By Malcolm Luck
While Rutgers University-Newark celebrated senior night on Feb. 14, the Lions celebrated their 20th win in the regular season finale, 57-41.
The win marks the first time the women’s basketball team achieved 20 wins since the 2008-09 season, in which the Lions advanced to the NCAA Division III Final Four.
The Lions’ dominance came in quarter-long spurts, beginning in the first 10 minutes of the game. Sophomore forward Jen Byrne opened things up for the College with three consecutive field goals while displaying her range and scoring creativity. The first basket came from a layup down at the paint, followed by a three-pointer and a mid-range jump shot.
Byrne’s early baskets were quickly supported by her teammates. On the heels of several points from freshman forward Shannon Devitt, junior forward Samantha Famulare and senior guard Charlotte Schum, the Lions found themselves with an early 15-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
While the Lions clamped down on the defensive half of the court in the first quarter, Rutgers-Newark found its way to the basket in the second.
The College peppered their opponents with more layups and jump shots, but the Lions were outscored due to a breakdown in the paint. 16 of the 20 points scored by Rutgers-Newark came from the paint in the second quarter. Despite the strong effort by Rutgers-Newark, the Lions never found themselves in a deficit and maintained a 28-26 lead at the half.
Rutgers-Newark fought with pride in the third quarter, but Schum and senior forward Nikki Schott carried the Lions to victory.
Schum opened the Lions offense by draining a three-pointer and banking in a layup on back-to-back offensive possessions. Schott contributed with an impressive performance, adding two points and three rebounds along with two blocks and a steal on defense. The Lions again refused to surrender the lead, finishing the quarter up by one, 39-38.
With just 10 minutes left in the game, the Lions tapped into their vicious playoff mentality.
The fourth quarter was a team effort, highlighted by the stinginess of the Lions’ ferocious defense. Rutgers-Newark went 1-for-12 from the field, with their only basket coming from a layup with 34 seconds remaining in the game. The Lions also forced five turnovers, attesting to the team’s late surge of tenacity under pressure.
Head coach Chessie Jackson attributes the fourth quarter spark to the team’s leaders.
“I think that a strong finish against Rutgers-Newark just showed the determination of our leaders,” Jackson said. “We have had a handful of games this season in which our opponents have stayed in it until the final quarter, and I think our leaders simply have a ‘we are not losing’ mentality that tends to kick in. Knowing that it was the final regular season game and that it would be our 20th win on the season was extra fuel on the fire.”
Despite the closely contested second and third quarters, the College outscored Rutgers-Newark 18-3 in the fourth quarter. The Lions’ win sent them off to the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament with a commanding close to an exceptional regular season. Next up is conference rival Stockton University.
Jackson believes that the team’s game plan and work ethic should mirror its attitude that made the Lions successful in the regular season.
“We are absolutely approaching this one the same way we have approached every game this season,” Jackson said. “Our process has worked for the last four months, so we’re going to keep trusting it even with more on the line.”