In their first game in over 10 months, the Montclair State University women’s basketball team had some rust to shake off after not being in action for so long.
Unfortunately for them, the Salisbury Seagulls looked to be in mid-season form.
Salisbury’s major scoring runs in the first and third quarters had the Red Hawks playing catch-up all game long as they lost their first game of the season, 79-54.
Head coach Karin Harvey feels disappointed after having lost, but knows that the team will strive to do better next time.
“So many people have worked so hard to give us the opportunity to play and I feel like we let them down,” Harvey said. “We have 10 days before our first conference [game]. We will learn from this game and work hard each day to be more prepared the next time we step on the court.”
Early on, the Seagulls used an effective press defense that forced the Red Hawks into turnovers and missed shots, making it difficult for them to get into any kind of rhythm offensively. The Seagulls jumped to an early 12-2 lead, converting off second-chance points with ease.
The Seagulls stretched their lead to 13 as freshman guard Ashlynn Burrows scored a layup off an Emily Dilger assist, making it a 22-9 game, late in the first quarter.
Both teams struggled to corral defensive rebounds throughout the game, but Salisbury’s edge throughout the game in second-chance points was key.
In her first game back since tearing her ACL in November of 2019, Julia Sutton mentioned that limiting Salisbury’s offensive rebounds was emphasized early.
“Early on in the game, Salisbury was capitalizing on rebounds,” Sutton said. “As a team, we realized that we needed to make rebounding a priority. [It’s] one of our core values and this game proved why.”
The second quarter was much more promising for the Red Hawks after the disastrous start. They were able to find some answers for the Seagulls’ press defense, as they drew more fouls to get to the free-throw line. Even though their shooting woes continued, the Red Hawks outscored the Seagulls 13-10 in the quarter.
“In the second quarter, we tried to adjust to their defense and also play our game,” Sutton said. “We ran our plays completely through, we ran in transition and we adjusted our offense to [attacking] the rim.”
Throughout the game, a major storyline was Salisbury’s ability to shut down Montclair State’s biggest offensive weapons, as sophomore guard Nickie Carter and senior guard Taylor Brown only scored six points each. Junior guard Trisha Peterson, who made her first start in two seasons, replaced their usual offensive production. She finished the night with 13 points, hitting a jumper and a free throw to cut the lead to 35-22 to end the first half.
Coach Harvey was pleased with Peterson’s performance and is optimistic that she can continue this kind of play throughout the season.
“I was impressed with Trisha’s performance,” Harvey said. “She played with a great deal of energy and sense of urgency. It was obvious how hard she had worked since Thanksgiving to stay in shape and be ready to go. I’m really happy for her and think she will continue to be a big part of what we do this season.”
While Peterson played great, it seemed like their offense could never sustain any kind of momentum, as they only shot 33% from the field in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Salisbury had their highest-scoring quarter as the Red Hawks had no answer for junior guard Lauren Fortescue (22 points) and junior forward Kaylee Otlowski (20 points and 15 rebounds).
It seemed as if Salisbury dictated the pace throughout the game, as the Seagulls consistently took advantage of defensive breakdowns by the Red Hawks.
“We didn’t do a very good job in the help-side,” Harvey said. “We let Salisbury do anything they wanted on offense. We need to dictate more, apply more ball pressure, see the ball [and] be in help-side.”
The Seagulls would go up 52-28 as Fortescue hit a step-back 3-pointer with 4:06 left in the third quarter, ending all hopes for a Red Hawk comeback. Montclair State eventually found some consistency on offense in the fourth quarter, but the game was all but decided by that point.
The Red Hawks began their season much later than usual due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which postponed the start of conference play to February. While a shocking upset to Salisbury is not how the Red Hawks envisioned their season starting, they can quickly erase that memory if they can take care of business against William Paterson University; they are set to face the Pioneers on Feb. 5 and Feb. 6.
“I believe in my team and my players. They will rise to the challenge and be the team all of us know they can be,” Harvey said.