Saunders, Patriots handle UMES Hawks in lopsided home opener win, 64-38

Senior guard Rahneeka Saunders knocks down a jumper in Tuesday night's win against UMES (Photo by John Irwin)
Senior guard Rahneeka Saunders knocks down a jumper in Tuesday night's win against UMES (Photo by John Irwin)

The George Mason University women’s basketball team handed the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore Hawks a lopsided 64-38 loss at the Patriot Center Tuesday night.

Senior guard Rahneeka Saunders scored a game-high 13 points, led the team with four steals and registered two assists to help the Lady Patriots (1-1) pick up a fifth win in as many meetings against the Hawks.

“[I'm been] practicing on my shot more than I have in the past, “ said Saunders. "I think that contributed to my success in today’s game, getting confident and knocking down shots.”

Junior Kyana Jacobs finished with 11 points and redshirt junior Janaa Pickard contributed 10 points, six rebounds and an assist. Mason shot 38.3 percent from the field compared to UMES’s abysmal 25 percent from the floor.

However, Patriots coach Jeri Porter was not overly concerned with the missed shots.

“A lot of our priority and a lot of our conversation has been defense,” said Porter. “We may not necessarily be a team that is going to put up big numbers every night offensively but we got to commit to defending rebounding. If we do that, then we are going to give ourselves a chance to win games.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Lady Patriots outrebounded the Hawks 23 to 18. Mason registered 13 steals as well as five blocks.

The Hawks’ (0-1) only double-digit scorer was sophomore Jessica Long with 12 points. She also contributed three steals and two assists. Senior forward Karona Roach contributed five points, two steals, two assists and a block before fouling out with 5:30 left in the game.

Two elements of the game where UMES had trouble throughout the game were turnovers and personal fouls. The Hawks turned the ball over 21 times and allowed 25 points off turnovers. Their 17 personal fouls gave Mason players 23 free-throw attempts; Mason converted on 17 of the 23 tries.

The beginning of the game was characterized by several lead changes as the teams exchanged baskets. The first run was in favor of the Hawks as they scored six unanswered points between the 13:11 and 10:21 minute marks, gaining a 13-10 lead. Mason responded immediately by scoring the next 16 points and built up a comfortable 26-13 lead with 4:29 left in the first half.

The Hawks could not respond to the run and although they came within 10 after a three-point basket by TeAmber Burke, another run by the Lady Patriots gave them a 37-21 lead at the end of the first half.

In less than two minutes in the beginning of the second half the Hawks made a 6-0 run and forced coach Porter to call a time-out as UMES cut the Patriots’ lead to 10.

“I knew [UMES] was going to come out at the beginning of the second half with guns blazing and we were going to have to step up,” said Porter. “We knew this was a team that wasn’t going to go away. That first time-out was basically to challenge the girls and basically to say that we’ve got to start getting more to start halves.”

The timeout managed to kill UMES’s momentum and allowed the Lady Patriots to hold a double-digit lead. The turning point of the game came with 12:51 left to play, at a score of 43-33 when Mason stepped up defensively and held the Hawks scoreless for nearly 10 minutes. The next Hawks basket made the score 60-35 Patriots with 3:03 left in the game. After building such an immense lead, the Patriots visibly stepped down a notch and only maintained it for a final score of 64-38.

“[UMES] were very physical with us and we had to adjust a little bit, crash the board hard,” said Saunders. “I think we did a good job on that.”

The Lady Patriots’ bench played a key role in Tuesday night’s win. Led by Jacobs, it combined for 22 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. Coach Porter was visibly delighted with her substitutes and explained the importance of the team’s depth for its overall performance.

“I think that our depth is going to be one of the great things about us. Our ability to play nine or 10 people so that we can continue to play with the level of intensity on defense that we need. It is going to be very big in terms of our ability to beat really good teams.”

With Tuesday night’s win, the Lady Patriots bounced back from the defeat at Oakland on Friday. They continue their home stand on Friday night against Morgan State University at 7 p.m.

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