Saunders' game-winning shot against William & Mary snaps Patriots' five-game losing streak

Mason women's basketball tips off against William & Mary (Photo by Gopi Raghu).

With 9.5 seconds left on the clock and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” roaring from the George Mason University Green Machine, Mason’s  women’s basketball team (7-14, 2-8) trailed the William & Mary Tribe (5-17, 3-8) 56-55.

After a timeout by Mason coach Jeri Porter, the ball was inbounded to senior guard Rahneeka Saunders. From the corner, Saunders made a jumper that gave the Patriots a 1-point lead with just three seconds left on the clock. A missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by William & Mary guard Janine Aldridge secured the victory for the Patriots.

Saunders was the leading scorer for Mason, as she has been 11 times this season. Her double-double performance included 19 points and 13 rebounds, none more important than the final basket.

“Coach picked a play for me to get the ball at the last second, and she wanted me to take the shot,” Saunders said. “I felt confident that she was confident in me and my teammates were confident in me to make the shot.”

Saunders converted on the opportunity when she found some space to put a shot away.

 “William & Mary did a really good job of just kind of backing up and forcing her to take the jumper she took,” said Porter. “But the mindset at that point was to get the ball in her hands, clear that side of the floor out, give her some shooters to kick to if she needed to, but really allow her to make that decision. And I thought she made a great read, pulled up, and knocked that big shot down with a lot of confidence.”

Despite an obvious size disadvantage, Mason out-rebounded William & Mary 41-29.

“They’re big. They may be the biggest team in the league,” said Porter. “We talk about rebounding a lot. We feel like rebounding is a direct correlation to effort, so that when you come off the floor and you’ve been out- rebounded we usually feel we’ve been out-worked.”

Entering the game, Mason had lost nine of their last 11 games, some of which featured disappointing second-half performances.

“We understood in order to get the win we had to compete in every possession,” said Joyous Tharrington, who also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “I was just playing the flow of the game. I’m not going to force anything even if I am making shots.”

The back and forth first half had six lead changes with the largest lead being a seven-point lead for Mason. Neither team managed to run away on the scoreboard.

The second half played out much like the first. The teams exchanged chances but neither could pull away as the lead changes climbed to a total of 12. The Tribe kept the game close by utilizing their bench, which scored 22 of the team’s 57 points.

William & Mary led 56-55 with 43 seconds left after Emily Correal scored on a jumper in the paint. Then it all came down to Saunders.

“Part of our pregame speech was about battling,” Tharrington said. “They’re going to make runs, we’re going to make runs; we just needed to stay composed, and if you make a mistake don’t drop your head, just battle through it.”

On Thursday the team will travel to Wilmington, N.C. to face Colonial Athletic Association rival University of North Carolina Wilmington.

“I’m hoping the confidence will carry over,” Porter said. “Hopefully we can take this confidence with us and continue to work hard.”

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