Rowan Women’s Basketball unable to defeat reigning NJAC Champions

Nicole Mallard passes the ball to Eilana Santana. Santana led the team in points against NJCU. Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

Rowan women’s basketball couldn’t overcome a slow start on Wednesday evening, Jan. 3, as they fell to the New Jersey City University (NJCU) Gothic Knights 87-82. The loss marks the second straight for the Profs, who have returned from Christmas break with less sharpness than earlier in the season.

The offense did not come out sharp, scoring just 13 first-quarter points and 33 in the first half overall. Head Coach Demetrius Poles commented on his team’s offensive output.

“Offensively, we were not aggressive enough,” Coach Poles said. “Sometimes we had mismatches we didn’t recognize, we started off the game not being organized at all. We need players that are gonna organize the team and be aggressive, that’s why the first unit came out after three minutes. They were just being soft and not being organized, we practiced for these moments.”

The second half was much better for the Profs, as they outscored NJCU 46-42 after being outscored 45-36 in the first half. But Coach Poles knows how detrimental the slow start was.

“We have to be smart and aggressive, and we’re not doing that at all. We play hard when we go down 15, 11, seven points, but that’s not good enough,” Coach Poles said. “You have to play hard when the game starts. We had some consistent players here and there, most of them came off the bench, but we have to be better and more aggressive at the start of games.”

Junior Eliana Santana led the charge for the Profs with a season-high 18 points. In addition to her season-best scoring output, she was also active defensively and on the boards. Santana collected five rebounds, one steal and chipped in with many hustle plays. Santana spoke about how much of a boost she believes her style of play gives the team.

“It brings a lot of energy to the team,” Santana said. “Whenever someone isn’t hustling, someone else has to bring that in, and that’s what I try to do.”

Coach Poles also noted the impact that Santana makes when she’s on the floor throughout the entirety of the season.

“She’s a major factor,” Coach Poles said. “Her aggression, she started getting to the foul line, her aggression from the elbow to the foul line was great, she drove the ball hard to the basket. Defensively she knew where she was supposed to be. Sometimes she can’t get there, but everybody has to help her out and be on the same page that she’s on.”

However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the NJAC’s leading scorer Damaris Rodriguez, as she dropped a career-high 34 points and also dished out 12 assists to lead the Gothic Knights to victory.

Both Santana and Poles were left in awe over the performance Rodriguez put together.

“First of all, we were supposed to stop her from going in the middle,” Santana said. “We couldn’t do that, I give her credit though, she is good, but our main thing was to not let her drive past us, not let her touch the paint. That’s the mistake we made that cost us the game.”

“The game plan was to keep her out of the paint and make it hard,” Poles added. “And then she comes in and drops 34 points and 12 assists. She contributed to over 70 points, she really destroyed us. She does that to everybody. We tried to wear her out, we have a lot of guards, a lot of guards with size and quickness, guards that are quicker than her. She’s just very deceptive with her ball-handling and she can shoot from anywhere. So, it’s tough to stop her.”

Coach Poles believes that once his team gets into a rhythm again, it will be like they never missed a beat.

“We played great before the Christmas break, then we had to go home. We lost a lot of momentum,” Coach Poles said. “I think once we get one at home and get one on the road, the road especially, we’ll start having more momentum.”

Although the Profs were unable to get it done, there were positive signs to take away from the game. Coach Poles and company will now look to bounce back in their second straight NJAC matchup on Saturday, Jan. 7, when Kean comes to Esbjornson gym for a 1 p.m. tipoff.

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