SECAUCUS — Riding a triple-double performance from junior Julia McClure, Secaucus overcame a slow start tonight to earn a 68-40 victory over University in the second round of the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1 playoffs.
McClure scored 13 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and dished out 10 assists in the third-seeded Patriots’ victory, and tacked five steals onto her stat line.
“(Julia) is a fantastic player who plays her tail off and does a lot of good things for us,” said Secaucus coach John Sterling. “She is as good as an outlet person that you can get and she threw some fabulous passes down the floor tonight that led to some easy conversions.”
A majority of those full-court heaves found fellow junior Andie Lennon, who scored a game-high 27 points. Lennon’s offensive output helped put a charge into the Patriots (22-6) early, as the team struggled out of the gate. Secaucus trailed 9-8 with two minutes left in the first quarter.
After going into the locker room with a 33-22 lead at halftime, it was the Patriots’ defense that allowed Secaucus to separate itself from the Newark-based squad. Following a switch to half-court defense in the second half, the Patriots locked down University, holding the Phoenix to 19 points the rest of the way.
University (7-18) was paced in the loss by Jihayah Chavis and Shadiyyah Guyton, who combined to score 25 points.
“(Coach) just wanted us to pick it up,” said sophomore Kristina Ulrich, who had three steals in addition to 10 points. “As soon as he sees us get into defensive slumps, he just makes sure to find a way to get us fired up and get the momentum going.”
Sterling, however, credited Ulrich with lifting the Patriots spirits’ in the second half with her “superb defense,” which made life difficult for the Phoenix’s top scorers.
Secaucus also received a strong performance from Alyson Toman, who made her presence felt in the paint early and often. The sophomore finished with seven points, but her biggest contributions came on the glass, where she brought down 12 rebounds – seven of which were at the offensive end.
Junior Kendall Caruso finished with six points and three steals in the victory, rounding out the starting lineup’s balanced performance – a fact of life that Sterling hopes to see continue throughout the state tournament.
The Patriots will meet either seventh-seeded Dunellen or second-seeded New Providence in Friday’s semifinals. Shabazz, No. 1 in The Star-Ledger Top 20, is lurking on the other side of the bracket.
“If you have five players on the floor that are a threat, offensively and defensively, then you have a complete team,” said Sterling. “I know most of time that Andie and Julia get a lot of the headlines, but Kendall Caruso, Alyson Toman, Kristina Ulrich and the subs off the bench have done a great job this year.
“You don’t win 22 games with two just players. It takes an entire program where all the players accept their roles and do what they’re coached to do.”