The Red Hawks came into today’s game with arguably nothing to lose. The team had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to Rowan University in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship game, and was looking at a tough first-round matchup in the NCAA Division III Tournament against the George Fox Bruins.
Unfortunately, the offense woes of the Rowan game carried over into the NCAA Tournament, allowing the Bruins to take an early lead in which the Red Hawks could not recover. The Bruins took a commanding 74-49 victory in front of a rowdy crowd at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
Geroge Fox came into the contest as a potential dark horse for the Final Four and ultimately proved that to be true. The Bruins put on an offensive clinic, coming out the gates with a 12-2 run to start the game, capped off a layup by #7 senior guard Kylie Collman, who gave the Red Hawks trouble all night.
The Red Hawks were seen missing wide-open shots and three-pointers that they’ve made all season long. Often times, easy opportunities were created from offensive rebounds but the Red Hawks only converted 11 second-chance points in the entire game.
“I think it might’ve just been nerves,” Red Hawks’ senior guard Cerys MacLelland said. “We could’ve done a better job with converting layups and focusing on our shots.”
George Fox would expand their lead with a Spencer Reilly 3-pointer at 1:09 left to finish the quarter off, leading 21-10.
The Red Hawks would cut the lead down to 23-17 midway through the quarter, but the Bruins would show-off their offensive prowess, with an 11-2 run to keep the lead at double digits at 34-19 with 2:32 to go.
The Bruins game-plan of keeping their best shooters open was working throughout the half, as they were 7-11 from three-point land. The team seemed to be in sync, as their cuts to the basket, as well as their spacing, were leading to several opportunities.
Red Hawks’ senior captain Alex McKinnon, who finished the game with only six points, believes that a combination of self-inflicted wounds and the Bruins sensational offensive performance were major factors in the game.
“George Fox is a great team and they were hitting their shots, but I don’t think our defense was were it needed to be,” McKinnon said. “Credit to them, they disrupted our offense.”
The third quarter saw the Red Hawks finally turn a corner on offense, as freshman guard Nickie Carter took advantage of a mismatch to score eight points in the first 3:25 minutes of the half. The Red Hawks would pull within seven points with a corner three-pointer by junior guard Taylor Brown to make it 46-39 with 3:07 remaining.
However, turnovers and poor transition defense would lead to the Bruins shutting the door on a Red Hawk comeback for good. The Bruins would go on an 11-0 run to finish the quarter, capped off by a very tough three-point shot by senior forward Hailey Hartney with just six seconds remaining to make it a 58-39 game.
“We had a great mentality coming out of halftime and we finally were able to get shots to fall,” McKinnon said. “But that’s how the game of basketball works, they were able to hit some hard shots and we let up defensively.”
McKinnon knew a comeback would be tough to come by against one of the better teams in the country.
“Our whole [mentality] was that we were going to fight until the end and make our coaches, family and fans proud,” McKinnon said.
The Bruins would eventually cruise to victory as they pushed their lead even further in the fourth quarter. Despite the game being out of reach, Coach Harvey kept her starters throughout the quarter and urged her team to play out these final minutes for the fans.
“She wanted us to finish the game,” MacLelland said. “We had fans come out all this way to support us from Montclair State and she wanted us to keep our heads held up high [for them].”
It’s been a rough end to the season for the Red Hawks, but senior captains McKinnon and MacLelland will forever be thankful the opportunity to play in a national tournament game in their final game as a Red Hawk.
“Any NCAA tournament game is tough to walk in,” McKinnon said. “But we had a young team this year and this a great experience for [them], and me and Cerys will forever cherish the [opportunity].”