Rowan Women’s Basketball takes down NJCU to win NJAC Championship

Nicole Mallard sets up a shot. Mallard led the team in scoring in the championship against NJCU. Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

With the odds stacked against them, Rowan women’s basketball team traveled to Jersey City to compete against the higher seed team who eliminated them from the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NAJC)Tournament last season. In the end, the Profs took down New Jersey City University (NJCU) in the NJAC Championship 79-70 on Saturday, Feb. 25.

At first, the odds looked troublesome for the Profs when they trailed 6-0 to start off the first quarter and were without a basket until the 5:48 mark. That was until Danielle McCurdy hit two consecutive buckets, and knocked down three of the first five field goals for Rowan, finishing with eight points in the opening quarter, backed by Kristina Johnson who finished the quarter with five points.

The Profs were able to tie the game 21-21 at the end of the first quarter when Nicole Mallard was fouled for attempting a triple as the clock stopped. Mallard sank all three free throws and added six points during the first quarter.

“I knew for this game, I had to be as aggressive as I can be,” Mallard said. “But being under control and not forcing shots.” 

Rowan did not lead throughout the first quarter, but; they took their first lead at the 8:18 mark in the second quarter when Mallard hit another layup. 

The teams traded baskets throughout the quarter, but after another tie of 30-30, Rowan began to push offensively. They scored seven straight with four points coming from Dakota Adams. To close out the half, the Profs held a 42-38 advantage over the Gothic Knights. 

By the first half, the nation’s leading scorer in Division III women’s basketball, Damaris Rodriguez, had 17 points. In the second half, the Profs made adjustments limiting Rodriguez’s production. They double-teamed her multiple times, slowing down her scoring. Head Coach Demetrius Poles cites Rowan’s ability to execute defensively with Rodriguez.

“The game plan was to not let her get to the paint,” Coach Poles said. “Not let her have a lot of assists, with triple-doubles and account for 70 points.” 

The Profs’ offense began to surge in the third quarter, going on a 13-2 run, including six points from Grace Marshall to grab their largest lead of the night at 55-40 with 5:35 left in the third. 

“Coming in we knew that we needed to move the ball, use each other, especially on offense, that’s what was going to get us to get those shots,” Marshall said. 

Rowan utilized eight different scorers, while four players finished with double digits. As a team, Rowan dished out 18 assists with four from Kate Herlihy. 

Later in the third quarter, the Gothic Knights would cut the deficit to seven, but the Profs held strong at 63-55 heading into the final 10 minutes.

Rowan maintained the lead throughout the fourth, going up by as many as 13. NJUC tried to hang around throughout the quarter, cutting the deficit to five with under a minute remaining. Marshall and Mallard each hit a pair of free throws down the stretch to help seal the deal for Rowan. 

Mallard discusses what winning her second championship means to her. 

“It means so much, especially in their home gym,” Mallard said. “We haven’t beaten them in four/five games maybe. But we shut them down, we shut the crowd down, it was great to do it in this gym.” 

Rowan shut down the Gothic Knights leading scorer in the second half, with five points in the third, while Rodriguez did not score in the final stanza.

“We just focused on what we were supposed to do defensively,” Marshall said. “We did it together, it wasn’t one person, we all came ready to play, and that defense really affected their offense and they couldn’t score like they usually do against us.” 

As the final buzzer sounded, Rowan was able to take down the No. 1 seed as the No. 3 seed in their opponent’s home gym 79-70. 

“This means the world to me,” Marshall said. “I’m so proud of my team, proud of the adversity we’ve overcome. This is really special.” 

Marshall had 11 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals in the contest, with Adams recording a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. McCurdy added 12 points, hit 5-10 from the field and collected four steals. Mallard finished with a team-high 17 points and went 8-11 at the stripe. 

With this NJAC Championship, Rowan has won twice in the four years with Coach Poles at the helm, and will now head back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019-2020 to face off against Rhode Island College in Scranton on Friday, March 3, at 6:00 p.m. 

“I’m happy for the young ladies, this is a part of their college life that they’ll never forget,” Coach Poles said. “Something they can have memories for forever, that’s the best part about it, I’m very happy.”

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