No. 7 Montclair St. Holds Off TCNJ in NJAC Tournament Semifinals, 58-53

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Montclair, NJ – Senior guard Janitza Aquino (Kearny, NJ / Kerarny) scored 12 of her game-high 20 points in the second half while senior forward Melissa Tobie (Elizabeth, NJ / Roselle Catholic) added a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds as seventh-ranked and top-seeded Montclair State fought off fourth-seeded The College of New Jersey for a 58-53 victory in the NJAC Tournament semifinals on Wednesday evening.

The Red Hawks (25-1) extended their winning streak to 11 and more importantly advanced to the conference championship game for the third consecutive season and sixth time overall. MSU, the two-time defending champion, will host second-seeded Stockton University (formerly Richard Stockton) on Saturday, February 28 at 5:00 pm with the winner claiming the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Stockton advanced with a 72-61 win against sixth-seeded Rutgers-Newark.

Senior guard Kelly Coughlin (Trumbull, CT / Trumbull) and senior forward Jessica Goldbach (Edison, NJ / JP Stevens) finished with 13 and 11 points respectively for the Lions, finish out their season at 16-11. TCNJ also had its seven-game winning streak halted.

Montclair scored the first basket of the game but six straight points by the Lions put the Red Hawks on the trailing end of the scoreboard as TCNJ managed to build an eight-point lead at 16-8 on Angelica Esposito's (Lincroft, NJ / St. John Vianney) layup with 10:38 to go in the first half.

A layup by MSU's Katie Sire (Hazlet, NJ / Raritan) cut the lead in half at 16-12 however New Jersey was able to build its advantage back to 27-18 with 3:03 to go when Coughlin drained a three-pointer from the top of the key. Montclair, which shot just 7-of-27 from the field over the first 20 minutes, managed to reel off the final seven points of the half pulling within 27-25 as Aquino connected twice from the line with three ticks left before the break.

In the second half, Aquino, who was named First-Team All-NJAC earlier in the day, sling-shot Montclair into the lead with two three-pointers in the first 1:14 of the period with NJAC Player of the Year Tobie adding a layup for a 33-27 Red Hawk lead. Freshman guard Kate Tobie (Elizabeth, NJ / Roselle Catholic) extended it to 37-32 however the Lions battled back knotting the game at 37-37 with 11:08 left on Coughlin's basket.

Coughlin later added a three-pointer putting TCNJ in front 42-41 however Melissa Tobie answered with a layup, and two free throws each from Aquino and Melissa Tobie made the score 47-42 with 6:05 remaining. Melissa Tobie, who had four blocks, gave MSU a 51-44 advantage with 3:08 to play but the Lions hung around getting within three points three times, the last coming with six seconds left after Esposito hit a long three from the top of the key with six seconds to play.

Melissa Tobie, who finished 12-of-12 at the line in the game, iced the win for the Red Hawks hitting twice at the stripe with three seconds.

Sire finished with six points and four rebounds while Kayla Ceballos (Brooklyn, NY / Christ the King) had four points and six rebounds. Sage Bennett (Sicklerville, NJ / Winslow) chipped in with four points and five rebounds for MSU, which offset a 30-percent shooting night by going 23-of-29 at the line.

Esposito had nine points for TCNJ while Kylie O'Donnell (Magnolia, NJ / Sterling) added eight along with seven rebounds.

The NJAC title contest on Saturday will be the third meeting of the season between Montclair and Stockton University and the second in 10 days. The Ospreys dealt MSU its only loss of the season 61-60 at the Panzer Athletic Center on January 14 snapping Montclair's 42-game home winning streak. The Red Hawks avenged that loss on February 18 with a 50-47 win in Galloway Township that clinched the NJAC regular-season title and top seed for Montclair State.

The game will also mark the fourth time the teams have squared off against each in the NJAC Tournament with MSU winning the first three. They met in the opening round in 2010, 2011 and 2012 conference tournaments. Montclair won the first game in 2010, 80-70 at home and then upended the Ospreys on the road 64-55 the following year before recording a 76-67 win at the Panzer Athletic Center in 2012. Montclair and Stockton also faced each other in the ECAC Tournament in 2001, 2003 and 2007 with the Red Hawks posting victories in the latter two contests.