FLORHAM PARK _ Christina DeMattheis knew well what the consequences would be if she missed a critical 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter and they were equally unpleasant.
DeMattheis, a senior guard for Morristown-Beard, figured she'd probably "get yelled at." Worse yet, St. Elizabeth, applying pressure and anxious to rally from a 15-point deficit, would come back and win.
However, DeMattheis, took no heat nor did the worst of her fears materialize as she connected from outside the arc with 4:26 remaining. The 3-pointer, instead, earned her immense praise from coach Mike Sturgeon and was critical in the Crimson's 55-38 victory over St. Elizabeth on Friday, Dec. 21.
"I had to hit that one. I just had to," DeMattheis said. "I was afraid they might win. After I made it, I could see it in their eyes. It was the killer. Leading up to this game, we said we had to get them. We have a history with St. Elizabeth. It would be sad if we lost."
The most recent history was ultra upsetting to Morristown-Beard, which improved to 4-0 with the NJAC-Liberty Division win over the Panthers. Back in February, the Crimson, top-seeded in the Prep B Tournament, were shocked by St. Elizabeth, 40-37, in the opening round.
And that's why Morristown-Beard so badly wanted to avenge that setback. DeMattheis' 3-pointer stood out as did Bridget Monaghan's 17 points and Addisyn Ibrahim's 12 points. Better yet, nearly every Crimson player had a hand in the game which DeMattheis described as "crazy."
"Everyone was diving left and right," she said.
St. Elizabeth came within 11 points, 40-29, when Hannah Kelly sank two free throws 1:47 into the closing period. Each team then had several turnovers. An errant shot by Monaghan began the sequence that led to the 3-pointer by DeMattheis. Erin Martin grabbed the rebound and passed to Gianna DeMattheis, who fed the ball to her sister on top. Christina DeMattheis unleashed her shot from 22 feet out and it fell through the net. The Crimson realized the importance of the basket, cheering DeMattheis' effort in the midst of chaos and rushing over to congratulate her.
"We were not moving the ball well," Sturgeon said. "We had a few quick passes and got the ball to Christina. She's been very clutch for us. That stopped a run. We came here wanting payback. We were looking for redemption. The girls were pumped up, maybe a little too pumped up."
Sturgeon had many concerns entering the game against St. Elizabeth. He feared there was no one capable of clamping down on Hannah Kelly, a junior who transferred from Chatham High School, but Ibrahim held her to six points, all in the fourth quarter. Although the Crimson possess a shooting percentage of 67 percent, led by Monaghan at 80 percent, they have not been boxing out well.
"Hannah worried me most," Sturgeon said. "We didn't think we had anyone who could match up with her. Addisyn did a good job. She frustrated her a bit. Boxing out has been an issue. If you think you're going to shoot 80 percent every night, you'll be in trouble, no matter what."
Bruce McCloud, naturally, wanted his Panthers to come out on top and restressed the importance of defense. St. Elizabeth, which fell behind 32-18 at halftime, was aggressive and its players stuck tightly to their assigned players.
"We knew Morristown-Beard was a very good team," McCloud said. "We had to get up on them and play them defensively. I appreciate the effort and I'm satisfied with it. We like to play a fast tempo and go full court. We feel good defense leads to offense. We just came up short. This was a test right here and it'll make us better in the future."
Morristown-Beard triumphed despite being without Olivia Omelczuk (9 points) for portions of the game. Omelczuk, averaging 10.7 points per game, was poked in the eye in the second period and had to sit out. She returned after halftime yet, soon after, was on the bench for good.
Monaghan was a force for the entire 32 minutes, scoring 10 in the second half, including eight in the closing quarter. She converted 7-of-8 free throws, going 6 for 6 over the last eight minutes.
Sophomore Jane Howard spearheaded St. Elizabeth's attack, pouring in 15 points. Howard was accurate from 3-point range, netting three treys. Courtney Kelly had nine points.
The Panthers scored 13 in the fourth quarter, their only quarter in double digits. It was evident St. Elizabeth was intent on closing the gap and the Crimson could feel the heat. Christina DeMattheis halted the momentum with her 3-pointer.
"That definitely took some wind out of our sails," McCloud said. "We didn't give up. We took it up a notch."
Christina DeMattheis noted that the noise level in the gym rose as the game wore on.
"We had to pick it up," she said. "All of us played together. Our bench was insane. Their crowd was loud. It was hard to hear."
As of Dec. 29, Morristown-Beard was 6-0 after capturing the title at the Joe Pepe Tournament at Jonathan Dayton. The Crimson are driven, trying to complete "unfinished business," a phrase put in place by one of their senior captains, Gianna Rella. Monaghan racked up 18 points in the holiday tournament final to earn MVP honors. She had 13 in the opener vs. Linden.
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