of the court, Jackson was one of four Colonials to join Nipe in double figures, with 18 points. Freshman Caira Washington had 14, while junior Chakecia Miller and sophomore Jonquel Jones each added 10.
Miller returned to the lineup in full-force after injuring her back in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals last week. She was limited against Dayton in the semifinals, but was able to join Jackson in what she calls the “best duo in the backcourt in the A-10.”
The duo will now head up to Philadelphia to face Villanova in the second round of the WNIT Sunday at 1 p.m.
“We write on the board ‘one plus,’” said Tsipis about every playoff game. “With each ‘one plus’ that you earn, there are less and less people in this country playing right now and I think our kids are really excited about that.”