Once again, long-time rivals, Montclair State and William Paterson pushed each other to their physical limits. On Friday, February 28, MSU narrowly beat out William Paterson to earn their second straight NJAC title, along with an automatic bid into this year’s NCAA Division III National Tournament.
From the start, the game was back and forth as both teams pressured each other into missed shots and turnovers. In the entire first half, the largest lead was with one minute left when the Red Hawks were on top 31-25 only to have the lead cut back down to one within the final seconds.
After the break, very little changed as, once again, both teams continued to push themselves beyond what we’ve seen thus far. Surprisingly enough, both teams actually managed to find even more energy and charisma leading to one of the most fast-paced games of the season.
After a few more lead changes early in the second half, MSU finally managed to take and hold on to the lead with 13 minutes left in the game. As their track record would state, this is the point in the game were, with a new-found confidence, the Red Hawks would slowly begin to pull away from their opponent but, this time, it was different. The Pioneers continued to nip at the heels of the Red Hawks.
For a brief moment in time, Panzer Athletic Center had the atmosphere of Madison Square Garden. Almost every fan, player, and pep band member was on their feet as William Paterson managed to tie it up at 64 with 43 seconds left in the game. A quick time out and substitution for MSU gave them just enough time to clear their heads and focus on what was within inches of their reach.
As the clock ticked down, the Red Hawks tried their hardest to fight off double teams and an even more aggressive William Paterson. A few passes later and with a defender right in her face, Janitza Aquino who, to this point, had gone one-for-six from outside launched one final shot that sent the gymnasium into an uproar. Between the campus fight song being played and the celebration of the stampede that stormed the court, the gymnasium shook with Red Hawk pride.
Behind Aquino’s 16 points and Nicosia Henry’s 18-rebound performance, the Red Hawks must now wait until Monday, March 3 to find out who they will face off against in the opening round of the national tournament on March, 7.
Montclair State | New Jersey