NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ -- The New Providence girls basketball team had to weather not one, but two menacing rallies in the second half Tuesday night.
A gritty Glen Ridge team posed the most severe test the Lady Pioneers have faced throughout the playoffs, but some key foul shots in the final minute enabled top-seeded New Providence to hold off the third-seeded Ridgers for a 51-48 victory before a raucous capacity crowd for its first Section 2, Group 1 championship since 2015.
Lindsay Kinum scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and passed for four assists, and Amy Maurer had 13 points and three assists and sank six of seven free throws for New Providence (27-3), which will play Cresskill in the Group 1 state semifinal Thursday night at Ramapo High School.
Glen Ridge (14-14), which trailed by 10 points at the half, never did tie the game in the second half, but the Ridgers sure did make the Pioneers sweat--much more than any opponent has throughout New Providence's heretofore relatively easy run through the state tournament.
Glen Ridge scored the first six points of the second half to come within four, 31-27. New Providence responded with an 8-0 run. Kinum drove for a layup and the first Pioneer points of the half with 3:45 left. Meghan Lamanna (nine points) canned a 3-pointer and then reserve forward Grace Kelly turned in one of the best offensive plays of the night, executing a textbook low-post drop-step for a layup plus the foul. After she converted the free throw, New Providence had a 39-27 lead with 2:09 left in the third quarter.
"That 'and-one' by Grace really gave us some momentum when we needed it," Kinum said. "When they came back against us, we talked about bending but not breaking, and not getting down on ourselves."
A lot of opponents would have gotten down on themselves after falling behind by 12 late in the third quarter on the road in a playoff game. But Glen Ridge didn't. Trailing by 14, 44-30, going into the fourth quarter, the visitors again uncorked a big run to get back in the game, reeling off the first 11 points of the final period and holding the Pioneers scoreless for the first 4:46 of the quarter.
"They played a phenomenal game against us," New Providence head coach Cap Pazdera said of Glen Ridge. "I tip my hat to coach and all his players. They played their hearts out."
New Providence, which went 0-for-4 from the floor in the fourth quarter, finally broke the drought when Kinum sank a pair of free throws with 3:14 left to extend the Pioneer lead to 46-41. After Glen Ridge scored, Maurer hit both ends of a one-and-one with 1:11 left for a 48-43 New Providence lead.
Glen Ridge's Elettra Giantomenico, who hit all six of her field-goal attempts in the game, scored on a drive to cut the lead to two, 48-45. New Providence senior guard Kaitlyn Cumiskey, a whirling dervish in the press with five steals in the game, forced a couple of turnovers and sank two of four foul shots over the next 30 seconds to give the Pioneers a 50-45 lead with 39 seconds left.
"Seems like Kaitlyn had a bunch of big steals for us at the end, and Amy hit some big free throws," said Kinum, who was 6-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the line. "We work a lot on making pressure free throws in practice."
After Glen Ridge cut it to two, 50-48, on Michaila Dowd's fourth 3-pointer of the game with 8.7 seconds left, Maurer made one of two foul shots with seven seconds left.
The foul shooting practice must have worked for New Providence--which struggled with that part of its game while mastering almost everything else earlier in the tournament. The Pioneers made 75 percent (15 of 20) of their free throws against Glen Ridge.
"I think our youth got to us a little bit in that last period," Pazdera said. "Their defense caused some problems for us with their pressure. But our free throws were huge, and that won it for us tonight. It was the difference. That, and we got a couple of stops late when we really needed one."