The Montclair State University women’s basketball team will move to 8-7 on the year in large part due to their best defensive performance of the year, defeating the Kean University Cougars 54-39 at Panzer Athletic Center on Jan. 19.
Both teams came out with high intensity and effort on the defensive end, holding each other to a combined nine points in the quarter. The energy radiating from both ball clubs was evident. From the moment tip-off occurred, players were already diving for loose balls. This set the tone for a physical matchup between the two.
The Cougars’ 39 points this season is the second-lowest number of points allowed all year for the Red Hawks. Senior guard Julia Sutton commented on the team’s improvement from that end of the court.
“Defense was a primary focus coming into this game — our whole focus this year is defense,” Sutton said. “We’ve really worked on it. Early on in the season, we struggled with help-side defense, so we worked on that a lot. We pride ourselves on the defensive end.”
Both teams struggled from the field in the first quarter, with the Cougars and the Red Hawks only recording one field goal each in the entire period. Kean held a 5-4 advantage at the end of the first.
Montclair State’s offense started to pick up in the second quarter. They jumped out to an 18-6 lead with 4:02 remaining in the half. However, turnovers and fouls for Montclair State allowed Kean to stay in the ball game. Kean shot 5-8 from the free-throw line in the quarter and reduced their deficit to six. The Red Hawks went into halftime with a 20-14 lead.
Sutton was the main source of offense for the Red Hawks all game long, scoring a game-high 22 points in total. She became a key factor down the stretch.
“Our mentality this entire season is just keep shooting. We’ve struggled shooting for stretches of the season, but refused to settle,” Sutton said. “We used that same mindset tonight, from not shooting the best in the beginning of the game and being able to turn things around, shooters shoot.”
The third quarter is where Sutton would take over. Sutton converted nine points from downtown in a row within the first three minutes of the second half. The Red Hawks started the period on an 11-0 run, extending their lead to 31-16.
Kean answered back with a 12-3 run to close out the third quarter, with turnovers and fouls once again bringing them back into the game. Montclair State went into the fourth quarter with a 32-26 lead.
The fourth quarter is where sophomore guard Kendall Hodges would take over and close out the game for the Red Hawks. She struggled for the majority of the game but was able to turn things around by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“I know my role on this team [and] even though I struggled early on, I had no time to shut down,” Hodges said. “I knew that if I could get going, we had a better chance of winning. My teammates helped carry me throughout the game while I was struggling — they never gave up on me.”
With Hodges asserting herself in the fourth quarter, this helped the Red Hawks outscore Kean 22-13 in the fourth to give this team their second straight conference victory, pushing their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) record to 6-4.
“I think we had a rough first semester [and] we didn’t start the season how we wanted to,” Hodges said. “We all have a goal of winning a championship. We have a strong mentality and are ready to come out strong for the second half of the season.”
On Saturday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m., Montclair State will compete against NJAC foe The College of New Jersey at home.