South Orange, NJ – After one period the deficit was 18 points. Seton Hall was running on all cylinders. The offense was a model of efficiency, the defense locked in. Saint Joseph’s, confronted with a monumental task, found a way to battle back. On this night however, too little, too late. Seton Hall earned a hard fought 69-61 victory in the first round of the WNIT. Thursday’s game at Walsh Gymnasium saw Seton Hall improve to 19-14. Saint Joseph;s finished the season 20-14.
“(Lauren) Park-Lane got off and going early,” lamented Saint Joseph’s coach Cindy Griffin. “That was not in our plan.” Seton Hall’s diminutive point guard outscored the Hawks with 19 points in the first period. The early minutes of the game were close. Seton Hall had a 14-11 lead with four minutes remaining. The Pirates then went on a 17-2 run to close out the period. They limited Saint Joseph’s to one field goal over that stretch. Park-Lane scored five points during the run-hitting a foul line jumper and three pointer. “We needed to come out playing hard,” Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said. “We needed an effort like we had in the Big East Tournament against Xavier and Creighton.”
Saint Joseph’s settled in during the second period. Still, Seton Hall owned a 16 point lead at intermission. Despite a double digit deficit, Griffin did not lose her confidence and imparted her feelings to the team during halftime.
“I told the team (at the half) we could come back,” Griffin said. “Don’t rush, take it two points at a time. But the main thing we emphasized is we had to get stops.” The third period saw the Hawks get into an offensive flow. Dribble penetration afforded several kick outs to open shooters on the perimeter. “They (Seton Hall) were doubling (Talya) Brugler in the post,” Griffin said. “That gave (Laura) Ziegler some open looks outside.” And, as Griffin alluded to, those all important defensive stops were becoming more frequent. The end of the third period saw Saint Joseph’s trailing 55-46. The difference was now three possessions and single digits. Significant numbers entering the final ten minutes with Saint Joseph’s within striking distance.
In the final period the Hawks made a final run. The Seton Hall lead was now reduced to two points, 63-61, thanks to a driving layup by Julia Nystrom with 1:43 remaining. The Hawks drew no closer. On the ensuing possession Park-Lane was fouled and converted both free throws. With the teams separated by two possessions, Saint Joseph’s came up empty. The Hawks were forced to foul. Park-Lane added two more from the charity stripe as did teammate Amari Wright as the Pirates closed out the contest.
Bozzella was pleased with the effort and did not look at this as a situation where his team surrendered a big lead. “I knew this game would come to the end,” the Seton Hall coach admitted. “Cindy (Griffin) is a friend and a great coach. I knew this would be a 40 minute battle. We stayed the course,” Bozzella added, “we handled our last few possessions in the game very well.”
Park-Lane finished with a game high 30 points. She handed out three assists but the biggest assist came before the game. “As a captain Lauren kept the team motivated,” Bozzella said. “Maybe we didn’t have the year we wanted but here we are (WNIT) and we had great practices leading up to today, Lauren kept her teammates focused.” Sidney Cooks, a 6’4” center and another Seton Hall captain, added 17 while pulling down a game high 10 boards.
Saint Joseph’s was led by Brugler, a 6’1” forward, with 18 and Ziegler, a 6’2” forward, with 17. Ziegler hit 4 of 9 from three point range. Olivia Mullins, a 5’8” guard, was the Hawks’ third double figure scorer with 10.
Saint Joseph’s finished sixth in conference play (9-7) advanced to the A10 Tournament quarterfinals before being eliminated by eventual champion Saint Louis. “I thought we had a very successful season,” Griffin said. “We’ve grown from last year through this year. We have the core of our team back.” Brugler is a sophomore, Ziegler a freshman and Mullins a junior. Regardless, championships are won in the Summer per the coaching axiom. Griffin wholeheartedly agrees adding. “We need to continue to work in the off season.”
For the game Seton Hall 41%, Saint Joseph’s 40%. The Hall enjoyed a significant 42-28 rebounding edge. Saint Joseph’s did force 19 turnovers translating into a 15-11 advantage in points off turnovers.
In a 70 possession game, Seton Hall held a 97-88 edge in offensive efficiency. After the first period it was 163-72 Seton Hall.
On Monday Seton Hall will host Syracuse, an 84-56 winner over Kent State in the opening round in the second round..