NEW PROVIDENCE – Meghan Lamanna, New Providence’s leading scorer, was wise to get teammate Kaitlyn Cumiskey the ball.
The senior guard juked her Oak Knoll defender just enough to get past her and drive to the basket for two points.
Suddenly, for the first time and with just 13.7 seconds to go, New Providence had the lead. The Pioneers were shut out 14-0 after the first eight minutes and trailed 16-0 before scoring their first points at the 6:12 mark of the second quarter.
Oak Knoll, now trailing for the first time and down by one after starting the fourth quarter ahead by 13, came down with the ball. Sophomore guard Katelyn Glory was fouled in the act of shooting with just 2.7 seconds remaining. Oak Knoll was previously seven-for-10 from the free throw line.
This was Glory’s first trip to the foul line. Both shots were on target, but hit off the rim.
After the second miss, Oak Knoll six-foot senior center Paige Morton grabbed the rebound and put up a shot in the lane that also hit off the rim. The buzzer sounded. New Providence players were jubilant, and probably a bit shocked, that they were now celebrating a victory.
Just about an hour after being down by 16 points and shut out at the time in a sport when no matter how bad things go you shouldn’t be getting shut out, undefeated New Providence remained without a loss after producing what seemed like an improbable 41-40 decision over Oak Knoll.
Saturday’s game at New Providence will be the only time these two Union County powers meet in the regular season, with Oak Knoll presently leading the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division at 3-0 and New Providence the Mountain Division at 5-0.
In what could have been billed a UCC-crossover clash between the top two teams in Union County, no disrespect to Westfield, saw Oak Knoll have its seven-game winning streak snapped to fall to 8-4, while New Providence improved to 13-0. It was the first time Oak Knoll lost to a Union County opponent.
New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera, who has guided the Pioneers to many monumental victories including consecutive Group 1 state championships in 2010 and 2011 and a third one in 2015, could not recall a time in his 15 seasons at the helm when the Pioneers were blanked in the first quarter or were able to produce a 13-0 start to the season. The two wins before were impressive enough with New Providence defeating Mountain Division foes Union Catholic and, in overtime, Summit at home earlier this week, both of those games decided by just four points.
“We were looking to get two of these three games,” Pazdera said. “To get all three and come back the way we did today, wow.”
Cumiskey, all eight of her points coming in the fourth quarter, scored her team’s and the game’s final six points. She had only two points before that, a layup at the halfway point of the final eight minutes.
Here’s what she said about her game-winning basket: “we work on pressure situations in practice, so I was just working on beating the defender. I made my move and then went to the basket.”
After Morton scored inside for the final time, she led all scorers with 20 points, to give Oak Knoll a 40-35 edge, Cumiskey answered with her second layup to pull New Providence to within three points for the second time at 40-37.
After an Oak Knoll foul, New Providence regained possession. Cumiskey was then fouled with 1:12 to go. She made both free throws to make it a one-one-point game for the first time at 40-39. Oak Knoll dribbled to half court and then called a timeout. There was exactly one minute to go.
Morton received the third pass and drove through the lane. However, she was called for an offensive foul with 49.8 seconds remaining. New Providence then got the ball to half court and called a timeout with 46.1 seconds left.
Following five passes and freshman Grace Kelly getting cornered with the ball, Pazdera called another timeout with 21.6 seconds on the clock.
Lamanna, who entered the game with 184 points and also a team-leading 25 three-point field goals, immediately got the ball to Cumiskey.
“All game I was sitting out and my teammates were working their butts off,” Cumiskey said. “I had all this energy saved and wanted to do something there at the end.”
Off the bench, New Providence senior Julianna DeGeorge got New Providence going offensively by driving to the basket twice in the second quarter and scored her team’s first four points.
“What she did to get us going was massive,” Pazdera said.
Lamanna finished with only three points. The freshman guard did not make her first basket, which was her only one, until there was three minutes to go. Her three-pointer from the top of the key pulled the Pioneers to within three points for the first time at 38-35.
When Oak Knoll won the first quarter 14-0, Morton and junior Greta Criqui scored seven points each. Criqui, who did not score in the fourth quarter, finished with 11 points. When New Providence first began to chip away at its double-digit deficit the Pioneers held Morton to no points in the second quarter.
New Providence exerted quite a bit of energy to pull to within six points for the first time at 25-19 with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter. However, Oak Knoll came back with an 8-0 run to build its lead back up to 14 at 33-19 with just two minutes to go before the fourth quarter would commence. Glory scored her final points after grabbing an offensive rebound and putting the ball in, Morton scored inside twice and then Criqui hit a jumper for her final points.
New Providence’s fourth quarter comeback began with a 7-0 run that included a jumper by junior Amy Mauer, a three-point basket from the right side by DeGeorge, who finished with seven points, and a lefty inside shot by junior guard Lindsay Kinum, who finished with nine points.
“By no means did we think we were out of it when the fourth quarter began,” Pazdera said. “We always talk about getting to the fourth quarter and having a chance. We kept it close enough and then that run we had to start the fourth quarter was enough to give us a chance.”
Before Oak Knoll scored its first points of the fourth quarter, on an offensive rebound inside by freshman reserve Bridget Sheehan with 5:11 remaining, the Royals had already turned the ball over four more times.
“Turnovers killed us,” Oak Knoll head coach Katie Cummings said. “The way we started, this was a game we should have won.“
Mauer and Cumiskey, her first basket, scored afterwards to make it a 36-32 game. Suddenly the Pioneers were down by just four for the first time and still with four minutes to go.
“We’ve struggled all year with pressure,” Cummings said. “We took quick shots and did not allow for time to come off the clock. They got to the loose balls.”
New Providence was in a full court press the entire game and in the second half its pressure was curtailing Oak Knoll’s rhythm appreciably.
“We call it ‘green,’” Cumiskey said of the full court pressure. “We try to get the other team off their dribble.
“We had to calm down, play hard and just play good defense. On offense we had to find a way to attack.”
Pazdera, as expected, was concerned about Morton getting to the basket too often.
“On offense we like to spread the defense out and they kept us out of the paint there in the first half,” Pazdera said. “Paige, with her size, was a bit intimidating for us.”
Oak Knoll did a good job on preventing Lamanna and Kinum, New Providence’s second-leading scorer, from filling the hoop.
“They took Meghan and Lindsay away and so Kaitlyn stepped up,” Pazdera said. “On the last basket Kaitlyn was able to move the defender away off the dribble.”
After the way Oak Knoll played through three quarters it took a pretty solid effort for New Providence to outscore the visiting Royals by 14 in the fourth to eke out a hard-fought, one-point victory.
“Playing team basketball, including the girls on the bench, has been the main reason for our success so far,” Pazdera said. “Somehow we’ve been finding ways to win with different players coming through.”
If Oak Knoll is to see New Providence again in the Union County Tournament, both are projected to receive high seeds when the event is put together in early February, the Royals know they had success, but also at times were their own worst enemy with unproductive results.
“This was a bad loss for us and turnovers were key,” Cummings said. “We didn’t take care of the basketball in the second half and our offense was stale. They hit some big shots and made a big play at the end.”
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE-CROSSOVER CONTEST
Oak Knoll (8-4) 14 07 13 06 – 40
New Providence (13-0) 00 14 07 20 – 41
OAK KNOLL ROYALS (40):
34-Paige Morton, senior, 7-0-6-20
10-Bridget Sheehan, freshman, 1-0-1-3
5-Greta Criqui, junior, 4-1-0-11
32-Katelyn Glory, sophomore, 2-0-0-4
2-Haley Meehan, sophomore, 1-0-0-2
3-Devon Gogerty, sophomore, 0-0-0-0
Starters: Morton, Criqui,
Meehan, Gogerty, Glory.
NEW PROVIDENCE PIONEERS (41):
5-Kaitlyn Cumiskey, senior, 3-0-2-8
20-Meghan Lamanna, freshman, 0-1-0-3
15-Amy Mauer, junior, 2-2-0-10
1-Linday Kinum, junior, 4-0-1-9
22-Juliana DeGeorge, senior, 2-1-0-7
2-Grace Kelly, freshman, 1-0-0-2
11-Alexa Boyle, senior, 1-0-0-2
Starters: Boyle, Cumiskey,
Kinum, Mauer, Lamanna.