With just two minutes left in the game, Red Hawks senior forward Alex McKinnon sank a free throw that etched her name into Montclair State University women’s basketball history. The basket made her the 21st player in the school’s history to notch 1,000 points in a career.
McKinnon spoke about how much that moment meant to her.
“It was super awesome for me, with the crowd and my teammates making it even more special for me,” McKinnon said. “It was never something that I was super focused on, but it was something that was special since everyone was celebrating with me.”
This could not have been a better moment for McKinnon and her team, which was made sweeter as the Red Hawks advanced to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship game by defeating New Jersey City University (NJCU) 57-45.
Both teams came into the game with strong defense, which showed throughout the first half. Throughout the first quarter, both teams held each other to zero three-pointers, and both teams looked to score inside. NJCU had no answer for freshman guard Nickie Carter, who scored 10 points to help give Montclair State an early 14-13 lead at the end of the first.
Carter was recently named the NJAC Rookie of the Year and first-team all-NJAC for her tremendous season. McKinnon was an honorable selection in the conference this year and believes that Carter’s mentality on the offensive end gives the team a significant advantage, even when others are struggling.
“She has a ‘never say die’ attitude on the offensive end,” McKinnon said. “Even when shots aren’t falling, she’s still going to shoot and look for other people.”
The Red Hawks and Gothic Knights continued to play stingy defense throughout most of the second quarter. The Red Hawks would finally begin to put together a series of solid offensive possessions late in the quarter. The Red Hawks 7-0 run was capped off by a jumper by junior forward Kayla Bush to give Montclair State a 28-21 lead at the half.
Coach Karin Harvey believes that the defensive sets her team ran pay dividends throughout the game in limiting NJCU’s offense.
“We tried to mix it up by using the press and zone defense on them,” Harvey said. “We wanted to switch defenses to keep them off balance.”
The Red Hawks would continue to find ways to put the ball in the basket, attacking the rim at will throughout the second half. Senior guard and captain Cerys MacLelland would do just that, converting a tough layup to make it a 42-33 game with only 2:04 remaining in the third quarter. NJCU would narrow the lead down to six, and it was a 43-37 game going into the last quarter.
The Red Hawks were stellar all game defensively, but they needed their offense to step up to close this game out. Despite Carter not scoring at all in the fourth quarter, the Red Hawks looked to their senior captain for offensive support. McKinnon then knocked down a huge jumper to extend the Red Hawks lead 50-41 with 3:50 remaining in the game.
With the game slowly become out of reach, NJCU stepped up their physicality even more throughout the quarter, to a point where they would earn a technical foul that that gave McKinnon a chance to earn her 1,000th point. McKinnon sank all four free throws, leading to a near standing ovation from the Red Hawk faithful and lots of hugs from her teammates.
The Red Hawks cruised the rest of the way to victory, despite the crazy environment in Panzer Athletic Center, which saw both teams showcase their loud and passionate fans.
The Red Hawks will face Rowan University this Friday at 7 p.m. in Glassboro, New Jersey for the NJAC Championship. While both teams split their regular season games this season at 1-1, Harvey knows that her team must raise their game to a higher level if they want to bring home the trophy.
“We have to be able to rise to the occasion,” Harvey said. “It’s the NJAC championship and some of these kids have never seen this before, so we have to be able to step up and play our game.”