From the jam-packed stands serving as the backdrop, to the athletically superior opponent standing in the way of advancing in the NJSIAA Tournament, the New Providence High School girls basketball team’s latest tall task felt a lot like ones it conquered in the recent past.
But the big difference between when well-schooled New Providence upset heavily favored University en route to capturing Group I titles in 2010 and 2011 and its 47-39 loss Saturday afternoon to Bloomfield Tech in the North 2 Group I semifinals was the level of execution by the home team.
“It was a little off,” coach Cap Pazdera said. “We were 90 percent of the way there.”
Second-seeded New Providence (22-5) trailed by six at halftime but used an 8-2 run keyed by senior guard Cassandra Squeri’s two 3-pointers to pull even at 23-23 midway through the third quarter.
“At halftime, coach told us, ‘There are 16 minutes left. Finish the game,’ ” said Squeri, who scored 11 points. “If we ended up winning by a couple points, that and our defensive stops would’ve set the tone.”
The score was tied once more before sixth-seeded Bloomfield Tech (15-12) brought a one-point lead into the fourth and extended it to as many as five at 38-33. Freshman guard Sydney Morang refused to let New Providence, which had been to four of the last five sectional finals, go quietly, however.
Morang set up Natalie Barrett for a layup and converted a three-point play in the low post to make it 40-39 with less than two minutes remaining. She finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
“They played a box-and-one (defense) on me in the beginning,” Morang said. “I trust my team. I don’t have to be the leading scorer for us to win. I’ll do the little things. That’s how it worked out.”
The Squeri-Morang combination still wasn’t enough to offset Ashunae Durant, who scored a game-high 23 points, including 14 of her team’s 17 in the fourth quarter. Durant was especially clutch after the Spartans’ center Javee Artis, who added 13 points, fouled out with less than four minutes remaining.
“Durant had a phenomenal game,” Pazdera said. “When (Artis) fouled out I thought, ‘That’s big,’ but she made big shot after big shot when they needed it.”
The same can’t be said for the other end of the floor, where New Providence came up short on several opportunities to take command – most notably when Kaycee DeVoogd missed a layup that could have cut the deficit to 42-41. Bloomfield Tech shot 5-of-6 at the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds.
“We certainly weren’t playing our best basketball offensively,” Pazdera said. “We let some opportunities go and we let them dictate with their power. We couldn’t make those easy shots.”
In spite of its own miscues, New Providence never trailed by more than six points as it responded to Bloomfield Tech scoring the first five points of the game by scoring eight of the next 12. Squeri gave New Providence its first lead at 12-11 and hit the first of her three 3s to make it 15-13 before Bloomfield Tech closed the first half on an 8-0 run.
“It was an intense game,” Morang said. “We were right there because we stayed together.”