The Montclair State University women’s basketball team fell to Rowan University Friday night in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game. Rowan beat the Red Hawks 64-54 and have earned a bid in the NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Although the second-seeded Red Hawks lost the NJAC tournament, they received a bid to the NCAA Division III tournament on Monday afternoon. The team will have another chance to see victory, this time at the national level.
Rowan opened the scoring after a three-pointer from sophomore guard Grace Marshall. Two Red Hawk layups followed from senior forward Cerys MacLelland and Alex McKinnon to put them ahead of Rowan. MacLelland scored again on another layup followed by a three-pointer from McKinnon. The next six points belonged to Rowan, who ended the first quarter leading 19-18.
The Red Hawks started the second quarter strong, with back-to-back three-pointers from junior guard Taylor Brown, who collected 13 points by the end of the night. Montclair State’s defense was strong as they did not allow a field goal from Rowan for almost the first six minutes of the quarter. McKinnon scored another three-pointer, followed by two free throws by MacLelland, which swelled their lead into the double digits, 34-23. Rowan managed to bounce back and scored six straight, before junior guard Kim Calloway scored a three-pointer to end Rowan’s run.
Montclair State started the second half with a 39-33 lead and quickly added to it after a three-pointer on a fast break from Taylor Brown. Freshman guard Nickie Carter scored four straight halfway through the quarter and collected a total of 17 points by the time the final buzzer rang.
Rowan scored the final 12 points of the quarter after four consecutive layups from freshman guard Nicole Mallard, who led Rowan in scoring with 22 points. The teams went into the final quarter tied at 48.
Rowan took their first lead of the second-half after a jumper and successful free throw. Carter was quick to tie it back up for the Red Hawks with a three-pointer. Two free throws by sophomore guard Kennedy Brown and a Mallard layup put the home team in the lead again. Taylor Brown scored her fourth and final three-pointer for the Red Hawks’ to lessen the deficit, but it was not enough. Montclair State failed to score for the remainder of the game and Rowan took the win with four consecutive successful free throws by Kennedy Brown.
McKinnon led the team with 10 points in the first two quarters and MacLelland collected nine points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
McKinnon and MacLelland might of played their final game in Panzer Athletic Center for the Red Hawks, but will get to see the court at least one more time in the NCAA Tournament.
MacLelland talked about what she thought of the game.
“We clicked as a team and then into the third and fourth quarter we let it slip a little bit,” MacLelland said. “Rowan deserved it.”
As an experienced player and captain, MacLelland knew why the team did not win.
“Turnovers, we had thirty turnovers, you have less than the other team, you win the game,” MacLelland said. “We had more than the other team, they capitalized on that and we just kind of let it slip.”
Head coach Karin Harvey has brought her team a long way since the beginning of the season where they started out 5-4, as they are now ending 21-6.
Harvey knew that her team had a great first half, but their second half just was not enough.
“The second half we collapsed,” Harvey said. “[We] threw the ball all over the place, 15 to 18 turnovers, the moment got a little big for us. I feel bad for [the team] because we played really well for about 25 minutes. Rowan put a lot of pressure on us, all the credit to Rowan. I thought they played great, they deserve the championship. They’re a really great team and they have a lot of weapons.”
Although the Red Hawks did not get the result they expected or wanted in the NJAC tournament, they have evolved greatly since the beginning of the season and have much to be proud of.
The team has ended the regular season after having an impressive 12-game winning streak at one point. They also had standout players who have received different honors and awards.
This past week, Carter was named NJAC Rookie of the Year and First-Team All-NJAC. Carter is the first freshman since Melissa Tobie in 2012 to be named First-Team All-NJAC. She has a phenomenal offensive game, having scored over 20 points in 21 games this season, and an all-time high versus Rutgers-Camden with 32 points.
Alongside Carter, fellow Red Hawk Taylor Brown was named to the Second-Team and McKinnon was selected with Honorable Mention. The same week, McKinnon also scored her 1,000th career point for Montclair State at home versus New Jersey City University in the NJAC semi-finals.
The Red Hawks will get the chance to prove themselves victorious one more time when they travel to Arlington, Virginia, to play George Fox University in the first round of the tournament on March 6.