Led by junior forward Camille Zimmerman’s 20-point and 17-rebound performance, women’s basketball topped NJIT 65-51 in its first action of 2017.
Zimmerman, who was averaging 20.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest coming into Wednesday’s game, tallied a double-double—with 11 points and 10 rebounds—by the conclusion of the first half, sparking the Light Blue’s desire to bounce back from a difficult defeat against Long Beach State in California last Saturday.
Despite the 14-point margin of victory, the first half was a close battle throughout.
The Light Blue (10-3) never found a lead in the entirety of the first quarter, thanks in part to NJIT’s solid 1-3-1 zone defense and a strong performance from the Highlanders’ Alana Dudley. Dudley powered NJIT (7-8) to a 16-13 lead at the quarter’s end by hitting a couple crucial jumpers and drawing occasional double teams to find the open teammate.
But Dudley cooled in the second quarter, when Zimmerman seemed to solve the Highlanders’ 1-3-1 defense that had proven difficult for the Light Blue. The Tempe, Arizona native hit a layup to tie the score at 18-18 with 4:25 left in the quarter, and less than two minutes later she sunk a three to give the Light Blue its first lead of the afternoon, 21-20. Zimmerman found ways to stretch the zone at its weak points—three-point land and the baseline—by threatening from the perimeter and making plays for herself and others much closer to the basket.
The Light Blue completed an eight-point swing from the first quarter to the second quarter by exploiting the 1-3-1’s ultimate weakness: the corner. With just 14 seconds left in the half, junior guard Paige Tippet found a gap in the zone to draw multiple defenders and then kicked it out to sophomore guard Abby Lee in the corner. Lee then drained a trey to bring the halftime score to 26-21.
Coming out in the second half, it was clear that head coach Megan Griffith and her staff made adjustments to the 1-3-1 by incorporating more quick passes and off-the-ball movement to create a more fluid offense. Senior forward Devon Roeper collected two easy layups on her only shots of the game, but NJIT came within two on a short 7-4 run to bring the score to 30-28 early in the third quarter.
However, a trey from sophomore guard Emily Surloff, coming again from the corner, gave the Light Blue a five-point lead, one it would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lions maintained a 52-39 lead, as their 26-point output in the third frame—the combined total of the first and second quarters—gave the Light Blue the surge they needed to hold off the Highlanders. While Zimmerman tallied 20 points and 17 rebounds, sophomore forward Josie Little went a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, tallying 16 points and collecting eight rebounds in the process. Senior forward Tori Oliver amassed only five points but still had nine rebounds, serving as the anchor for the Lions on the defensive side of the ball.
As a whole, the Lions outrebounded the Highlanders 50-27 in what has become an increasingly common trend for the team this season. The +23 rebounding margin increased the Light Blue’s total rebounding margin to +187 for the season. Coming into today’s game, the Lions were fourth best in the nation in rebounding margin, as the team has outrebounded its opponents by an average of 13.7 rebounds per contest.
The contest with the Highlanders concluded the non-conference slate for the Lions, who will next travel to Ithaca, New York to open up conference play at Cornell on Jan. 14. Tipoff is at 1:00 p.m.