Claw Back to Win Round 1
By Gary Axelbank
BRONX, NEW YORK, March 20- It looked for all the world like the dream of a three-peat was dying. Flat-footed and down by 22 points to a top-flight (#8 seed) Iowa Central team in the first half of their first round game in the NJCAA Division II Women's Basketball National Championships, the (#9 seed) Monroe Mustangs women's basketball team hustled and clawed their way back to an 87-84 win that spoke volumes about their resolve and their moxie as defending two-time national champs.
The Tritons led 31-9 with 8:52 to go in the first half as Monroe was being out-classed by Iowa Central shooters who seemed to be hitting from all corners of the court.
"In these games you have to reach inside yourself and decide how you want it to go," said Coach James Robinson Jr. "We decided we weren't going to try to come back all at once, but chip away as best we could. Getting it down to nine points at the half let us know that we could get it done. There's no doubt the experience of our sophomores was a big factor."
Predictably, Monroe's comeback was led by All-American Jasmine McRoy, who was the game's high-scorer with 24 points, despite an uneven first-half and off night from the foul line (1/6). But McRoy's stablity and leadership in handling the ball and creating on offense was indispensable. When she hit a four-point play (a three-pointer and foul shot) to cut the lead to 52-51 with 12:55 left, the signal was sent that the game was up for grabs.
Even though Iowa again extended the lead to nine, Monroe got a big contribution during crunch time from sophomore Ly'Nasha Frazier, who had her biggest game of the year, scoring 19 points and dishing for four assists. The best of it was in a stretch in the second half when she found the stroke on two three-pointers and showed confidence in the lane and at the line. It was a sign that Frazier had come all the way back from a difficult knee injury that sidelined her for last year's nationals and forced a lengthy rehab that lasted well into this season.
Another soph who showed her big-game savvy, undoubtedly picked up in part from last year's championship run, was Christina Jones, who had 12 points and five rebounds, much of it during Monroe's furious second half run.
Monroe had a huge rebounding advantage in the game, 56-40. Brianna Perlmutter nabbed 14 of them.
"Anyone who thinks this is not a team sport, doesn't know Monroe women's basketball," Coach Robinson said. "You can look up and down our bench and see contributions from everyone. We look at obstacles and as a team navigate our way around them or through them and that's why we won today."
The task for the 23-7 Mustangs is about to get tougher. After a day off on Wednesday, they will face Mesa (AZ), the tournament's #1 seed in round two on Thursday beginning at 6:00pm (7:00pm EST).
The Mustangs will be making good use of their time off on Wednesday. They plan to visit the South Side Mission to support the youngsters there with homework help and some on-court fun.