Instead of the celebration of a championship they had hoped for, there were tears. The College’s women’s basketball season, which was filled with hard work and dedication, came to the end no one had expected Friday night in Packer Hall after a 70-67 loss to the Rowan University Profs.
“We are definitely very confident and excited to start playing in the postseason,” senior guard Sofia Ojeda said before the game. “We just want to go out there and get another NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) title.” But confidence and home court advantage was not enough, and the Profs denied the Lions the opportunity to play for a third championship in the last five years.
The top-seeded Lions, who had one winning streak of 11 games and another of eight during the regular season, were eliminated from the NJAC playoffs and finished with a 20-6 record. The Lions had defeated the Profs 74-71 on Feb. 9 during the regular season.
The defeat completes a sweep for Rowan’s basketball teams over the College, after the Profs eliminated the Lions’ men with a 63-59 victory last Monday.
The key to the Rowan women’s win was a 20-6 run to open the second half, which turned a three-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead.
“Their guards were shooting pretty well and we left them open too many times and they hit the shots,” junior guard Alexa Shields said. “They capitalized on our mistakes and that hurt us.”
After notching an impressive 21 points in the first 20 minutes, Shields was held to just two points in the second half. Rowan made some defensive adjustments during halftime that effectively held Shields in check. She still finished with 23 points, a career high.
The Lions had trouble getting anything started during the Profs’ 20-6 spurt, shooting 2-of-8 from the floor and committing eight turnovers.
The Lions finally responded with a 12-2 run to cut the Profs’ lead to one (68-67) with 55 ticks left in the game, receiving eight from senior forward Theresa DiMedio. After the Profs extended their lead to three, the Lions had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds but a three-point attempt came up short.
In a high-paced first half, both teams came out shooting as they combined for 13 three-pointers, with the Lions shooting 41.2 percent from behind the arc as compared to the Profs’ 42.9 percent. However, neither team established solid control of the game, exchanging the lead 10 times and knotting the game on four occasions.
The Lions led by as many as seven before the Profs used an 11-2 run to take the lead at 9:06 on two free throws by senior center Samantha Eskuchen. The Lions returned the favor with a 16-8 spurt to post a 34-28 margin with 2:38 remaining. A jumper and two free throws by the Profs tied the game at 37, but DiMedio hit a three with 29 ticks left to give the Lions a 40-37 halftime edge.
“This is the time of year when it’s one (loss) and you’re done,” Shields said. “We should have come out in the first half a little bit stronger, but you always look back and think about what you could have done different. Hindsight is 20-20, but the fact is we met our expectations because no one expected us to be here.”
The Lions may have beaten themselves with lazy defense on the perimeter in the opening minutes and generally sloppy play in the second half, but it was the Profs ability to capitalize on these mistakes that really gave them the win.
“I think if we hadn’t made a comeback at the end of the game it would probably hurt more,” Henderson said. “We went down with a fight.”
“I can’t even explain how this feels,” Profs senior guard Jaime McCormack, the NJAC scoring champion, said. “It feels like we’ve won the championship. We beat a hell of a good team.”
The Lions ended the night shooting 40.4 percent from the floor and missed just one free throw. Rowan had a slightly higher 41.7 percent shooting day, including 9-of-21 from three-point land.
“I don’t think we were nearly as focused as we should have been,” Henderson said.
DiMedio added 20 points for the Lions, while junior guard Tiara Simpkins chipped in nine on 7-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line. Junior forwards Erin Frank and Danica Miller paced the Lions on the glass with nine and eight rebounds, respectively.
For Rowan, McCormack, the NJAC’s Co-Player of the Year, poured in 20 points with five assists, while senior guard Kami Bernardo contributed a double-double on 14 points and 11 rebounds. Carr, the NJAC’s assist leader, chipped in 12 points and a game-high nine assists.
Despite the obvious disappointment of their early playoff exit, many of the Lions’ players were at least partly satisfied with the season.
“Overall, I think we had a great season,” Miller said. “A lot of people doubted us at the beginning of the season, but we really stepped up.”
“As far as this season, I think that we had an amazing year and exceeded a lot of our expectations,” Shields said. “We want to get back to here next year.”