Since its last victory – a stirring 23-point comeback in the 2012 NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals – the Gill St. Bernard’s School girls basketball team had suffered through the graduation of three starters, an unexpected coaching change and three consecutive losses.
Even with those events spread out over nine months, it was enough chaos to make getting another win feel important – especially when facing one of the biggest challengers to Gill’s Somerset County supremacy.
Junior forward Taylor Rooks collected 24 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals, junior guard Jasmine Sina contributed 20 points and six steals, and junior forward Trevena Bennett totaled 15 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday night to lead Gill to a 73-55 victory against short-handed Franklin.
“Coming off two losses to some of the best teams in the tri-state area, we weren’t panicking,” Rooks said of the season-opening losses to Life Center and St. Anthony’s (N.Y.) on the delayed heels of the loss to Manasquan in the TOC final. “But it was good to get a win confidence-wise and to get the season going.”
The first quarter ended in a 13-13 tie after the lead changed hands six times and neither team opened up larger than a four-point advantage. The Knights, who are ranked first in the Courier News Top 10, opened the second quarter with seven straight points in the first three minutes and responded in grand fashion when the No. 3 Warriors (1-1) cut their deficit to three.
Following a timeout, Rooks scored on a putback and added two free throws to begin a half-closing 15-2 run. Rooks added two more free throws – the team shot 7 of 8 from the line in the first half – to push the margin into double-figures for the first time at 29-19, and Morgan Rooks and Sina combined to score six straight points in the final minute as lead swelled to 16 by the break.
“The girls got more comfortable and picked up their aggression,” rookie coach John Slackman said. “They deserved to get a good victory to get their confidence back.”
The decisive spurt took place with Franklin’s leading scorer Adreana Miller on the bench with two fouls. Fellow starter Makiah Hollinger is sidelined until the first week of January with a knee injury.
“As soon as she got in foul trouble, that hurt us a little bit,” coach Audrey Taylor said. “But what really hurt us was turnovers – 13 in the first half and 22 in the game. We were handing it to them. You can’t win like that.”
Gill (1-2) led by as many as 22 in the third quarter before sophomore-laden Franklin made its run behind Miller, who scored 17 points in limited minutes. Alexandra Jackson added 14 points, five rebounds and four steals, and Khadijah Mathews had nine points off the bench.
Miller’s driving layup made it 51-41 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining, but Sina answered with a 3 – her fourth of the game – off an in-bounds pass and momentum never turned again.
“After the first quarter, we had to change the way we were playing and pick it up on defense,” Taylor Rooks said. “Jasmine was crucial to the win. She started it off.”
Just like at the end of the second quarter, the Warriors ran out of gas down the stretch of the fourth.
“Being young, we have to learn how to fight through a game,” Taylor said. “Mentally we have to pick ourselves up, and that is where being mostly sophomores shows up.”