Just a few days after their comeback effort against Kean University fell short, the women’s basketball team was able to secure head coach Dawn Henderson’s 400th career victory.
The Lions were hoping that their game against the Cougars on Wednesday, Jan. 11, would seal the deal, but Henderson’s milestone victory had to wait until the weekend when the Lions defeated Ramapo College by a score of 55-45.
“The atmosphere after a big win is always celebratory,” senior point guard Katie Occhipinti said. “But celebrating after this one was extra special.”
With the victory over the Roadrunners, Henderson became the 28th head coach in NCAA Division III women’s basketball history to reach the 400-win mark.
“We all feel really lucky to be a part of such a great achievement,” Occhipinti said. “Our team has a really special bond and Coach told us in the locker room that she was really happy to have shared it with this group.”
On top of Henderson’s accomplishment, the Lions improved their record to 11-5 by anchoring down and playing shutdown defense. The Lions recorded two stretches in the first half where they held the Roadrunners scoreless for over four minutes.
The Lions stout defensive effort — they only allowed 17 points in the first half — had a direct effect on offensive momentum as well, according to Occhipinti.
“This was one of our best defense games,” Occhipinti, who led the team with four steals, said. “We all were on the same page, being vocal and moving as a unit. And we know that when our defense is good it spills over into running a good offense.”
The Lions saw three shooters reach double-digits — senior guard Jessica Imhof and senior forward Kelsey Kutch recoding 12 points each — with senior guard/forward Hannah Tait leading the team with 16 points, most of which came from behind the arc.
“Hannah is a tough player to guard because she can score from anywhere,” Occhipinti said. “Time and time again she has kick started our offensive with a crucial three pointer.”
The Lions’ play against the Roadrunners was a carryover from an earlier loss in the week to Kean University, according to Occhipiniti.
The Lions and Cougars traded baskets back and forth for the majority of the first half until the Cougars started to pull away as halftime neared. That point differential continued to stand pat for the most part as well in the second half, until the Lions made a push late in the game.
Trailing 57-45 with only 2:52 left in the game, the Lions started to claw their way back. Over the next couple of minutes, the Lions defense would hold the Cougars to a single point, while the offense racked up 10.
Down by a mere three points with 34 seconds, the Lions were able to collect a defensive rebound after freshman guard/forward AnnaRose Pierce failed to make a free throw for the Cougars. However, the ensuing drive down the court would not be the conclusion of a fairy-tale ending as the Lions turned the ball and the game over to the Cougars, who went on to win with a score of 60-55.
“At the end of the game we had the right combination of players on the floor and we finally started playing with a sense of urgency that we lacked all game,” Occhipinti said. “But, we did not play our best team basketball and you cannot beat a good team like Kean when you’re not at your best.”
The Lions will return to the court tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 18, to take on Rutgers University-Camden.