Lions lose two but still ranked first for NJAC playoffs

Suffering two losses may be tough, but it certainly helps to know that it does not matter in the standings.

Montclair State University (MSU) handed the College’s women’s basketball team its second loss at home and second loss in conference action as the Red Hawks posted a 54-46 victory over the Lions in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).

However, the Lions will still hold the top spot in the NJAC playoffs and will enjoy a first-round bye. They finished the season with a 20-5 record.

“It was a good wake-up call,” junior center Danica Miller said. “We have a big week coming up next week, and now we have that loss as a motivator.”

“Obviously we would have liked to have won the game but we are going to learn from it and just improve the next game,” junior forward Erin Frank said.

No one reached double figures in the game for the Lions, who were led by junior guard Tiara Simpkins and Frank with nine points each. Miller pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds to match her personal best for the second time in her career.

“We just didn’t come ready to play,” Miller said. “I think we might have taken the team a bit too lightly, and they took advantage of that.”

Junior forwards Amanda Mullaney and Michelle Madej paced the Red Hawks with 11 points each as Madej shot 5-of-7 off the bench. Mullaney also grabbed eight boards, while freshman guard Jessica Garrabrant had 12 rebounds and seven points.

A three-pointer by junior guard Alexa Shields started off the scoring for the Lions at 17:42 before MSU went on a 7-0 run to take a 7-3 lead at 15:35. Then the Lions went cold, as they were held without a field goal for 6:49 before a lay-up by Frank with 4:08 remaining in the half. Both teams remained scoreless for the next 2:53 until MSU’s junior guard Stephanie Machin connected on a jumper with 42 seconds remaining in the half and the Red Hawks took a 25-17 lead into the locker rooms.

The Lions pulled within three (29-26) at 13:49 in the second half on a trey by Shields after a 9-4 run to start the period, but MSU went on an 18-9 run to lead by as many as 12, and the Red Hawks never looked back. MSU out-rebounded the Lions 42-31 for the game.

Frank felt that the Lions were unable to play their normal game. “We just weren’t clicking,” she said. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense especially.”

The team worked hard in practice after the game. “We haven’t been doing anything in particular,” she said. “We didn’t play like ourselves in that game, we haven’t played like that all year, but we want to make sure we don’t play like that again.”

However, the Lions did not have an easy opponent to bounce back against. On Friday, the College suffered a 59-49 non-conference defeat to Mount Saint Mary College (MSMC), the top-ranked team in the NCAA Division III Atlantic Region.

Blue Knights sophomore LaSheena Brown led the way with 13 points and 13 rebounds as MSMC won its 17th straight game, improving to 23-1 on the year.

Lions senior forward Theresa DiMedio paced the team with 13 points, while Frank had a team-high 12 rebounds.

The Lions held a brief lead in the first half before the Blue Knights came storming back. MSMC finished the half with a 29-21 cushion and held a double-digit lead for the nearly all of the final 11 minutes of the game, leading by as many as 14. Their second-ranked defense held the Lions to 32 percent shooting from the floor and forced 19 turnovers.

The Lions begin their playoff quest tomorrow night at Packer Hall for the NJAC semifinals. If they win, they will host the NJAC Championship Game on Saturday.