EAST HANOVER _ Morris Knolls' decision to clamp down on Kelsey Stites, who scored in double figures in the first half, served as incentive for Hanover Park in its Morris County Tournament first-round game versus the Golden Eagles.
With Stites under close watch in the Golden Eagles' diamond-and-one defense, eighth-seeded Hanover Park had the opportunity to show off the rest of its talent and exhibit its depth.
The Hornets netted four 3-pointers, two by junior guard Camryn Coffey, in the third period outscored Morris Knolls 19-6 to break open a game that was deadlocked 30-30 at halftime.
Stites had only four points in the second half but that was just fine as Hanover Park gained a 58-46 victory over the ninth-seeded Golden Eagles on Saturday, Feb. 3.
"They faceguarded Kelsey figuring they'd take her out and that no one else could do anything," Coffey said. "We weren't affected by it. It was 30-30 going into the third quarter. We looked at it as a 16-minute game. We were back at zero. We overcame the kink in the defense. We were nervous but we came together. We're a very close-knit group."
That cohesiveness was on display for the duration of the game. Ninth-seeded Morris Knolls (10-7) went up, 32-20, on a basket by Catt Reyes 48 seconds after the break. Coffey and Meghan Macaluso netted 3s over the next 52 seconds to give Hanover Park a 36-32 lead. After Vanessa Elliott scored for the Golden Eagles 2:22 into the third quarter, the Hornets commenced a seven-point run to secure a nine-point lead, 43-34. Coffey capped the string of unanswered points with a 3-pointer.
Brielle Junda had five points over the last 38.6 seconds of the third period. The 5-foot Junda, a sophomore guard, connected from outside 19 feet, 9 inches then nailed a 14-foot jumper from the right side at 6.7 seconds.
"We knew we had to pass the ball around and find the open man," Junda said, recalling the decisive quarter. "On defense, we had to locate their shooters because they can shoot 3-pointers. We swung the ball well and locked down on defense."
Coach Doug Wear, whose Hornets (14-4) will face top-seeded and defending champion Morristown in the MCT quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 10 at Morris Knolls, praised his players for coming through when the Stites was under pressure.
"We're more than just Kelsey," Wear said. "Kelsey's a driver/distributor so we used the high post and had shooters on the perimeter once they went to the diamond and one. We've got some physical kids inside. They can body up and bang on the boards. And, Camryn... She's our pure shooter. That's what she does. She's able to knock a few down."
The inside players Wear was referring to are Macaluso (8 points, 10 rebounds) and Martina Wulf (7 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks). Dara DiMaiolo made an impact off the bench by taking down four rebounds and scoring a basket. Wear said DiMaiolo adds to the dynamic by "directing people and talking a lot."
Coffey, a first-year starter, has accumulated 30 3-pointers this season. She gains more and more confidence with each one.
"I know mechanics and form are important," Coffey said. "I'm past that. I'm working on the mental part. I'm getting it down."
Morris Knolls has been without Christi Conroy (sprained ankle) for the last four games but has continued to "fight hard," according to its coach, Rob Moore. He commended the Hornets for shooting the ball well and noted that the Golden Eagles typically have been adept at defending 3-pointers.
"Having Christi back will change the dynamic," Moore said of Conroy, likely to sit our two more games. "We'll do more of what we've been focusing on. We've learned to play without her and I think that will help us in the long run."
Stites powered Hanover Park in the first half, posting 12 of her 16 points. She also had eight assists, five steals and a block. Junda and Coffey ended with 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Three Morris Knolls players - Carli Van Riper, Reyes and Emily Mitarotonda - scored in double figures. Van Riper's 12 points were high for the Golden Eagles. Mitarotonda had eight in the opening half for the visitors and Reyes had seven.
Hanover Park returns to the quarterfinals for the second straight year after not appearing in them in 2015 and 2016. The Hornets, winners of five of their last six games, are pleased to be back after graduating four starters.
"It's really important that we continue on," Coffey said. "Hanover Park has been really successful year after year. We lost seven seniors. That's a lot. There were big shoes to fill. Now we want to make our mark."
"Counties are never easy," Junda said. "You have to come out strong and play for all four quarters. I'm excited that we advanced. We need to keep up the momentum."
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