USAF Academy, Colo. Air Force freshmen, led by Brianna Autrey, combined for 32 points as the Falcons came up short against George Mason, who squeaked by, 78-71, Friday afternoon, in Clune Arena. Autrey led the team with 19 points, five assists and six steals.
Freshmen teammates Riley Snyder and Haley Jones were significant contributors in the shootout. Snyder, who made her second start in as many appearances, shot lights-out from the arc, notching her second double-digit scoring performance with a 4-5 mark from deep. Jones, who concluded her collegiate debut with three points, more than tripled her first scoring performance, registering 10 points and a block. On the defensive side of the ball, Autrey led the team with six steals, a season-high for the Falcons.
The Falcons' scoring veteran, sophomore Kaelin Immel, had a quiet first half but went on to erupt for a 13-point performance in the second half. Classmates Emily Conroe and Alexis Springfield combined for five points, two assists and two steals. Junior forward Kassady Huffman recorded two blocks and a season-high nine rebounds.
"I think that the experience of Mason showed," said head coach Chris Gobrecht. "We're a young a team going against a team that won 24 games last season and went to the NIT-- they just had a little bit better of a sense of themselves than we do right now. At one point we had four freshmen on the floor, and for a lot of the game we had between three and four freshmen on the floor-- and if they weren't freshmen, they were sophomores."
As a team, the young Air Force squad shot an impressive 52-percent from three-point distance; however, missed layups and rebounds became a key factor in the outcome as the Falcons only scored 14 points in the paint compared to the Patriots' 28.
"The rebounds were huge," continued Gobrecht. "They had more experience in their big positions and it showed. Again, we're a young team and a lot of our players haven't had the experience of going up against quality big kids so there was a lot for them to try and deal with on the fly."
On the scoring end, Mason was led by sophomore standout, Nicole Cardano-Hillary, who notched her second 25+ point performance in as many tries this season.
Mason hit the ground running in Clune Arena as the Patriots jumped out to an early 12-0 lead in just under three minutes. The Falcons refused to go quietly as Autrey put an end to the scoring-drought with a bucket at the 6:14 mark-- it would be the first of many. Noelle Tomes, a sophomore who missed her freshman season, hit a critical three-pointer from the wing to put the Falcons on a 5-0 run. On Mason's next possession, Huffman got big in the paint, blocking a shot that quickly turned into another Air Force three-pointer, this time from Jones.
The Falcons' pursuit continued as Jones netted two free throws off of a foul in the paint. Senior team captain Venessannah Itugbu followed suit, draining her two free throws to extend Air Force's run to 11-0. Jones added another field goal which was then capped off by Snyder's first three-pointer of the night, giving the Falcons a 16-12 lead with 90-seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Falcons and Patriots entered into a shootout for the rest of the half, going bucket-for-bucket without letting the scoring margin exceed four points. At the halftime buzzer, Air Force held the lead, 31-30
The Falcons would see another slow start, this time at the beginning of the third quarter as Cardano-Hillary put her head down and got to work. The sophomore standout helped Mason maintain a five-point cushion through the third quarter, giving the Patriots a 53-49 lead heading into the final quarter.
"Outside of the difference in experience, I think the slow starts in the first and third quarters is what really made the difference. After the poor starts, we outplayed them and that's evident, but the hole we dug was just a little too deep to get out of."
Early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots extended to a 14-point margin. The Falcons refused to go away, battling back to within three points with less than 10-seconds remaining in the game. Air Force was unable to convert in the waning seconds, falling to the Patriots, 78-71.
The Falcons will open the road slate against Denver, Nov. 11, at the Ritchie Center, Denver, Colorado. Tip-off is slated for 1 p.m. MT.