There’s 31 seconds on the clock. The Montclair State University women’s basketball team is clinging to a one-point lead against Kean University. Senior guard Taylor Brown catches a pass at the top of the arc, then takes a step and shoots. With the ball in the air, the Panzer Athletic Center holds its breath.
The limited capacity gymnasium erupts as the three-ball swishes through the net, marking the last points scored in the game and the final nail in the coffin. The Red Hawks 56-52 victory sealed their trip to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game for the second year in a row.
“I knew we needed something big to happen,” Brown said. “The confidence that my whole team has in me, they kept telling me to shoot all game.”
The women’s basketball team willed that shot to go in just as they willed themselves to the championship game. This win marks their eighth straight victory and their fifth at home.
The Red Hawks played their best when the whole team was involved. This was in part due to head coach Karin Harvey’s message at halftime when Montclair State left the second quarter down 27-23, having only scored one point in the last five minutes.
“Coach was just saying we never played like that,” Red Hawks freshman guard Kendall Hodges said. “It was an individual game; we didn’t look like Montclair State women’s basketball and we didn’t feel like it either.”
Hodges led all scorers with an impressive 16 points, including the first of the game by either team by knocking down a wide-open three. The freshman also accrued five rebounds and two steals to her credit.
Montclair State benefited from stellar defensive play all game. The leader of this disruptive unit was junior guard Trisha Peterson. Peterson racked up five rebounds, two blocks and led the Red Hawks with three steals.
“My mindset changed a lot this year as far as defending goes,” Peterson said. “I knew this game when (Taylor) got into foul trouble, I knew I needed to step up and really bring the intensity on defense.”
Key contributions and hustle plays from junior guard Julia Sutton helped keep it close when Montclair State struggled. Entering the contest, the Red Hawks’ scoring leader tallied two steals and a handful of taken charges.
Though the gym was at limited capacity, you would not know by the volume of those in attendance. The fans in the stands made themselves heard and it was not lost on the players.
“The stands weren’t completely filled but they might as well have been,” Hodges said. “The family that came out to this game, they’re the best. They’re the best fans.”
The women’s basketball team will host New Jersey City University in the NJAC Championship game next week. Harvey believes this year will have a different conclusion than last season, when Montclair State lost 64-54 to Rowan University.
“We choked… let’s be honest,” Harvey said. “I think this team is different, they’ve worked really hard and win or lose we won’t choke. I can guarantee you that. These guys are tough.”