The Red Hawks will receive a first-round tournament bye, and will host a semifinal game Wednesday, Feb. 25, against the winner of the Kean/Rutgers-Newark first-round contest. MSU is also the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament and would host the championship game should it reach the title contest. The second-seeded Pioneers will host the South Division’s third seed, Rowan, in a first-round contest Saturday, Feb. 21, at 1:00 p.m.
Twice Montclair State came out of the locker room firing, sprinting out to a 13-4 lead to start the first half, and transforming a 38-34 halftime deficit into a 60-45 advantage midway through the second period. In each case, William Paterson fought back, scoring five of the final seven points of the opening period for to take the four-point edge into the locker room, and engineering a 20-7 spurt to pull ahead by one at 68-67 with 3:52 to play.
The Red Hawks held the Pioneers scoreless for more than seven minutes to stakes themselves to the largest lead of the game for either team (60-45, 10:45), thanks in part to eight points off the hot hand of Kara Burham (Moorestown, NJ / Morrestown), as William Paterson missed seven straight shots and turned the ball over five times during the dry spell.
Five straight points from junior Elisa Brown (Norwalk, Conn./Norwalk) and back-to-back three-pointers from classmate Julie Haledjian (Montvale, N.J./Pascack Hills) made it a five-point game (61-56, 8:50), and the two teams traded free throws until William Paterson’s BriAnna Lucas (Hamilton, N.J./Nottingham) sent home a layup at the 6:51 mark (63-60). A Catherine Cristino (Farmingdale, NJ / Colts Neck) bucket for MSU was followed by a Kelly McCourt (West Milford, N.J./West Milford) basket for the Pioneers, and a Haledjian layup pulled the Pioneers within one at 67-64 with 5:33 to play.
Another Cristino layup again gave the Red Hawks a three-point edge, but Haledjian answered with a 28-foot three-pointer as the shot clock expired, knotting the score at 67-67 at the 5:06 mark. Two turnovers and a missed trey gave Absatu Mustapha (Somerset, N.J./Franklin) a chance to put the Pioneers on top, and her one-for-two trip to the line made the score 68-67 in WP’s favor 74 seconds later.
Montclair State closed out the contest with an 11-0 run, as William Paterson missed four final shots and had four turnovers down the stretch. The Red Hawks got their 11 tallies from five different players during the final 2:52 to earn the victory.
Junior forward Kisandra Ayanbeku (Burlington, MA / Randolph) scored a game-best 25 points for Montclair, adding seven rebounds and three steals. Cristino poured in 16 points, Burnham had 12, and Marianne McGovern (Fair Lawn, NJ / Paramus Catholic) added 10.
Haledjian led the Pioneers with 19 points and five assists, while Lucas added 14 tallies and Erin Cook (Princeton, N.J./Princeton) collected 10 points and seven boards.
MSU shot a blazing 51.0 (12-27) percent from the floor, including a 13-for-22 (.591) effort during the second half. WP shot 41.9 (26-62) percent overall, and out-rebounded the Red Hawks 37-31.