Rowan Women’s Basketball’s Ends Quest for the NJAC Championship Against NJCU

Head Coach Demetrius Poles talking to his team during the Quarterfinals of the NJAC tournament. Poles and his team would be eliminated from the tournament on Thursday night after dropping their Semifinals game to NJCU. Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

The number two-seeded Rowan University women’s basketball team fell to number six-seeded New Jersey City University (NJCU) 83-79 in the semifinals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) on Thursday, Feb. 24.

In a battle that came down to the wire, the Gothic Knights got the better of the Profs and will now face The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in the conference finals on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Rowan started off the game on a high note, forcing early turnovers that they were able to capitalize on. Both teams were evenly matched in shooting percentages during the first quarter, with NJCU hitting 42.9% compared to the Profs’ 41.7%. Despite this, the Profs edged the Gothic Knights 20-15. 

The Gothic Knights began to elevate their play in the second quarter, when Damaris Rodriguez, the leading scorer in the NJAC, started to heat up. 

Although the Profs held the 35-33 lead at the half, and despite a solid first-half performance from junior guard and forward Dakota Adams, Rowan Head Coach Demetrius Poles was upset with some of the officiating, which impacted the Prof’s last matchup against Stockton University as well.

During the 87-54 win over the Ospreys earlier in the week, Coach Poles received a technical foul after arguing with officials. In an effort to keep his composure, Coach Poles remained quiet on the bench, even though he believes his team did not get their fair share of calls. 

“We couldn’t get any calls, it was pretty bad. We got screwed, to be honest,” Coach Poles said. “We got 100 possessions in a game and we got 20 [something] offensive rebounds, and we don’t go to the foul line. We don’t get fouled. That’s impossible in a basketball game. They had one foul in the first half, one, we couldn’t get anything. But when I say something, it’s a technical foul, so I didn’t say anything today.” 

Despite officiating, each team traded buckets throughout the entirety of the third quarter. Forward Eliana Santana, a junior, was dominant in the paint for Rowan, finishing with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Gothic Knights had three scorers in the double digits: Laney Fox scored 20 points, Jada Camacho scored 23 and Rodriguez finished with 25 points. 

The backcourt duo of junior Nicole Mallard and senior Grace Marshall for the Profs stepped up in the second half. Mallard hit a huge three-ball to give the Profs the 44-37 lead, but at the end of the third quarter, the Profs were trailing 54-51. 

With the Profs down in the fourth, sophomore guard Kristina Johnson came off the sidelines to provide the much-needed bench support that the Profs had been lacking all game.

“They all played their hearts out, I didn’t think our bench gave us enough tonight, a little bit of a lift but not that much,” Coach Poles said. “Kristina Johnson did a hell of a job off the bench, but those young ladies they played their hearts out. We got down, they came back and almost pulled it out. We’re a tough team and we just couldn’t get over the hump.” 

Starters such as Mallard, Santana and Marshall hit shots late in the game to keep the victory within reach for the Profs. 

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Gothic Knights converted with ten-straight points, including several three-pointers, to give them a double-digit lead over the Profs. After Marshall scored five straight for the Profs to keep them within reach, NJCU went on a run of their own as Rodriguez nailed a three-pointer. 

With 1:28 left to go, Mallard hit a layup off a steal to put the Profs within two points, 77-75, but the Gothic Knights added four straight points. 

Despite two made free throws from Santana and two misses at the charity stripe from Rodriguez, the Profs had to scramble to get points on the board as they were down by four with 19 seconds left. After a timeout and a missed three-pointer, the Profs could not convert on several offensive rebound put-back attempts. 

Marshall discussed adjustments she made in order to lead the team on the offensive end while trying to score quickly at the end of the game. 

“We had to push the pace. We had to go a little bit faster, so I thought by going quick off the screens, or cutting quick, passing quick we could get those shots,” Marshall said.  

The Profs fell by a final score of 83-79 after a battle all game long. Although Mallard and Marshall each contributed with 20 points, Marshall and the team are disappointed with the loss. 

“It is heartbreaking, though. Right now, everyone is kind of quiet in the locker room, kind of soaking in that feeling,” Marshall said. “But I think this will make us more powerful next year.” 

The Profs finished the season 17-9 and 14-4 in conference play. They were 10-2 at home, with their second loss of the season coming on Thursday. The Profs are now waiting on the NCAA tournament selections to see if they qualified for a bid to extend their season.

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