Rutgers-Newark upsets No. 5 Kean
Scarlet Raiders advance to program's first NJAC champ. game
UNION, NJ – Senior forward Jaleesa Coleman poured in a game-high 24 points as Rutgers-Newark shocked top-seeded Kean University, 54-51, in the semifinals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference Women's Basketball Championship Tournament.
The Scarlet Raiders (19-8) advance to the first NJAC championship game in the program's history on Saturday at 1 p.m. at William Paterson. The Pioneers stopped Montclair State, 79-68, in the other semifinal game.
The No. 5 nationally-ranked Cougars (22-4) rallied from a 15-point second half deficit to take a 44-42 lead with 7:46 remaining, but Coleman netted six of the Raiders points over the final 6:38 of the game to fuel a decisive 12-7 closing spurt. Her jumper after a layup by junior forward Brittany Smith gave the Raiders a 46-44 lead before Kean tied it for the third and final time on a basket by Tiffany Patrick with 4:45 left.
Freshman guard ShaQuanna Marshall hit a follow shot off of a missed 3-point jumper by Coleman to put the Raiders up for good with 2:34 to go before Coleman nailed a jumper with 57 ticks remaining to make it 50-46.
The Cougars pulled to within two twice in the final 12 seconds, but Coleman made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left before Marshall made the first of two chances with just one second left. Kean never got a chance for a final game-tying shot.
Coleman hit nine of 17 field goal tries – including three 3-point jumpers – while adding four rebounds and four steals and Smith contributed nine points, seven rebounds and two assists. Marshall tallied seven points, four rebounds and two assists.
All of Rutgers-Newark's scoring came from its starters as sophomore guard Kristen Venning netted eight points to go along with a team-high eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Junior guard Jared Tactuk scored six points, snared three rebounds and made two steals.
“The first half was beautiful for us,” said Rutgers-Newark head coach Kevin Morris. “The second half was not so beautiful but we hung in and competed.
“Jaleesa made some huge shots for us and Brittany had an unbelievable effort. Her play around the boards and hustle all over the floor was tremendous. In the end, it was all about effort.”
The Raiders bottled up NJAC Co-Player of the Year Patrick, allowing her just four points. Junior guard Noel Mathis came off the bench to pace Kean with 16 points, a game-high 10 rebounds and four steals while sophomore guard Naimah Clemons added 13 points.
Coleman knocked down three of five shots from beyond the arc in the opening half on her way to 16 points as the Raiders shot 45.2 percent from the floor to take a 34-26 lead into the break. A pair of Tactuk free throws pushed the Rutgers-Newark lead to 42-27 with 15:32 left before the Cougars surged.
Mathis had eight points and Clemons scored two baskets in the 17-0 Kean run which put the heavily-favored home team ahead by two just less than 8 minutes later, setting the stage for the tense final minutes.
Kean downed Rutgers-Newark in The Golden Dome, 72-54, on January 15 in the only regular-season meeting of the teams.
The win tied the squad with the winningest in the 10-year tenure of Morris in Newark. The 2007-08 squad went 19-8, but bowed out at Kean in the opening round of the NJAC tournament. This is the Raiders sixth NJAC tournament appearance in the last seven seasons, but this marks only the second trip to the semifinal round.
Saturday's game sets the stage for two more possible hallmarks.