BY NATALIE HEAVREN STAFF WRITER
Women’s basketball closed out non-conference play with a 69-46 win over Delaware State on Monday night and improved to 3-4.
Head coach Nyla Milleson praised the team’s performance and application of the intangibles, saying, “The energy and the effort and the talk and the togetherness that we’ve been preaching was the best it’s been in a really, really, really, really long time. I mean the bench was hyped for each other. We put people on the floor and we had good eye contact, we had good connectivity. Just those [intangibles] that we’ve been really preaching showed tonight.”
Here are three takeaways from the game:
BALANCED SCORING KEPT THE OFFENSE RUNNING
Milleson and the players have mentioned throughout the season that anyone on the team can score on any given night. While only three players scored in double-figures, a total of nine players scored for the Patriots, making the opposing defense work harder.
“Everybody that stepped on the floor did their job tonight and it was definitely a team win,” Milleson said.
Continuing to share the ball and ensuring that no one person takes over the game will help the Patriots as the calendar turns to January and Atlantic 10 play starts.
“It’s a beautiful thing when teams have to prepare for more than one or two people,” Rachel Balzer said.
“I think we have learned to really share the ball, and we have played off of each other and that’s still a growing part of our game. I think every day we’ve come in, we’ve been focused on it and you can see with each game that it’s improving,” she continued.
RACHEL BALZER CAN SHOOT THE THREE
Balzer, who redshirted the 2019-2020 season, entered Monday’s night game averaging 1.8 points per game and having gone 3-22 in three-pointers. Against Delaware State she had 16 points, going 4-6 from behind the arc.
“I can’t thank my team enough. They’ve had my back through the shooting slump, and it feels really good to be out there again – and be myself out there – and hit some shots to help the team,” Balzer said.
She continued to credit the team, saying, “They have had my back, they have instilled confidence in me every day. Today before the game they said ‘you’re going to hit more than one today, you’re going to get on fire’ and I did. I didn’t see the bench the whole game, but I could hear them all game, and it’s such a great feeling when you have a team like that to have your back and know that they have that confidence in you.”
Milleson was glad to see this display of confidence. While it’s Balzer’s second year in the program, it’s still only her first on the court.
The Patriots have struggled from three this season and no dedicated three-point shooter had emerged until Monday night. If Balzer is able to continue to make threes consistently, she will fill a need for her team that will lead to more wins. While her threes helped to stretch the floor, they also provided a momentum shift in the first and fourth quarters.
However, Milleson stressed that Balzer is more than a shooter. “She’s probably got the highest basketball IQ on our team. She’s [been] a very, very good passer every tight game we’ve been in. She’s helped handle the ball to keep it as calm and composed,” Milleson said.
She added, “The shooting is what she does, but she also brings so much other value to this team, and I think she really saw that tonight. And I think you’re going to see her confidence really grow now that she’s finally kind of broke[n] out and was able to knock multiple threes down.”
THE LESSONS LEARNED DURING NON-CONFERENCE PLAY WILL HELP THE TEAM IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
Mason was one of a handful of teams that were able to play every scheduled game, with the game against William & Mary replacing the originally scheduled matchup against Georgetown. The lessons the Patriots have learned over the course of those seven games will help the team as it prepares for A-10 play.
“The non-conference schedule is a great preparation for conference play. We learned a lot of lessons. I think we’ve learned the mental focus that it’s going to take in conference play, and we had some practice with that one-day preparation and I think we’ve done really well in locking in on our scout and locking in on what we need to do,” Balzer said.
Milleson agreed, saying, “We had some back-to-back, one-day prep games that we’re gonna have. We’ve had everything compacted. We’ve had to come in twice in a day to watch film and then come back. So I think – just from a preparation standpoint – I think the non-conference [schedule] has also helped us.”
She also hopes that her team will continue to show positive team chemistry, energy and togetherness, as well as improve spacing and make shots at a higher percentage than they did during periods of their non-conference season.
Mason’s defense is significantly improved from last season, something Milleson acknowledged after the game. She hopes the team continues this because when they are struggling to make shots, quality stops have been essential.
Mason is scheduled to return to the court on Jan. 1, opening conference play against Fordham.