MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Tied with 13:44 remaining in the contest, second-seeded William Paterson (20-7) couldn't hold off top-seeded Montclair State (27-0) down the stretch during the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Women's Basketball Tournament championship game, suffering a 75-54 loss Feb. 23 at Panzer Athletic Center.
The Pioneers did more than just stay with No. 5/7 Montclair State during the first half, leading by as many as five during the game's first 20 minutes. MSU had an early 5-2 edge (16:26), but freshman guard Shakira Negron (Paterson, N.J./Immaculate Conception) converted a fast-break layup at the 16:11 mark and went 1-for-2 at the free-throw line 28 seconds later, tying the score at 5-5. First-team all-NJAC junior guard Floriana Borova (Cresskill, N.J./Cresskill) drained a three-pointer with 15:27 on the clock to hand WP an 8-5 edge, but the Red Hawks answered with a trey from Janitza Aquino with 14:12 left, forging the third tie of the period.
Later knotted at 14-14 at the 10:17 mark, freshmen guard Sara Luberto (Midland Park, N.J./Midland Park) connected on a pair of free throws (16-14, 10:06), and after a miss on the other end, Borova sank a 24-footer from the right wing, giving William Paterson its largest lead of the game at 19-14 with 9:55 remaining.
The Red Hawks answered with an 8-1 burst during the next three and a half minutes, the last three baskets all Aquino layups, for a 22-20 MSU edge with 6:36 remaining. Luberto's jumper and second-team all-NJAC forward Dana Jeter's (Hamilton, N.J./Steinert) layup briefly handed WP a 24-22 advantage (5:27), but the two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half, as seven lead changes and three more ties resulted in neither team leading by more than two. Freshman guard Brittany Harden (Millville, N.J./Sacred Heart) hit a jumper near the left elbow with less than 30 seconds left, allowing the Pioneers to enter the locker room tied at 33-33.
Borova and Montclair State's Taylor Jeffers shared high-scorer honors with 11 points apiece at the break. Montclair State's Melissa Tobie, the 2013 NJAC Player of the Year, was 1-for-8 (.125) from the floor, thanks in large part to Jeter's harassing defense.
The Pioneers scored the first bucket of the second half, but Aquino quickly hit the equalizer. Each time MSU took a lead during the six minutes, WP came up with a tying bucket, including a Borova three-pointer at the 13:44 mark (41-41). But Montclair State's depth and William Paterson's foul trouble started to take their toll. Jeter picked up her fourth foul and was forced to the bench with the Pioneers trailing, 47-41, at the 10:33 mark, and Borova, who did not come off the floor until the final minute of the game, missed four of her next five attempts as she tried to pull WP back into contention. Montclair State took advantage of the opportunity, putting together a 17-2 run that put it out in front by a 58-43 count with 7:35 remaining, and the Red Hawks stretched it out at the end, scoring 11 of the final 15 points of the contest.
Borova finished with 19 points, three assists and four steals, while Jeter collected a game-best 11 rebounds before fouling out with 4:15 to play. Negron had her fifth double-digit scoring effort of the season, contributing 11 tallies, and Marfo had five points and nine boards.
Jeffers led all scorers with 22 points, adding 10 rebounds, while Aquino had 15 tallies and Jen Kuczynski posted 12. Tobie scored eight of her 10 points at the free-throw line, missing both of her second-half field-goal attempts.
The Pioneers were making their fourth-straight trip to the NJAC Tournament championship game, winning the titles in 2011 and 2012. WP will hope to hear its name called when the 2013 NCAA Tournament field is announced Monday, Feb. 25, at 2:30 p.m. on ncaa.com.