The Red Hawks’ uncharacteristically sluggish start in Saturday’s game against New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) rival Rutgers-Newark was not what head coach Karin Harvey and her squad had intended. Despite struggling to establish consistency offensively early on, her squad managed to turn it around in short order.
After going ahead 9-8 off a put-back layup by center Taylor Harmon 5:32 into the first quarter at Panzer Athletic Center, the Red Hawks would not relinquish their lead for the remainder of the contest en route to a convincing 54-43 victory, improving to 6-1 on the season (3-0 in NJAC).
The Red Hawks took a stranglehold on the game after exerting pressure on Rutgers-Newark ball handlers with a suffocating half-court defense, disrupting the Scarlet Raiders’ attempts at setting up plays with a healthy shot clock. Their dominance on the glass throughout proved to be the decisive factor though, with all eight players in the rotation recording at least one rebound.
“Overall, I was very happy with our effort and execution of our game plan,” Harvey said. “We have been working on doing a better job rebounding, especially on the offensive end, and it showed. It was a team effort out-rebounding [Rutgers] Newark by six and getting 14 offensive boards.”
Sophomore forward Alex McKinnon led the charge with eight boards: six defensive and two offensive. McKinnon has shined in her “glue” role, serving as a gritty competitor who is never afraid to dive into the dirty areas of the floor to contribute in all categories on both ends. McKinnon finished with 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists, three blocks and two steals. Her hustle was not left unheralded.
“I loved how Alex played yesterday,” Harvey said emphatically. “Things have really started to click for Alex, and she is doing a tremendous job. All the little things she is doing: how she plays post defense, how hard she is crashing the boards. Really a great job all the way around.”
The dynamic duo of seniors, forward Katie Sire and guard Katie Tobie, guided the Red Hawks offense. Each logged 37 minutes respectively. Sire, one of the most prolific scorers in the nation and reigning NJAC Player of the Year, led the Red Hawks in scoring with 15 points while also chipping in with six total rebounds and four steals. Meanwhile the floor general, Tobie, dropped 11 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and two blocks. The upperclassmen tandem will be relied upon heavily coping with a down-scaled roster from here on out. Yet, the silver lining is that it presents an opportunity for the team to become an even more cohesive unit and for younger players to develop.
“Having a small roster can sometimes be challenging,” said Harvey. “We have to be more aware of foul trouble, our legs staying fresh and things like that. However, there are also a lot of positives with a small roster. Our team is very close, they have great relationships and players are getting a lot more reps in practice than maybe they would with a larger roster.”
The Red Hawks are focused on remaining undefeated in conference play heading into this week, traveling to William Paterson University on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and hosting Rowan University on Saturday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m.
“[They are] always big conference opponents and tough teams to play,” said Harvey. “William Paterson is well coached and they play tough. We will have to do a lot of the things we did well on Saturday in terms of defending and rebounding. Rowan is playing great. Very fast-paced and lots of scoring. I haven’t started to game plan yet, but I am guessing transition defense will be a major key in that game.”