There is a belief that runs through the core of the New Providence High School girls basketball program that no upset is impossible. It stems from shocking wins against University on the way to back-to-back state titles in 2010 and 2011 – and for one half Tuesday night it looked like a third chapter might be in the works.
Second-seeded New Providence led heavily favored top-seeded Shabazz midway through the second quarter and trailed by just four points at halftime before its lack of size proved to be the undoing in a 56-34 loss on the state powerhouse’s home court in the NJSIAA North 2 Group I final.
“We knew we could do it,” sophomore forward Sydney Morang said, “just like they did.”
Morang, who was in the stands for the second of those upsets, scored her team’s first seven points and finished with a team-high 16. But it was her teammates Katie Kinum and Nat Barrett who scored the three straight baskets that turned a 10-7 deficit into a 13-10 lead with less than four minutes to go in the half.
“Against University, we wanted to take smart shots,” said coach Cap Pazdera, who even had former star Kaitlyn Cresencia address the team this week. “Here, we were trying to hold the basketball. The fewer touches they have, the fewer number of chances they have to score. But we got some good looks out of it, too.”
With South Carolina-bound point guard Doniyah Cliney (11 points) and Georgia Tech-bound forward Zaire O’Neil (20 points, 15 rebounds) leading the way, Shabazz (29-1) closed the half on a 10-3 run, including Cliney’s go-ahead 3-pointer.
“If you told us before the game we’d be down by four at halftime, I’d take that 100 times out of 100,” said Pazdera, who has led the Pioneers (22-7) to four of the last five sectional finals and five in his nine seasons at the helm. “We missed some easy ones, too, or we could’ve been closer.”
But the second half was a different story as Shabazz’s third Division I-caliber talent, DeAshia Jones, muscled her way on the low block for six quick points to extend the lead to 30-18. Jones finished with 13.
Suddenly, it was clear why Shabazz has won six straight state championships – two in Group III and four in Group II – and a sectional title every season that it has been eligible for the NJSIAA Tournament since 2002.
“How many times did they dump it inside?” Pazdera asked rhetorically. “Then you cover the post and they pass it out and knock down wide-open 3s. We needed seven (players) to cover five with our size disadvantage.”
Casey Trezza scored back-to-back baskets as New Providence pulled within eight, but Ivana Negron closed the third quarter with a 3 and the margin remained in double digits for the entire fourth.
“It was an awesome experience to be able to play them,” said Morang, who grabbed eight rebounds. “We talked about this game since the beginning of the season when we saw they were in our bracket.”
And, for a half, it looked like the team would give the whole town – a solid chunk of which made the trip – talking.
“It was awesome. We were working hard every single play,” Morang said of the first half. “(In the second half) they got a lead and used their post players very well.”