As the 2021-2022 regular season comes to a close, the Rowan University women’s basketball team is gearing up for the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship tournament.
After playing conference opponents twice throughout the regular season, the Profs will take on familiar foes in the playoffs. This season, all ten teams in the NJAC will have a shot at the title, where, in the past, only the top six teams would qualify.
Currently, Rowan sits second in the conference with a 16-8 overall record and 14-4 conference record. Let’s take a look at how Rowan performed against their conference competitors this season and what they would have to focus on against each team.
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ): 8th in NJAC (11-12, 8-10)
The Lions were the first conference opponents that the Profs took on throughout the season. The entirety of the game was a battle, neither team held a larger than seven-point lead, and there were six lead changes. The Profs fell 70-68 after Rowan failed to get a shot off during their final possession.
Then, at home, the Profs defeated the Lions 89-58, led by junior guard Savanna Holt’s 19 points and one of junior guard and forward Dakota Adams’ ten season double-doubles.
Junior guard Nicole Mallard reflected on the second game and how it could prepare them for a possible matchup.
“We definitely just gotta play how we played the second time,” Mallard said. “I feel like it was our first NJAC game [we] could’ve been a little nervous but now that we’ve played so many games, played them already, we beat them here, I feel like we have nothing to be nervous about anymore.”
Stockton University: 7th in NJAC (10-14, 8-10)
The Ospreys are another conference opponent the Profs have taken a game from this season.
Early on in the year, Rowan pulled away with a 53-45 win over Stockton at home but was not successful during their matchup in Galloway. Rowan battled their way back from an 18-point deficit and despite a 24-point fourth quarter, they fell short 67-64 after missing a three-ball during their final possession.
Head Coach Demetrius Poles thinks this is a team who they will have to look out for, foreshadowing a potential battle.
“They have good guards and they control the pace of the game,” Coach Poles said. “And once again our defense let their guards control the pace of the game, we can not do that, we have to be physical in those games and we have to play better full-court defense.”
The Osprey’s guards include Emma Morrone, Madison LaRosa and Grace Sacco, who each average 30 plus minutes a game, while LaRosa is averaging 14.5 points on the season. The Profs’ defense has been a staple to their success all season and will be key in stopping the production of Stockton’s backcourt.
Kean University: 1st in NJAC (17-6, 16-2)
Kean currently holds the top spot in the NJAC with only two conference losses, one of which was against Rowan.
The Profs got the best of Kean on Dec. 4, winning 53-45, though the win did not come easy. Rowan was up by 12 early in the fourth quarter, after a Cougars’ comeback allowed them to take a one-point lead, but key free throws from Adams and Holt iced the game for the Profs.
“They have some good leadership, [Shannon] McCoy and Sarah [Olivero], they have experience,” Coach Poles said. “When they get hot, they’re pretty tough. We just have to play better defense and we have to not rely on our offense, once we rely on our defense we can beat anybody in the NJAC.”
In the second time these two teams faced, Kean held off Rowan 68-64, out-scoring the Profs 27-13 in the final eight minutes to pull out the victory. Despite double-doubles from Adams and senior guard Grace Marshall, Kean’s McCoy scored 25 points, grabbed ten boards and collected four assists in the victory.
The Profs will have to match the Cougar’s strength at the guard position, while bringing the pressure on the defensive end, in this potential matchup.
Rutgers University-Camden: 10th in NJAC (2-17, 1-17)
The Scarlet Raptors sit in last place in the NJAC standings, with only one conference win for the season.
In both meetings, the Profs dominated on the offensive end. Although statistically these teams aren’t evenly matched, Mallard says it’s important not to stay focused on performing well.
“We gotta come out strong, we can’t play down to their level, we can’t turn the ball over,” Mallard said.
The Profs certainly played to their strengths during the matchups, where, in the beginning of the season, Rowan won 100-57 with five players scoring in double figures. During the second matchup of the season, the Profs won 89-48, again excelling offensively, shooting 49.3% from the field and four players scored in double digits, led by another Adams’ double-double.
Rutgers-Camden will be an additional team playing in the opening round of the tournament on Saturday.
William Paterson University: 4th in NJAC (12-10, 11-7)
The Profs started off strong in their first contest against William Paterson, then busted out with a 30-point third quarter, to help bolster their 80-64 win. Mallard led the Profs, netting a career-high 26 points, 11 rebounds and six assists which have all been season highs for her.
In their second matchup, this time in Glassboro, Rowan pulled out another victory, but in a not-so-easy fashion. After going neck to neck in the fourth quarter, junior forward Eliana Santana sank two free throws with four seconds on the clock to seal the deal.
“In the second half of William Paterson, they gave us trouble, they beat us for three quarters here in our home court, so we have to defend and we have to be ready to be tough, and be ready to match the intensity level,” Coach Poles said. “The last game we got a big 30-16 lead in the fourth quarter and that kind of carried us through, but they beat us for three quarters.”
A possible matchup between these two teams could be highly competitive if the Profs don’t bring the intensity for the full 40 minutes.
New Jersey City University (NJCU): 6th in NJAC (10-9, 9-9)
The Gothic Knights are a team in the NJAC who have been battling COVID-19 complications throughout the season, in addition to battling the Profs and coming out victorious in their last matchup. Early in the season, NJCU had to forfeit their first matchup against Rowan, but they came ready to play in the second contest where they won 73-59.
“They’re a good team, they have a lot of talent, they have a lot of size,” Coach Poles said. “We just have to combat that by knocking shots down, and once again playing defense.”
The Profs will also have to try and lock down the NJAC leading scorer Demaris Rodriguez who averages 20.8 points per game.
“I think NJCU is a dark horse, they lost a couple of games because of covid reasons. Their point guard is amazing, she’s the leading scorer in the NJAC so obviously she’s going to be a game-changer in any game she plays,” Mallard said. “So we definitely got to look out for them.”
The 2020-2021 NJAC Champions in NJCU are definitely a team to keep an eye out for during the playoffs.
Rutgers University-Newark: 9th in NJAC (4-18, 2-16)
Similar to Rutgers-Camden, Rutgers-Newark only has two conference victories this season.
During their matchups this season, Rowan rolled with a 94-61 win at home led by Adams’ double-double and double-figures scoring performances from the sophomore guard and forward Kristina Johnson and Grace Marshall.
On the road the Profs dominated once again, winning 73-47. Mallard discussed the importance of staying honed-in on winning and how the team’s mindset doesn’t change no matter the opponent.
“We should be the same for every game, no matter what the level is, what their record is, we have to come out strong every single game, we can’t take anything for granted,” Mallard said. “We just have to come out strong.”
Ramapo College: 5th in NJAC (10-11, 9-9)
Ramapo College is a team that has placed itself in the center of the conference. The Profs have gone 2-0 against the Roadrunners this season, but Coach Poles says it’s important to keep a lookout for teams like Ramapo.
“Everybody’s going to give us their best shot,” Coach Poles said. “Those teams in the middle of the pack, they’re gonna come aggressive right away and try to be physical with us.”
In the first bout, Rowan won 83-72 with high performances from Savanna Holt who scored 18 points as well as Mallard and Marshall who each notched 20 points for the Profs.
The last time these two teams faced, this past Saturday, the Profs came out victorious 70-53, Adams picked up her fourth straight double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Johnson added 12 points.
Montclair State: 3rd in NJAC (14-9, 12-6)
The Red Hawks are right behind the Profs, settling in at third place in the NJAC. With the Profs final regular-season game being against such a leveled opponent, Rowan understands how important of a game it is.
“It is a very big game because we have some history behind them. My freshman year, they blew us out once, then we beat them on a buzzer-beater, and then we beat them in the NJAC Championship and then we beat them again this year,” Mallard said. “But we know their players, we know their main scorer and we know how to stop her, but really we gotta play our game.”
In their first meeting, Rowan won 65-47, Mallard led all scoring with 20 points and the Profs never surrendered their lead. The battle for the second spot in the NJAC took place Wednesday evening in a tight matchup that came down to the final quarter. Rowan was able to secure their victory at 75-69, keeping their second-seed spot.
The Profs who won the NJAC title in the 2019-2020 season will look to retake their throne during the playoffs this season. With the Profs getting a first-round bye, they will start on Tuesday, Feb. 22, where they will host the Quarterfinals.
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