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Slow, But Steady

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The timing was eerie as the momentum swung right on cue. The Owls built a double-digit lead in the first half, gave most of it away by the intermission, pushed the advantage to nine points coming out of the break and then stood on the brink of another second-half collapse as they approached the midpoint of the final stanza. Suddenly, the unexpected happened.

Fr. G Jessica Goswitz tallied the next seven points for the Owls. So. G D'Frantz Smart, making a triumph return to the starting lineup following a work-ethic-related demotion, settled the offense. So. G Amenemope McKinney chipped in free throws, a key offensive rebound and a layup while So. C Candace Ashford deflected passes on defense and crashed the boards as needed. It was a collective effort that produced this 57-48 win over Northwestern State on Monday night at Tudor Fieldhouse, a collective effort that was assuredly needed.

Some of the contributions off the bench were subtle, but they were appreciated nonetheless. In this offensive grind the Owls needed every tipped pass and defensive rebound. When the Demons opted to take So. F Jackie Stanley out of the game (just four shot attempts) with hasty double teams on the block, she made an impact by pounding the glass (eight rebounds). Sr. G Tara Watts struggled with her shot (3 for 13), but she defended (three steals), rebounded (six boards) and helped run the offense (five assists). Jr. F Morgan Mayse wasn't as efficient offensively as she was in the Owls' losing effort at Lamar, but she worked diligently on the defensive end and did enough (11 points, six boards) to aid the overall effort. It was teamwork.

"You don't win a lot of games shooting 31 percent from the field, but we attacked the glass," Owls coach Greg Williams said, noting the Owls' 16-7 edge in offensive rebounds. "Candace ... that was probably her best game of the year. Amenemope had not played well and I was forced to put her in because Tara got hurt, and she makes two big free throws and makes a nice move to the hole and scores late. That was encouraging. Jess had a strong second half."

The rebounding, and the fact that Rice forced 25 turnovers without initiating full-court pressure, was key. Every Rice starter recorded at least five rebounds while Ashford chipped in eight in 19 minutes while spelling Stanley, whose surgically-repaired knee limited her reps in practice the past two days. Goswitz was the lone volume scorer to shoot a solid percentage, but the Owls' commitment to defense and rebounding rendered their poor shooting moot. Had the Owls not worked as hard as they did, this game would have slipped away like the others.

For whatever reason, hard work had become foreign to Smart. Williams responded by benching the energetic point guard, and she responded by increasing her effort in practice. She returned from her two-game demotion with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and one huge lesson learned. From every corner, the Owls discovered something to build upon.

"He sent a message that I have to play hard all the time, and my effort in practice and in games wasn't reflecting that," Smart said. "I understand totally why he benched me; people were working harder than me and I deserved to not start. I showed him in practice that I was willing to work hard every second and every play, and I think he gave me a second chance. I'm grateful that he did, and from now I'm going to try and play hard in practice and in games.

"Sitting on the bench definitely taught me a lesson. It's a tough one to take, but it got through."

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Good to see the women notch a W! Happy New Year, ladies!

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