By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher
Ewing, New Jersey — The College of New Jersey’s women’s basketball team is in the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship game once again. The Lions advanced after defeating the Stockton University Ospreys, 70-56, on Tuesday night at Packer Hall.
“We gave them a game plan and they executed,” Lions assistant coach Keri Washington said, who spoke after head coach Chessie Jackson was not feeling good after the game. “I’m proud of the girls effort in this one. Stockton is tough, as they have some great players, but our team really stepped up and they took everything we gave them this week and really executed.”
The Lions won their semifinal contest to get to their first NJAC Championship game since the 2008-09 season. TCNJ will face the Montclair State Red Hawks on Friday night at 7 pm in the winner-take-all Championship game for the NCAA Championship bid.
“We’re even,” Washington said. “They are a great team, a great all-around team. They have a good group of players. We’re going to do the best we can to prepare them in the next few days, and our girls are very excited about this opportunity.”
Both teams split the season series. Then No. 23 Montclair State defeated TCNJ 54-51 on Saturday, January 13th.
Then, on February 10th, the Lions won 62-59 at Packer Hall over the Red Hawks. TCNJ was one of three teams to defeat Montclair State this season.
TCNJ is 8-5 this season on the road. Montclair State is 14-0 at home this season.
This is the Lions first NJAC Championship game appearance since the 2008-09 season. That season, led by Hillary Klimowicz, the Division III National Player of the Year, they defeated the Kean Cougars in the NJAC Championship game, before finishing as the No. 3 team in the country.
“I can obviously speak from experience,” Washington said. “As a player, it was such a great feeling. As a coach, it is even more special. You are a part of something even more bigger, as you get to come back and help them get there. Personally for me, it’s going to be phenomenal. For our team, it’s going to be really special. They worked all year for this. We’re proud of them.”
The Lions led the Ospreys in each quarter. TCNJ led throughout the first half, as they led by as much as nine points when Samantha Famulare made a three-pointer for a 17-8 lead with 3:27 left in the first quarter.
“It was great,” Famulare said. “We had a lot of support from the student body — and my whole family was here.”
The game was tied at 26 all when Sammi Dabbundo made a three-pointer in the second quarter. Nikki Schott gave the Lions a 28-26 lead with a jumper. After the Ospreys tied the game at 28, Schott made two free throws for a 30-28 advantage, before TCNJ ended the half with a four-point lead.
TCNJ busted the game open in the third quarter when Famulare made a three-pointer to make it 44-32 at 6:54 in the third. The Lions led by 13 points at the end of the third.
The Ospreys cut the lead to seven points at 54-47 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter after a 7-0 run capped off by Lea Mendolla’s three-pointer. Following a timeout, TCNJ went on a 16-9 run to end the game.
Jen Byrne led the Lions with 19 points. She also had five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“Jen is a great player for us,” Washington said. “Obviously, we have a great team right now. She does a lot of little things for us. She came up big when we needed her to, and we’re all proud of her.”
Byrne was one of four TCNJ players, who scored in double-figures. Famulare had 18 points, while Shannon Devitt had 14 points and Schott had 11.
Besides Famulare’s 18 points, she also came up big with several key defensive plays, including several steals.
“Coming into this game, we all wanted to win,” she said. “We all gave it our all. We knew it would start on the defensive end and that would translate into offense.”
The Lions had just five bench points, all from Kate O’Leary.
Sasha Williams led the Ospreys with a triple-double, as she had 22 points, 10 rebounds and 12 blocks. She also had one assist and three steals in her final collegiate basketball game.
“She’s a great player,” Washington said of Williams. “We really had to put in a special game plan for her. We decided to go big, which was a strategy that helped us.”
Williams was one of two Ospreys, who scored in double-figures. Mendolla also added 13 points.
Stockton University had nine bench points. Dabbundo had six of those points.