Women’s basketball pulls away thanks to Brown’s last-minute heroics
AU moves to the top of South Division, comes closer to locking up home game in playoffs
After a 27-day pause that saw five postponed games and a 10-day quarantine, American University women’s basketball (4-3) was primed for some growing pains.
But when the game mattered most, AU came through. With six seconds left, junior forward Taylor Brown hit the biggest free throw of her career and the Eagles locked down a Loyola (0-9) last-second attempt, sealing a 51-50 victory in a must-win game to put AU atop the South Division standings. Rust was on the mind of head coach Megan Gebbia, but the team was eager to compete.
“I thought we were a little slow sluggish in the first quarter just because we were coming off of such a huge layoff,” Gebbia said. “We have some ways to go, but it’s nice to be able to pull out a close game.”
Even with an expectedly choppy first quarter, AU trailed just 17-12 after 10 minutes. Junior guard Emily Fisher was quick to hop into action, picking up five points and two steals in the first frame. Her energy was crucial for AU throughout the contest, as she drew four charges and was a menace on Loyola’s backcourt.
AU opened up the floodgates in the second quarter as junior guard Jade Edwards had her way with the Loyola defense. Edwards leads the Patriot League in scoring, and looked to be on a fiery pace in the first half before Loyola locked her down in the second half. Edwards hit both of her 3-point attempts in the first half, which is a good sign for her and the Eagles after she started the year 4-21 from deep. Edwards would finish with 13 points and five rebounds.
Throughout the second quarter, AU used 3-pointers and post play to get to their spots. The Eagles ended the half of an 8-0 run, outscoring the Greyhounds 16-4 in the frame and entering the locker room with a 28-20 lead. AU played crisp defense throughout the quarter.
Loyola senior forward Isabella Therien was primed to be the focal point of the Greyhounds’ offense Saturday, as she was averaging 18 points per game over the last three contests. But AU swarmed her around the hoop, forcing five turnovers in the first half and holding her to just seven points in the game.
Though Fisher and Edwards had the hot hands in the first half, the pair combined for just three points in the final 20 minutes. AU still needed production. That’s where Brown came in. Though she only played 19 minutes per game last season, Gebbia has seen massive improvement from her starting forward on both ends of the court.
“I just love her growth on the defensive end. To me, that’s the biggest area I see,” Gebbia said. “She's growing and learning and figuring out how to take away tendencies. And when to help and when not to. So that's big.”
However, the third quarter spelled trouble for AU. Loyola’s janky full-court press, which gave AU plenty of trouble in the past, was back to give the offense fits. The Greyhounds also pressured AU in their 2-3 zone, which stagnated the Eagles’ motion offense. Even with the fast-paced Fisher on the court, the defensive adjustment was effective enough to make it a close game.
“I mean Fish hasn't played in five weeks, so she was a little rusty when it came to pressure … For the most part you know we did break pressure when we needed to,” Gebbia said. “It was just not getting enough shots.”
AU entered the final quarter down 47-46, unfazed but not invincible. With time winding down, Brown put on a clinic in crunch time, scoring seven of her 13 points in the fourth quarter that included the two free-throws to clinch the game.
Therien picked up a key foul with two minutes left, which gave AU some wiggle room down the stretch. A back-and-forth final minute featured multiple possession changes. First, Edwards fouled Loyola senior forward Delaney Connolly on a put-back opportunity, and Loyola took a one-point lead when she made the first of her two free throws. But her second try clanked off the rim, giving AU an opening to steal the game.
Pressure built, though, when Fisher was called for a double-dribble with 20 seconds remaining.
“When they call that double-dribble on Fish that was not a double-dribble, and then I'm trying to tell them that [Loyola sophomore forward Emily McAteer] walked at halfcourt and he finally called it, but that was really frustrating, honestly, you don't want the officials to step in and change the course of a game,” Gebbia said. “It felt that way a little bit, but I'm not gonna sit here and blame him. I mean it was, this was all on us.”
But the Eagles were able to get the ball back eight seconds later after McAteer was called for the travel. With time winding down, Connolly fouled Brown on an entry pass to the post, drawing ire criticism from the Greyhounds but ultimately sealing the game.
Loyola fell to 0-9 on the season and is now close to locking up the No. 9 seed in the Patriot League, which would keep them out of this year’s eight-team playoff.
AU will hit national television tomorrow for a 12 p.m. rematch against Loyola at the Greyhounds’ Reitz Arena. Gebbia, for the time being, is lasered in on winning the South Division.
“I think where my mind goes is not necessarily the playoffs,” Gebbia said. “My thought really goes to ‘how do we win the pod, what we have to do, we have to split with Loyola and we have to beat Navy.’ If we don't beat Navy, we won't win the pod.”