It took a little bit of blood, a ton of threes and a whole lot of assists, but Montclair State’s women’s basketball team eventually pulled away with a 76-67 victory over Rowan University on Wednesday night in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) semifinals. The Red Hawks will now attempt to capture their fifth-consecutive NJAC title when they play in the finals on Saturday.
For senior guard Rachel Krauss, another week meant another entry into Montclair State’s record books. Just one week after setting the Montclair State women’s basketball record for career threes, the threes kept coming for Krauss on Wednesday night. Rowan University got out to a quick 6-0 run in the first quarter, but Krauss’s first three halted the Profs’ early momentum.
And that was the story of Krauss’s eight threes – tying the previous school record for threes in a game according to Montclair Athletics. When Rowan went on a run, Krauss answered with a three. When the Red Hawks needed momentum, Krauss nailed another three.
“I knew, coming into a big game today, I really needed to be confident in my shot,” Krauss said in a post-game press conference. “That’s really it. Once the first one went in, I was confident for the rest of the game. I just kept shooting, and they kept going in.”
The Red Hawks waded through the first half and were unable to wrestle away control of the game. In opening moments of the third quarter, though, arms smacking against faces and bodies thudding down to the floor were more common than baskets and free throws. After the chippy play settled down, the Red Hawks sliced through Rowan’s defense with a series of layups and blew open a 10 point lead. Leading the charge was a bloodied Katie Sire, who unleashed 13 points in the third quarter.
Montclair State exited the quarter with a 59-41 lead, and Sire exited the quarter with blood on her leg. With a gray bandage wrapped underneath her knee, Sire stayed in the game.
“It was just court burn, but I slid pretty far,” Sire, who was named the NJAC Women’s Basketball Player of the Year earlier on Wednesday, said after the game. “They were bleeding a little, so luckily there was a timeout. We had the trainer come over, coach was yelling at him, and we got all taped up, so I’m all good.”
So was the physical play somewhat personal or just friendly competition? In short, yes.
“We also know Rowan’s players a lot. We’ve been playing them those five girls for the past two years now. So I think it’s a little personal, too,” Sire said.
But Head Coach Karin Harvey added, “It’s a healthy rivalry. There are some that aren’t, but this one is. And three players, as I was going through the handshake line, said ‘go win a fifth one’.”
After the bumps and pushes, Krauss finished with a game-high 25 points and Sire scored 23 points. In the Red Hawks’ 21 assist performance, junior guard Kate Tobie contributed 13 assists and zero turnovers.
Now, Montclair State advances to their fifth-consecutive NJAC Finals and will face Rutgers-Newark in the NJAC Finals on Saturday. The Red Hawks defeated the Scarlet Raiders by 13 points in both of their regular-season matchups. Sixth-seeded Rutgers-Newark upset Stockton University and Kean University to make it to the NJAC Finals.