Secaucus' comeback falls short in section final

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Danielle Robinson finished with 16 points and five assists for University, which beat Secaucus in the North 2, Group 1 final, 60-49, for the second straight season.

SECAUCUS – When University (Newark) and Secaucus met for the second straight year in the North 2, Group 1 final on Tuesday, it looked like another great season for the Patriots was going to come to a nightmarish conclusion. In last year’s final, Secaucus was never in the game and found itself down by 27 points at the half before losing by 43. Fast forward a year later and University was at it again, racing out to a 19-2 lead. Although Secaucus was unable to fight all the way back, this time they made the Phoenix earn their trophy.

Secaucus got as close as four but the Phoenix came up with big shot after big shot. Tamara Johnson hit a buzzer-beating 3 to end the third quarter and Danielle Robinson scored on a drive to start to the fourth quarter as seventh-seeded University kept its composure and its hold on the North 2, Group 1 crown with a 60-49 win over top-seeded Secaucus at Secaucus High School.

“We knew it was going to be a tougher game this year coming into their gym. Our focus was to block that out and set the tone right from the opening tap,” said University head coach Middy Baraka, Jr. “We saw what we’re capable of doing when we force turnovers and get out in transition, but we also saw the flip side when we didn’t talk on defense and we gave their shooters space. No matter what the situation was we had to stay composed and play our game.”

The packed house at Secaucus was rocking before the game but it did not take long for the Phoenix to take the air out of the building. Secaucus had six first-quarter turnovers and the Phoenix turned each one of them into baskets on the other end; three of them coming on fast break layups by Danielle Robinson. When Teresa Ortiz nailed a corner 3 to start to second quarter, University had a 19-2 lead and the outcome appeared all but decided.

Lindsey Mack scored a game-high 17 points for Secaucus, which finished its season with a 26-4 record.

Secaucus showed no quit and scrapped its way back in the game. Lindsey Mack’s layup capped a 11-0 run before Johnson answered with a buzzer-beating drive to give University a 28-19 edge at the half.

The Patriots did not slow down in the third quarter with five straight points to whittle the once 17-point deficit down to four. University bumped it back up to 10 before a 3 from Mack and a pull-up jumper from the elbow by freshman point guard Damaris Rodriguez cut it to five. Secaucus got the crowd back in it and had all the momentum. Unfortunately, one defensive lapse proved to be costly.

The Phoenix had the ball underneath the Secaucus basket with 2.4 seconds remaining in the third quarter. On a miscommunication defensively, Johnson ended up wide open on the wing and made the Patriots pay with a 3-pointer at the buzzer and Robinson scored on the opening possession of the fourth quarter to bump the lead back up to double-digits.

“I just moved to a spot and I knew there wasn’t much time left so I took the shot,” said Johnson. “We weren’t really nervous, we just had to keep calm and make shots. The later it got in the game, the more disciplined we were. Staying consistent was a big thing for us and we finished strong.”

University’s lead grew as large as 15 on a 3 from Ortiz. The Patriots made one last push with Mack’s two free throws closing a 6-0 spurt to cut the Phoenix lead to 49-40 with 3:48 to play. They never got closer than that as the 5-foot-10 Robinson showed poise from the point guard spot with just one fourth-quarter turnover.

Tamara Johnson had 11 points for University, which won the section title as the No. 7 seed.

“The layup to beat the buzzer at halftime and the 3 to end the third quarter were killers for us,” said Secaucus head coach John Sterling. “We fought so hard to get back in the game and then let them off the hook. (Johnson) drove right to the basket with no resistance to end the half and somehow we lose her in the final two seconds of the third. You can only fight back so many times before time runs out.”

Robinson finished with 16 points and five assists for University (21-7). Ortiz hit a trio of 3-pointers on her way to 15 points and Johnson added 11. Amayah Powell yanked down a game-high 13 rebounds to go with eight points.

Mack led all players with 17 points for Secaucus, this year’s Hudson County champion that finished the season with a 26-4 record. Amanda Ulrich did a little bit of everything with 10 points, 11 rebounds and four assists and she took four charges on defense. Rodriguez added 13 points, four assists, and three rebounds.

Although the end result was the same, the tenor of this year’s loss was a bit different in the Secaucus locker room. They had a shot and with virtually everyone returning next year for both Secaucus and University don’t be surprised to see Round 3 in next year’s North 2, Group 1 final between these two programs.

“Everything we tried to avoid we couldn’t execute it in the first quarter,” added Sterling. “To beat a team like University you have to keep it together for a full 32 minutes. We played hard in spurts but we just dug ourselves too big of a hole. We will work hard in the off-season and hopefully we’ll get another crack at them next year.