Road to the NCAA Tournament: Previewing MSU vs. Rowan in the NJAC Finals

Road to the NCAA Tournament: Previewing MSU vs. Rowan in the NJAC Finals

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Montclair State women’s basketball program has been a vital part to the success of the WMSC Sports team – thanks in large part to their constant success on the floor!

The team that sent our crew to Grand Rapids, Michigan for last season’s NCAA Final Four, is looking to make another run once again, as they will play tomorrow night for their fourth straight conference title. The Red Hawks got to this point by earning the #1 overall seed for the second year in a row in the conference tournament, setting up a semifinal match up with the rival William Paterson Pioneers.

Montclair State won two previous meetings between these teams, as they were able to handle them easily early in the season at home before having to pull out a tight victory much later in the season on the road. As expected, this game was a bloodbath, with the Red Hawks coming out on top for the third time this year against WP – and ninth time in a row overall – by a final score of 71-62.

The Red Hawks started out this game down 11-0, as William Paterson quickly silenced the gym with a run all too familiar to people who followed Montclair last season. In the 2014 NJAC semifinals, it was the TCNJ Lions that took advantage of MSU’s mistakes early in the game to put them in a whole early. Thankfully, senior leaders Janitza Aquino and Melissa Tobie stepped up to guide MSU to the final – in route to the NCAA Final Four.

For Red Hawks Head Coach Karin Harvey, there was no senior to turn to in this spot. Kayla Ceballos, the roster’s lone senior, has been out since the midway point of the year after tearing her ACL and MCL. Instead, MSU turned to Rachael Krauss, a junior who has had a breakout year.

Krauss, who leads the conference in three point field goal percentage, put MSU on the board with a triple that was nothing but net. This shot seemed to break the nerves of the Red Hawks, who battled back to have the game tied at 16 after one quarter of play.

From this point on, the game stayed close throughout – as Montclair State took a 48-44 lead into the final ten minutes of play. Katie Sire, who scored 18 points in each of her first two games against WP, came onto the floor to start the quarter after sitting much of the third in foul trouble. As the team has come accustomed to, Sire took over the game to open the quarter – ripping off 12 fourth quarter points that were fueled by a tenacious Red Hawks defense.

As a team, MSU scored 30 points off of turnovers, as Sire once again hit her 18 point mark. In the end, this proved too much for WP to overcome, as MSU celebrated another trip to the final.

Craig Gorbunoff and I talked with Janitza Aquino, an alumni of the women’s basketball program after the game:

The Red Hawks have certainly learned to adjust to life without the veteran presence of players like Aquino. However, as we turn our attention to tomorrow night, they will have to be ready to compete with a Rowan team full of experience. Graduate student Kate Matthews scored 17 points against MSU back on January 6th, as the Profs walked away from the Panzer Athletic Center with a 68-64 win.

A much different team at the time, the Red Hawks then visited Rowan back on the 10th of this month – and escaped with a one point win thanks to a game winner by Katie Sire. As has been the case down the stretch for this team, it was the balanced scoring of Krauss, Sire, Sage Bennett and Zoe Curtis – who all went into double digits – that got the job done.

The Red Hawks have had success against teams that do not carry a lot of depth offensively. While this may have been the case earlier in the season for Rowan, Matthews has been able to consistently power the offense with the help of fellow graduate student Kaitlin Schullstrom – who scored 23 combined points in the two meetings vs MSU this season.

Recently, the team has also gotten contributions from Junior Anyssa Sanchez and Sophomore Summer Criley. Rowan also was +4 on the glass this season against the Red Hawks, while scoring a combined 44 points off of turnovers.

While Montclair State must limit the turnovers, they must be careful not to allow the pace of play to settle into a halfcourt battle. Rowan is at it’s best in the halfcourt offense, so MSU must be ready to match their physicality underneath defensively – and turn defensive rebounds into fast-break opportunities. Look for Katie Sire to help in both of these areas, and hopefully stay out of foul trouble like she was in the semifinals.

I will also be interested to see how Karin Harvey manages the minutes for freshmen Tiarra and Kiarra Dillard – who played very well at the top of the team’s full court press against William Paterson. If the Red Hawks can have equal success in the press and in three point shooting (7-19 against WP), they could be well on their way to a fourth straight conference title.

Our very own Craig Gorbunoff and Brian Goudsward will be on the call right here on 90.3 WMSC! Montclair State and Rowan for the NJAC crown tips off at 7 PM Friday night!

Lastly, for more on both of these NJAC tournament games, listen back to this interview with Rachael Krauss on Upon Further Review: