Pittsburgh, PA — It was a quiet Palumbo Center Sunday afternoon when with 5:41 remaining in the first half. Chassidy Omogrosso was elbowed in the nose and was on the floor holding both her nose and tears.
Duquesne was down 12 points to George Mason at the time and were having trouble both getting consistent defensive stops and offensively were not making enough shots to keep up, making the potential injury all the more troubling.
“Whenever a player goes down it’s hard to watch, it puts a chip on her shoulder,” Kadri-Ann Lass said. “They hurt her, she is our sister. When she came back and scored two times in a row, we got energy from that.”
Omogrosso returned just over two minutes later with thunderous applause and made two key baskets going into the half. Duquesne meanwhile was able to cut the lead to eight points at halftime.
“I’m not one to back down,” she said. “I’m not going to lie, that ticked me off a lot. It hurt, but nothing was stopping me from coming back into that game. I knew my teammates needed me so that’s really why I just pushed through it. I shook it off as best as I could and just came back.”
Even in the locker room Omogrosso was leading her team, as she approached fellow starting guard Julijana Vojinovic. Vojinovic averages 16.4 points per game, but was 1-for-5 from the field, good for three points.
The message was clear, we need you and the response from Vojinovic was 12 second-half points as Duquesne made a comeback to avoid its first conference loss.
Duquesne was able to complete its comeback, holding serve at home with a 71-64 win Sunday afternoon over George Mason.
This home win is Duquesne’s 15th in a row, a streak which now dates over a year.
“We don’t want to let anyone come here and dominate us,” said Lass. “It’s our house, it’s our spot, it’s where we practice every day. It’s not a big emphasis but it’s everyone’s mentality.”
Omogrosso paced Duquesne (16-3/6-0 A-10) and led all scorers with a career-high 28 points and was 5-of-6 on her two-point shots in the second-half.
Nicole Cardaño-Hillary scored 25 points to lead George Mason (15-5/4-2 A-10). Natalie Butler recorded her 19th consecutive double-double amassing 13 points and 14 rebounds.
“Duquesne showed today why they are one of the best teams in the conference,” George Mason coach Nyla Milleson said. “They are very good on offense and I thought our team battled but at the end of the day, we are very disappointed with our loss.”
Duquesne was able to outscore George Mason 21-13 in the third quarter and entered the final 10 minutes down one point, with another close game almost guaranteed.
“Going into that fourth quarter, I felt really good,” Burt said. “When we’re even-steven like that, I think we have enough offensive firepower and mental toughness to grind out wins. I believe in these guys.”
George Mason’s Jacy Bolton drove the lane and as she put up a shot, a whistle was blown. Initially a blocking call was assessed, but after the referees had a quick dialogue, the call was reversed to a charging foul.
Duquesne then scored the first eight points of the quarter, including a sequence in which Vojinovic used her dribble penetration to evade traffic and found Lass who sank a mid-range two, a play which was followed with George Mason calling a timeout.
George Mason remained in the fight, and cut its deficit to four points when Cardaño-Hillary stole the ball and was off to the races in transition. Cardaño-Hillary appeared to have an easy layup, but instead missed the shot.
Milleson shook her head when the shot came up in the postgame press conference.
“(You) hit it on the missed layup, Nikki doesn’t miss many of those,” said Milleson.
Cardaño-Hillary also was part of another turning point. Duquesne was up by two points with less than six minutes left to play and after Omogrosso missed a three, the ball grazed off the freshman guard’s arm and thinking Duquesne was last to touch it, she let it go.
Duquesne then scored seven consecutive points forcing another George Mason timeout. George Mason also was disappointed by its 13-20 mark from the free throw line and had five fouls 3:10 into the quarter.
“We just have to learn from that,” Cardaño-Hillary said of the miscues. “It’s not something we usually do, so it’s a little hiccup and we just have to learn.”
Duquesne meanwhile was able to shoot 61.5% from the field in the fourth quarter, completing its comeback.
“That game could easily have gone the other way,” said Burt. “I think our experience in terms of our years and big games really helped us today. We did not become rattled or worried or shaky. We’ve been in some tight games this year and won them for the most part.”
Though the outcome was not what was desired, Milleson still saw some positives, though she stopped short on the moral victories.
“There’s definite positives to take, but we’re a program that wants to be where the Duquesne’s have been,” said Milleson. “At some point in time we aren’t going to be satisfied by moral victories. We want to win and be at the place where some of these A-10 programs have been. We have made great strides on a lot of things and we certainly are competing, but we are ready to take the next step.”
This was something Butler certainly agreed with.
“I think we are one of the top teams in the conference and I feel if we put two halves together we can be a great team. I think we are pretty good right now and working hard,” she said. “I think we’re going to go into practice and fine-tune those few things and shake it off for Saint Louis.”
1. Kadri-Ann Lass guarding Butler may have been the difference in this game. Butler did record her 19th consecutive double-double, but much of that production was done in the first quarter.
Lass kept Butler from getting close looks and in the final quarter scored two points on free throws and grabbed one rebound.
“I had to focus to be ready, I had to have my eyes on her,” Lass said. “The moment she stepped over half court, I had to be on her. Rebounding since she averages 15 a game, even before the shot, I had to go and box out and we had emphasized that a little. Teammates doubling and tripling her at times, I think frustrated her and she had six turnovers, most of them in the second half, so that definitely worked out for us.”
Butler meanwhile took the loss hard and appeared disappointed with not being able to make more adjustments against Lass and Duquesne as a whole.
“I need to be smarter,” she said. “Coach (Milleson) talked into halftime to do the escape dribble and look for open teammates and make quicker decisions. They played good defense and I need to be able to adjust with them.”
Lass’s example also appeared contagious as Helmi Tulonen may have turned in her best defensive performance containing Butler for the 10 minutes she was on the floor.
“Kadri-Ann Lass played exceptional against the kid that may be player of the year in our league,” said Burt. “The kid had 14 and 13 but Kadri played great defense on her.”
2. Conor Richardson’s impact was not as visible on the box score but she definitely left her fingerprints on this game.
Richardson had three steals which were important in the second half and came at key times with George Mason in transition and the game very close.
Additionally, Richardson recorded four of Duquesne’s 14 offensive rebounds, with two coming in each half. This helped in extending possessions.
In this recent stretch, Richardson has found other ways to contribute for her team that allows for the ball to get in the basket. Richardson has maintained her defensive edge and has a nose for the ball that has been developed throughout her basketball career.
3. Paige Cannon minutes were noticeably higher than most games, in fact this was tied for the second-most played on the season and in turn, her collegiate career.
Burt likes to play those who stick to the game plan and are able to play to it.
Cannon’s 29 minutes were in part because all season long, she has stayed true to the game plan and to a degree achieved success. Even when she did not correctly run a play, it was done a couple of minutes later and now aware of the mistake, Cannon earned a trip to the free throw line.
“Paige Cannon executes the game plan every single time, she is a great soldier,” Burt said.
4. George Mason’s progress is very noticeable and it will be a very dangerous team moving forward into conference season.
“We just want to be the best team we can be,” Milleson said. “This group, we’ve tried to understand the daily grind of what it takes to be a championship level program and I think this team finally understands it. We just to continue to be the best we can be.”
This is a team that when Milleson first was hired five years ago could not complete a practice. Now it is one of the top teams in the conference and has improved leaps and bounds.
“It’s very clear that George Mason is the most improved team in the Atlantic 10,” said Burt. “Wow do they play hard and are they well-coached. The turnaround Nyla has done with George Mason is nothing short of incredible. She has done a great job there. She is a personal friend and I am happy for her.”
This season George Mason already has 15 wins a feat not accomplished since 2011-12 and that team went 15-16 for the season.
George Mason still holds a chip on its shoulder, given that it did not get the chance to host an Atlantic 10 Championship first round home game and failed to forget that Duquesne ended its season a year ago.
While Butler’s play has certainly received its fair share of headlines, Cardaño-Hillary has been just as good. In addition to that, other players have found success such as Jacy Bolton, Tayler Dodson, Camarie Gatling, Sarah Kaminski, Marika Korpinen and Camden Musgrave.
Echoing Butler’s previously stated remark, Milleson believes in this team and come Monday will be back in the gym teaching and smiling.
“If we play like we are capable on both ends of the floor, I think we can be one of the top teams,” she said. “That being said there are many great teams in this league, there is such a slim margin for error.”
5. Offensive coordinator Matt Schmidt’s so-called “pet project” was certainly more than that in this game. Duquesne was all over the court and finding ways to extend possessions, and noticeably won the vast majority of 50-50 balls.
“Championship teams win 50-50 balls and they block out every single time,” Burt said.
Around the Atlantic 10
Dayton 66 George Washington 55– Dayton won its eighth game in a row and remains in first place with this win against a game GW. Dayton used a 23-14 first quarter advantage led by Lauren Cannatelli to strike first but GW was able to cut the halftime deficit to 36-34. Cannatelli and Jayla Scaife led the Flyers with 17 points each.
— Dayton Women's Hoops (@DaytonWBB) January 21, 2018
Saint Louis 93 Saint Joseph’s 76– Saint Louis has bounced back from two consecutive Atlantic 10 road losses with two straight home wins. SLU shot 51% from the field in this game and was 22-for-27 from the line. Saint Louis also won the post battle by a decisive 52-32 mark. Jackie Kemph paced SLU with a double-double consisting of 21 points and 13 assists.
— Saint Louis WBB (@SaintLouisWBB) January 21, 2018
UMass 79 VCU 75– UMass won its first conference game of the season onto the 25-14 first quarter led it built. Though Maggie Mulligan was held to three points and six rebounds before fouling out after 20 minutes of play, Bre Hampton-Bey recorded 31 points and nine assists, good for a 37.0 efficiency rating. Hailey Leidel and Genesis Rivera also scored in double figures with 16 and 13 points respectively. VCU never led in this contest.
Fordham 43 Richmond 38– Fordham’s top-15 ranked defense was on full display Sunday afternoon in this win. Sunday was the first game Richmond was held under 50 points all season. G’mrice Davis scored 14 of her 20 points in the second half and grabbed 10 rebounds, good for her ninth consecutive double-double. Richmond shot 30.2% from the field and 11.1 from deep. Fordham is now 54-5 under coach Stephanie Gaitley when opponents score less than 50 points.
— Fordham Athletics (@FordhamRams) January 21, 2018
Duquesne hopes to achieve a first Wednesday when it travels to take on Saint Joseph’s in a contest set to tip off at 7 p.m.
Saint Joseph’s was picked to place third in the Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll, earning three first place votes. Nearly its entire roster from last year has returned including Chelsea Woods who made the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference First Team and Adashia Franklin, who made the Atlantic 10 Preseason All-Conference Second Team and All-Defensive Team.
The Hawks lead the overall series 41-8 but owns an undefeated 25-0 mark at home, something which Duquesne hopes will change.
It is for this reason, why Burt who typically states he will enjoy wins until midnight will have his own version of Daylights saving time, setting his clock back one hour.
“We have never won at Saint Joe’s and we were a minute away from winning last year. I probably will only celebrate this one until 11 o’clock,” he said. “When are we going to discipline ourselves and be good enough for two days and game day to get a win there? We’re going to find out on Wednesday.”