TCNJ hosted NCAA Tournament preview

By Anthony Caruso III | Publisher

Four teams will begin. Only one will advance. The College of New Jersey women’s basketball team will be one of four teams competing for a chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen.

Besides the Lions, the Hilbert Hawks, the RIT Tigers, and the New England Nor’easters will be playing at Packer Hall this weekend. The Tigers and the Nor’easters will play in the first game at 5 pm on Friday night

Jen Byrne taking a shot against Rowan (Photo by Asianna Hall)

Jen Byrne taking a shot against Rowan (Photo by Asianna Hall)

TCNJ will follow with a tip-off at 7 pm against the Hawks. The winner of the two games will then face off on Saturday night at 5 pm.

This is the Lions first tournament appearance since the 2008-09 season.

That season, the Lions, who were led by Division III National Player of the Year, Hillary Klimowicz, finished the No. 3 team in the country. That was their best season in school history.

This is the first-time since the 2003-04 season that TCNJ has hosted during the NCAA Tournament.

The Lions come into the tournament with a 21-6 season. TCNJ was defeated by the Montclair State Red Hawks on February 23rd when they lost 58-51 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament.

“Reaching the NCAA tourney this year feels really great,” Lions first-year head coach Chessie Jackson, who was an assistant coach at Princeton University last year, said. “It’s such a special experience for our team, and really the result of many months of hard work on their part. Losing in the NJAC Championship game was hard on our team, especially on our seniors, so having the chance to keep playing, compete for a national title, and keep proving ourselves on the court is a really awesome opportunity that we definitely won’t take for granted.”

Like the Lions, Hilbert College also has a first-year head coach. Amy Senefelder, the Hawks head coach, was coaching as the NJCAA Division II Mercyhurst University North East for two seasons before taking over the Hilbert program.

The Hawks, like the Lions, have a 21-6 record. They come into this game with a three-game win streak, winning the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Championship over Mount Aloysius College, 76-52, on Feb. 25.

“Hilbert is having a similar season to us,” Jackson said. “New coaching staff, same record, clearly a really driven and talented team. I think they have great leadership in the PG spot and some great size and outside scoring threats, so it’ll be a great defensive battle. They hold opponents to 54 points per game, so I think our challenge will be scoring against them. They’re scrappy and smart on that end. Looking forward to seeing how months of hard work and on-court chemistry-building can pay off for us!”

The Hawks are 8-4 on the road, while the Lions are 12-0 at home this season. Hilbert is 21-3 in their last 24 games after losing their first three games.

Over the same 24 game span, the Lions are 19-5.

Hilbert is averaging 65.5 points per game, while they are giving up 54.2 points. TCNJ is also giving up 54 points (54.6) per game, but they are scoring 67.1 points per contest.

Jen Byrne leads the Lions with 17.8 points per game. She is also averaging 6.3 rebounds. Shannon Devitt is the team’s second-leading scorer at 10 points per game.

Emily Gawlak leads the Hawks with 12.3 points per game. She’s also averaging 7.4 rebounds per game. Taylor Corts is Hilbert’s second-best scorer with her 10.5 points per game.

New England comes into their game with RIT with a 23-5 record. They are 8-4 on the road this season, including a Commonwealth Coast Conference Championship win, 59-40, over Roger Williams on Feb. 24.

The Nor’easters are on a ten-game win streak. They have not lost a game since Jan. 27 when they were defeated 62-54 by the Hawks of Roger Williams.

RIT is 21-6 this season, including a one-game losing streak. They are 8-4 on the road, but lost to Skidmore College in the Liberty League Championship on Feb. 25 when they lost 65-42.

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