Montclair State’s suffocating defense propelled them past SUNY Polytechnic for a 55-48 win in the first round of the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament on Friday. Junior guard Zoey Curtis scored a season-high 18 points to help the Red Hawks reach their fourth consecutive second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Hawks’ defense gave the Wildcats fits all night long, and the Wildcats were never able to get into a rhythm on offense. Montclair State held the Wildcats to 24.6 percent shooting, and junior guard Stevie Ray, the Wildcat’s leading scorer, struggled while shooting 5-23 from the field.
“Their guards are a lot taller than what we’re used to in our conference,” Ray said to reporters after the game. “I think that was difficult for me. Being face-guarded as well – it was difficult for me to get open.”
Sophomore Kate Tobie was tasked with covering Ray during the game, and Tobie played magnetic defense. The Red Hawks were up by 4 points with 1:07 remaining in the game, and Tobie ripped the ball out of Ray’s hands for her third steal of the night. Tobie and the rest of the team swarmed the passing lanes and deflected balls out of bounds numerous times over the course of the game.
“[Ray] was probably one of the best shooters and ball-handlers we had to defend this whole year. We knew that coming in,” Tobie said after the game. “We just wanted to try to get a hand up and try to discourage the shot or alter it in any way we could.”
Tobie finished with 10 points, 5 assists and 4 steals and sophomore forward Katie Sire finished with 10 points as well, but the Red Hawks’ role players gave the women’s basketball team what they needed to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Curtis contributed a season-high 18 points and sophomore Taylor Harmon added 11 points and 7 rebounds off of the bench.
The Red Hawks lead was slipping midway through the fourth quarter. Montclair State was playing tough defense, but they hadn’t scored in nearly six minutes of play. With 5:26 left in the fourth quarter, Curtis blocked a shot on the defensive end and turned around and nailed a three-pointer on the offensive end, extending Montclair State’s lead to 43-39.
“I just felt like I had to contribute,” Curtis said after the game. “This was my third year in the tournament, so I felt like I just had to step up and, when people would get in foul trouble, just step up even more.”
Harmon added to Curtis’ contributions by giving the Red Hawks a low-post presence. Junior forward Sage Bennett went 0-7 from the field and only pulled down 3 rebounds, but Harmon was able to barrel her way into the paint and convert her post moves into points.
Montclair State played their bench for an extended period of time towards the end of the third quarter, and Harmon’s contributions allowed the starters to get a break and helped the Red Hawks stay ahead.
Now, Montclair State will face no. 9 ranked Albright College in the second round of the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament. Albright defeated Husson University 76-46 in the earlier game, and Albright was able to dominate with their crisp passing and formidable low-post presence.
“We’ve been preparing a little bit all week. Tthat’s what you have to play back-to-back. We’ve already done some things in practice in preparation [for the game],” Head Coach Karin Harvey said after the game. “Albright is a fantastic basketball team, and we’re going to have our hands full tomorrow. We’re looking forward to the challenge, and we’re excited for it.”
Montclair State will play Albright College at 5 p.m. at the Panzer Athletic Center. The winner of the game will move onto the Sweet 16 of the NCAA DIII Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 11.