By Anthony Caruso
The College’s women’s basketball team had to win on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in order to have a home playoff game on Saturday, Feb. 21. At the end of each game, the Lions came out victorious and are now scheduled to move on to the next round of the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament playoffs.
Now, the ladies will travel to Montclair State to play the Redhawks on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m.
“They’re a tough team,” junior guard Angelica Esposito said. “We’re going to have to be prepared for them. We also have to play our best to come out of their with a win.”
On Wednesday’s regular season finale, the Lions defeated the Kean University Cougars, 72-54, at Packer Hall. This was their sixth-straight win.
Esposito led the Lions with 23 points, while senior Kelly Coughlin and Jessica Goldbach contributed 16 and 11 points.
At one point, Kean’s Najha Treadwell outscored the entire Lions’ team 8-2 to cut the lead to 53-45. Esposito and junior Christina Merlin scored to make it 57-45. Coughlin later put the lead to 12 before ending the game with an 18 point lead. Treadwell had a game-high 24 points.
With the score 40-30, the Lions held to a 10 point lead. Kean then cut it to eight at 40-32, before Esposito scored a three-pointer to make it 43-32. Seconds later, it was back to 15 at 48-33.
After halftime, the College scored back-to-back baskets before Treadwell made it 34-26, following two more baskets. Kean then made it 38-30 following a basket.
The Cougars scored three straight baskets to make it 27-21, then Esposito made a three-pointer with seconds remaining. The Lions led 30-21 at halftime and ultimately left the court with a victory.
“My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball,” Esposito said. “We tried to run our plays, but they were cheating up on everything, so we were getting a lot of backdoor cuts.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Lions edged out a win over the William Paterson Pioneers, 63-61, at Packer Hall in the first round of the NJAC playoffs.
Esposito had 19 points while O’Donnell added 14. Merlin had eight while Coughlin and Goldbach had seven apiece.
On Saturday, Feb. 14, the last time the two teams met, Pioneers’ Brittany Harden had a game-high 23 points against the College in a 78-68 Lions’ win.
“We watched a lot of tape, and we know that she liked to drive to the basket,” Esposito said. “Today, she wasn’t able to do that. She had to shoot more from the outside, which gave us an advantage.”
The game came down to O’Donnell making key free throws. She was a perfect 4-4 to score the final four points.
Following a timeout with the score 9-8, William Paterson went on to lead 20-10. Although back-to-back baskets by Amato and Merlin brought the score to 20-14, the Pioneers pushed the lead again to 22-14.
“They were more aggressive on defense,” Henderson said of the Pioneers’ lead. “I expected that. That’s their game, and that really bothered us in the beginning of the game. We were thinking too much and not playing the game.”
Esposito made a three-pointer to make it 27-20 before O’Donnell made it 27-23. Haines gave the Pioneers a 29-23 lead before Esposito and Merlin cut the lead to 29-28 at halftime.
Shortly after halftime, the game was tied at 32. This was the first time that the game was tied since the score was 6-6.
Neither team had a runaway lead in the second half. The Pioneers led by just four, while the Lions led by six at one point.
With a 57-54 lead, Esposito made a key three-pointer to make it 60-54.
“That was a huge shot,” Coach Dawn Henderson said. “Ang has nerves of steel. I don’t have to worry about Ang taking shots.”
Ultimately, the Lions came out victorious in the matchup.
“We didn’t play our best,” Esposito said. “But when we needed a score or a defensive stop, we were able to do that. We knew we needed to win to get to the next level.”