Montclair, NJ – The New Jersey Athletic Conference women's basketball trophy is staying at Montclair State for another year as the Red Hawks captured their sixth consecutive conference championship with a 58-51 victory over The College of New Jersey at the Panzer Athletic Center on Friday evening.
Senior Katie Sire, the NJAC Player of the Year, posted a double-double of 25 points and 11 rebounds along with five blocked shots as MSU (23-3) kept its firm grip on the league title and also claimed the NJAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship. MSU's sixth straight NJAC titles are the most since Kean University captured the first nine from 1983-1990.
The Red Hawks, ranked No. 1 in the Atlantic Region this week, will learn their NCAA fate on Monday, February 26 when the entire bracket is announced via selection show at 2:30 pm n NCAA.com.
Freshman Shannon Devitt, the NJAC Rookie of the Year, and First-Team all-conference selection Jen Byrne each had double-doubles for the Lions (21-6), who will be among the strong contenders for an at-large bid to the NCAAs. TCNJ was ranked No. 2 in the Atlantic Regional rankings behind Montclair.
The teams entered the evening ranked 1-2 in the league in scoring defense and three-point field goal defense and it was proven on this night as Montclair allowed its points per game average with the Lions nearly matching theirs. Montclair and New Jersey also surrendered just one three-point field goal in the game as they shot a combined 1-for-28 with TCNJ going 1-for-20.
Montclair State trailed just once in the contest, 2-0 after Byrne scored on the opening possession of the game. Sire, Alex McKinnon and Taylor Harmon each added field goals over the next two minutes to put MSU in front and the lead grew to 12-5 after Sire connected on a jumper with 5:04 left. The Lions cut that back to two points late in the quarter however Sire's bucket with 1:10 left lead gave Montclair State a 14-10 advantage after one period.
The Red Hawks got the lead up to eight in the second, the last coming as freshman Kim Calloway hauled in a long-court pass from Kate Tobie, laying it in for a 21-13 lead with 6:39 to go. Again the Lions battled back trimming the deficit to 27-24 with 12 seconds before intermission. Tobie connected once from the line with two tick as Montclair led 28-24 at the half.
Kate O'Leary's three-pointer early in the third, the lone one in the game, got TCNJ within 30-29 however MSU had an answer with a six-point run taking a 36-29 advantage with 6:30 left. Lauren Barlow's layup later on moved the Lions within 40-39 and a layup from Devitt with 20 seconds remaining tied the score at 42-42. But the Lions couldn't get the lead and a free throw by Sire with eight seconds sent MSU into the final period up 43-42.
The nip-tuck battled continued into the fourth with Montclair playing from in front before Samantha Famulare knotted the score at 49-49 with 5:05 to go. But that would be the last points for TCNJ over the next four minutes and the Red Hawks took advantage.
Domonqiue Wirsing gave the MSU the lead with a layup and Sire hit from short range with 3:24 to play for a 53-49 lead. Devitt ended the drought with 1:46 left on a layup and TCNJ had a chance to tie or go up in front with 49 seconds. Famulare launched a three-pointer that went off the mark. Sire got the rebound and after a timeout by MSU, connected in the paint for a 55-51 lead with 23 seconds.
O'Leary failed to hit on a three and TCNJ turned the ball over after grabbing the offensive rebound. Advancing the ball on a timeout with 10 seconds, Tobie was fouled. She hit the second attempt extending the lead to five points with six seconds. Harmon tacked on the final two points at the line.
Harmon finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while Tobie added four points, six rebounds and six assists. Wirsing and McKinnon collected six points apiece.
Devitt posted a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds while Byrne had 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Lions, who outrebounded Montclair State 44-40, including 20 offensive boards that turned into 16 second-chance points.
Tonight's title game matchup marked the eighth time Montclair State and TCNJ have met in the NJAC Tournament. The Red Hawks now own a 5-3 mark in those games and they have now captured 12 consecutive conference tournament contests.