RIDE BOWLER’S 17 SECOND-HALF POINTS INTO NJCAA DIII NATIONAL TOURNAMENT
By Mike Ready
LINCROFT – Seven seconds into Saturday’s NJCAA Region XIX DIII final versus Cumberland, Brookdale freshman guard Paxton Reddington (St. John Vianney) went down with a serious knee injury that put her out for the game, and most likely the season.
As Reddington was carried off the court, a stunned Brookdale squad attempted to regroup as play resumed on the court.
“When I saw Paxton go down I said ‘Oh my God’,” Brookdale sophomore guard Lauren Bowler (Red Bank Regional) said. “She’s our top scorer, our most clutch player and leader on the court; we weren’t going home on that. I knew I had to pick up my game and I just took over. I did it for Pax.”
Bowler did pick it up, scoring 17 second-half points to lead the top-seeded Blues to a 71-54 win over No.2 seed Cumberland (26-3, 18-2) in Saturday’s NJCAA Region XIX DIII final at Collins Arena.
Brookdale now travels to Rochester, Minnesota for the NJCAA DIII National Basketball Championship March 13-15 at the UCR Regional Sports Center.
This will be the Blues sixth trip to the national tournament and they are still searching for their first national title. The 2010-11 team place third, which was their best showing so far in the nationals.
The Blues held a 29-20 halftime lead over the much shorter but extremely quick Cumberland Dukes. Bowler’s two free throws at 1:13 put Brookdale up by 11 before the Dukes Maryah Colman hit a jumper at the halftime buzzer.
Sophomore center Sam Carlson (Manalapan H.S.) scored Brookdale’s first six points, sophomore guard Marina Lukianov’s (Howell H.S.) 3-pointer at 2:41 and freshman forward Marya Trapp’s (Red Bank Regional) offensive rebound and full-court drive for the score at 7:29 highlighted the first half.
Carlson had nine first-half points to lead the Blues while Trapp and Lukianov added six apiece. Trapp, Carlson and Bowler dominated the boards in the half with Trapp grabbing six – five offensive – Carlson had eight and Bowler pulled down five boards. Trapp added three blocks and Carlson two.
Carlson and Lukianov scored to open the second half as the Blues pulled out in front 31-20. However, Cumberland cut the lead to eight, 46-38 at 8:21 of the second half before Bowler’s floater down the lane brought the lead back to ten at 8:10.
At 6:39, Bowler was hammered going down the lane and an intentional flagrant foul was called on the Dukes Artaeja Loatman. Trapp hit both technicals and Bowler got all net on both her foul shots to build the lead to 15, 54-39.
Bowler’s two free throws gave Brookdale their largest lead of the night, 65-48 with 2:28 left in the game and Bowler’s 3-point shot with 35 seconds remaining put the icing on the cake in a game that always seemed closer than it actually was.
Lukianov had 10 second-half points and finished with 16 points while Carlson added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the night.
Trapp had a huge second half under the glass pulling down seven boards - four offensive – for a team-high 13 rebounds along with three blocks. She added five second-half points for 11 total.
Sophomore guard Jazmin Palmer (North Bergen H.S.) chipped in four second-half points and played some exceptional defense.
Bowler’s effort earned her the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award in her final game at Collins Arena. She finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“It’s awesome, I’m at a loss for words,” Bowler said, “ This award is for my team and coach Bob and coach Rivera, they stuck with us and it’s for all the hard work we put in. I don’t like to fly, but I’m going to Minnesota.”