Cougars Claw Lions out of Playoffs

The women’s basketball team sent Montclair State University packing for the second straight year in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) playoffs, but fell to eventual NJAC champion Kean University in the semifinal round last week. The Lions finished their season with a 13-14 record.

The College fell to Kean 79-68 in the semifinal last Thursday. The Lions held on with the Cougars through the first period and were down only 29-27 at the half.

The College shot 40 percent in the first half while holding Kean to only 26.3 percent. Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the second half, but the Cougars pulled away by outscoring the Lions 50-41.

Senior guard Ebony Allen led Kean with a 10-for-12 showing from the floor with 21 points, and junior guard Melissa Beyruti netted five threes and finished with 17 points.

Sophomore center Hillary Klimowicz led the Lions with 13 points and eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Nicole Diaz chipped in a career-high 11 points.

Junior guard/forward Sara Best and freshman center Alexandra Gregorek added 10 points each, while Best pulled down 11 boards for her third double-double of the season.

Head coach Dawn Henderson and her team knew they had a challenge when they went up to Kean last Thursday.

Besides playing without senior forward Breanne Depken due to illness, the Cougars had a 3-0 advantage in the contests between the teams this season.

“They are a very talented team,” Henderson said. “They have quick guards and four or five big strong players on the inside.”

Despite the Cougars’ size and quickness, the Lions kept the semifinal game close.

“We did admirably. The kids played really hard, (but) we just played a better team,” Henderson said.

Klimowicz posted her second straight double-double, 19 points and 10 boards, as the Lions crushed the Red Hawks 60-39 in the first round of the NJAC playoffs last Tuesday night. Montclair finished its season at 15-10.

The Red Hawks scored the game’s first basket, but the Lions responded with a 10-0 run sparked by six points from Klimowicz.

Montclair got back within three before the College responded with an 11-0 run to put the score at 23-9 with 8:27 left in the first half. The College took a 25-14 lead into the locker room.

The Lions netted the first eight points in the second half to put them in full control of the game.

Depken had 12 points, seven rebounds and a career-high eight steals. Best added eight points and nine boards, while Diaz netted seven points.

The Lions held defending NJAC Player of the Year, senior forward Stephanie Machin, to only three points, while holding all Red Hawks players under double digits in scoring.

The Red Hawks shot an abysmal 18.2 percent for the game, while the Lions hit 39.2 percent of their shots. Freshman guard Jackie Berry led Montclair with seven points.

The Lions flourish in the underdog role, as this marked the second year in a row they sent the Red Hawks home early as the lower seed. The College won that contest 49-43, also in Montclair’s Panzer Gym.

Klimowicz was named to the NJAC First Team, while Best was given an Honorable Mention nod. Klimowicz led the team with an average of 12.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and finished with a team-leading 336 points this season. She also registered 76 blocked shots and shot 81 percent from the free-throw line. Best averaged 8.7 points and 5.8 boards per game. She was second on the team in scoring with 236 points and third in steals with 42.