February 1, 2013 at 12:02 AM
WEST CALDWELL, NJ- The Caldwell girls’ varsity basketball team eliminated the Livingston Lancers (7-9) from the Essex County Tournament Thursday. The Chiefs (10-6) suffocated the Lancers early on and relied on their superior defense to carry them to victory.
The Chiefs were led by center Ijeoma Ikpe, who recorded several boards and blocks to go along with her team-leading 19 points. After getting off to a slow start in the first half, Ikpe finished with 14 points in the final 16 minutes of play.
“I was kind of iffy in the beginning,” Ikpe said. “After [halftime] I knew I had to get my shots in, so I just took a deep breath and I’m proud of the way I played.”
Caldwell head coach Ryu Saito was also proud of his senior star.
“[Ikpe’s performance] was great. It’s something I’ve come to expect from her," Saito said. “She helped in every phase of the game…she’s just a steady influence for us.”
Ikpe was more than just a steady influence in the fourth quarter. The 6’1” big almost single-handedly fended off a late Livingston rally scoring nine of her 19 points in the last eight minutes.
The Lancers for the second game in a row nearly came back from a double-digit fourth quarter deficit, scoring 15 of their 29 total points in the fourth. Livingston scored 20 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday to nearly rally past Nutley, before ultimately losing 37-35 to the Maroon Raiders.
Similar to their matchup Tuesday, the Lancers once again fell short. Ikpe’s stellar performance along with Livingston’s dreadful free throw shooting ultimately doomed any chance of a green and white comeback.
Livingston lived up to their mediocre 7-9 record failing to play key fundamental basketball. While the Chiefs made a respectable 13 of their 18 free throw attempts the Lancers could only make two of their 14 attempts at the line, an uncanny 14 percent.
Livingston forward Sam Rothenberger led Livingston with eight points and three steals.