In an emotionally charged week, the Lions downed top rival Kean University while raising breast cancer awareness through the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Think Pink Initiative. The team also defeated Richard Stockton University, placing the Lions in a tie atop the heated New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) South Division.
Garbed in pink warmup shirts and shoelaces, the Lions pulled off the huge victory over the Cougars of Kean 79-71. The game was the first loss by Kean in its last 17 games and was the fourth win in a row by the College.
“It’s a good confidence booster for our team,” freshman forward Kelsey Kutch said.
The Wednesday night thriller began with much physical play, as the Lions jumped out to a 15-4 lead through the opening five minutes.
Kean’s stifling defense, however, changed the momentum, and after forcing several bad passes, the Cougars brought themselves as close as four points. They ended the half trailing 35-29.
Kean took control in the second half, tying the game at 51 with less than 10 minutes left. In that same time frame, the Cougars’ defense put themselves in the penalty, and the Lions had over nine minutes in the bonus.
“Free throws were huge down the stretch,” head coach Dawn Henderson said. “We shot 33-of-39 from the line, and that is the kind of efficiency we want from there.”
Looking to continue the team’s high-efficiency expectations, Kutch led the party from the charity stripe, sinking all 12 of her free throws. She ended the game with 18 points, four rebounds and three steals.
The standout rookie believes her offense is enhanced by a more complete personal performance.
“It’s nice to score, but I worry more about playing good defense because everyone on our team can score,” Kutch said. “So if I can pick it up on defense, my offense just feeds from that.”
Junior center Hillary Klimowicz went 9-of-10 from the foul line en route to a 19-point, 14-rebound, six-block performance.
Senior guard/forward Sara Best nailed two free throws of her own to ice the game. Best contributed 17 points total to the Lions’ victorious effort.
“It was an all-around great whole game,” Henderson said. “A win against our biggest rivals in a very physical competition is very satisfying.”
The Lions did damage to the Cougars in their next game as they downed the Ospreys of Richard Stockton College on Saturday 58-32.
With the win, the Lions officially tied Kean in the NJAC South Division with a 9-2 record.
Klimowicz led the way with her 18th double-double of the campaign, including 18 points and 16 boards.
Sophomore center Alexandra Gregorek added an important offensive output as she netted 15 points of her own, while junior guard Alyssa Michella nabbed 10 for the team.
The Lions shot an impressive 56 percent from the field in the second half.
“It took awhile for us to get into the flow against Stockton, but after the first few minutes, everyone seemed to get settled and involved,” sophomore guard Karen Lassoni said.
“We were on a high from beating Kean,” she continued, “but it meant nothing if we didn’t win this game and win out the rest of the year.”
The Lions will try to fulfill that goal starting tonight at Packer Hall as they play host to NJAC opponent Rowan University in a 6 p.m. start and travel to Rutgers University-Camden to end the regular season on Saturday at 1 p.m.
After the Lions’ two final regular-season games, the team will begin its postseason quest for the conference title on Monday in the first round of the NJAC playoffs.