GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — George Fox defeated Montclair State in the semifinals of the NCAA Division III tournament on Friday to punch its ticket to the national championship game.
After trailing by double digits in the second half, the Red Hawks were able to get within six points at the 4:15 mark, but the Bruins bounced back and pushed the lead back up to 11 a minute later at 60-49.
In the last two minutes, both teams released the hounds using the full court press, but this led to easy baskets both ways. The Bruins were able to hold off the Red Hawks in the final minutes, finishing the game with a 70-58 victory.
The frantic pace and high energy from the Bruins stunned the Red Hawks in the opening minutes, as they jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead. Montclair State settled down and tried to steady the pace, going on a 9-0 run of its own to bring the game to its first tie, 9-9.
The pace was an issue for both teams early on, as turnovers seemed to come in groupings and possessions became slim. The Bruins did in fact break the run that the Red Hawks put on, scoring an easy layup off a set play to make it 11-9.
Both teams started to trade baskets back and forth under the 10-minute mark, and the crowd seemed to be watching a heavyweight bout as big blow after big blow was delivered. The Bruins managed to keep a one point lead for the next four minutes, as the Red Hawks were having trouble dealing with the suffocating Bruin defense.
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Montclair State took its first lead of the game after 18 minutes of play at 22-21 when the Red Hawks hit their fourth 3 of the game, but George Fox responded with a fast break layup from the hands of Justine Benner, retaking the lead 23-22.
After the buzzer sounded for the end of the first half, it was the Bruins who led 23-22. Although Montclair State out-shot George Fox in the first by a small margin, it was the turnovers that played a factor, as the Bruins forced 10 Red Hawk turnovers.
The Red Hawks opened up the second half with a quick layup to record the third lead change of the game. A minute later, the Red Hawks hit their fifth 3 to take their largest lead of the game at 29-25, but the next possession Nicole Blizzard went coast-to-coast to make the floater and draw the foul.
Despite newfound momentum from Blizzard’s and-one, the Red Hawks remained in control of the second half for the first five minutes. It wasn’t until the 14:59 mark that the Bruins forced the second tie of the game when Benner made a pair at the free-throw line. After the first tie of the second half, both teams went into attack mode, trading fouls and baskets back and forth.
The next couple of minutes seemed to keep everyone in Van Noord Arena on the edge of their seats. The Bruins kept the fans with plenty to watch, as the team went on a 6-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 44-34. Both teams had a tough time scoring after the 10-point margin, as the game started to become physical and whistle heavy.
At the 5:52 mark, the Bruins were able to continue their 10-point edge despite the fast attacking Red Hawks on the offensive end. The Red Hawks were able to crack the double digit lead 30 seconds later when recently named All-American Melissa Tobie made a pair at the free throw line to make it 49-41, setting up the opportunity to later cut the lead back to six with just over four minutes remaining.
The Bruins held All-American Tobie to 13 points on the night. Montclair State finished its season with an overall record of 30-2 record.
The Bruins were led by Benner, who finished the game with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Her third double-double of the season. Jami Morris and Sammy Naluai finished the game with 16 points apiece. Naluai was one point shy of tying her career-high. Lauren Codling finished with 17 rebounds and seven points.
“We are just elated to be going to the national championship game,” head coach Michael Meek said. “We have had nothing but fantastic support from our community back home and we use that as motivation when we play. This is just an awesome experience for these women and I can’t wait for us to play tomorrow night.”
This will be the third time in program history that the Bruins will head to the Division III championship game. The Bruins improve their undefeated season to 32-0 and tie the 2009 championship team with the same overall record.