Li­ons hope big game can help cam­pus heal

The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ) - - SPORTS - By Joe O’Gor­man jo­gor­[email protected]­to­nian.com j_o­gor­man819 on Twit­ter

It has been a tough week on The Col­lege of New Jer­sey cam­pus and an emo­tional week as stu­dents cope with the loss of a class­mate.

Hope­fully, ath­let­ics can be a needed dis­trac­tion.

It might only be the first week of De­cem­ber, but the TCNJ women’s bas­ket­ball team (5-3, 4-0 NJAC) has a huge con­fer­ence con­test on Satur­day as six-time de­fend­ing New Jer­sey Ath­letic Con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons Mont­clair State (7-1. 4-0 NJAC) vis­its Packer Hall for a 1 p.m. tip.

“Mont­clair State is an in­cred­i­bly well-coached team with a great his­tory of suc­cess,” said TCNJ coach Chessie Jack­son. “We have to treat them as we treat any other team. Scout with at­ten­tion to de­tail and pre­pare the team. We are ex­cited to play them in our gym in front of our com­mu­nity It’s an­other chance to earn a win, how fun is that.”

Lately, it’s been a lot of fun for the Li­ons as they are en­joy­ing a four-game win­ning streak and play­ing like a team that was se­lected first in the pre­sea­son poll.

“The win­ning streak has been about tak­ing it one day at a time and to con­tinue grow­ing and get­ting bet­ter,” said Jack­son. “Our key play­ers and lead­ers are find­ing more rhythm. Out point guard is gain­ing con­fi­dence with ev­ery prac­tice and game. The pieces are start­ing to come to­gether.”

A few of those pieces are Shan­non De­vitt, Jen Byrne and point guard Elle Cimil­luca.

De­vitt, who was the NJAC Rookie of the Year last sea­son, av­er­ages 12.5 points per game and a con­fer­ence-best 13.0 re­bounds.

“Shan­non is slowly, but surely gain­ing con­fi­dence and play­ing with more con­sis­tency,” said Jack­son. “The thing about her is that she goes hard and per­forms like that ev­ery day in prac­tice. I’m proud of her per­for­mance, but way more proud of her ef­fort ev­ery day in prac­tice.”

When it’s not De­vitt caus­ing trou­ble on the in­side, it’s Byrne mak­ing life dif­fi­cult all over the floor.

Byrne leads the team with 13.8 points and she grabs 8.8 car­oms, but her big­gest con­tri­bu­tion is lead­er­ship.

“Jen is so solid and pro­vides a pres­ence on the court that is in­valu­able,” said Jack­son. “She is not the most vo­cal player and she is not showy, but she digs deep in big mo­ments and wants the ball.. There is lead­er­ship in that mind­set and we need it right now.”

The Li­ons and the Red Hawks sta­tis­ti­cally are al­most a car­bon copy of each other, both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively.

Alex McKin­non (14.9 points per game) and Kim Cal­loway (11.9) are MSU’s top two scor­ers and McKin­non grabs 7.1 re­bounds per game.

If the Li­ons can con­tinue to hit the boards that would give them a small ad­van­tage since Mont­clair State has a few more of­fen­sive weapons.

It might just be De­cem­ber, but it’s the big­gest game in the NJAC.

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