PISCATAWAY, NJ -- When Brook Moll hit a 3-pointer from the left wing just seven seconds into the game, Piscataway High School girls varsity basketball head coach Chris Puder and the rest of the team felt good vibes.
Those good vibes turned into a win as the second-seeded Lady Chiefs defeated fifth-seeded Edison, 51-37, in the championship game of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament Thursday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway.
It is the first county tournament title for Piscataway since 2015.
Normally a team that pounds the ball inside to its plethora of bigs, Piscataway found success from the outside making seven total triples on the night. This included five by senior LaNiya Miller herself. Moll averages just three points per game and finished with five.
“Yeah, it’s kind of anti-Piscataway this year. It’s been get the ball inside, get the ball inside,” Puder said. “Brook knocks down the 3 and I’m like ‘Alright, we’re good today”. It was one of those things where you knew it was going to be a good day. That was big.
“It's totally awesome (to win), but it's about the seniors. As a first-year head coach, I wanted to keep the girls in the program. I told the girls from day one, they win the games, I lose the games. The girls did a great job."
Miller, the Most Valuable Player of the game, netted a game-high 18 and seven rebounds.
The Chiefs started the game on a 7-0 run and held the Eagles to just six points in the first quarter on a pair of triples as Piscataway led 15-6. Piscataway kept a tight grip on the game until the third quarter when Edison went on a run. Momentum started to shift toward the underdogs, but Miller had eight points in the quarter and converted two critical 3-pointers.
“I just had confidence in myself and I knew my team had confidence in me making big-time shots when it came down to it,” Miller said.
It’s nice for Puder to have a Division-I athlete at his disposal.
“Coaches say LaNiya has been her for what for, seven, eight years,” he said. “I’m going to miss her next year. She always gets to the foul line or makes a big shot.”
Piscataway led by as much as 16 points in the third after Miller’s second triple of the quarter with eight seconds left. The closest the Eagles ever came again was within eight in the final frame. It was Edison’s first appearance in the title game since 2004.
"We told them that they were going to go on a run," Puder said. "They’re going to come out like their hair is on fire. At some point between the third quarter and fourth quarter, it was going to get tight. That's where we had to clamp down. I try to save my timeouts for those situations where it gets a little bit crazy and we have to settle ourselves down. The girls did a great job. They said it was never going to get to one possession and it never got to one possession. They got it back up and they were able to do that.”
Piscataway took away one of Edison’s biggest weapons in forward/center Daniella Marmol, who came in averaging a team-best 15.4 points per game. Marmol ended the game with just three points and nine rebounds.
Miller said the plan was to force Marmol, who played with a wrap on her left hand, to her right and have her kick the ball back out to the perimeter. The Chiefs also wanted to make her job tougher in getting rebounds as well.
“We knew we wanted to take Daniella out,” Puder said. “She had much lower than she’s had any other time that we played her. We did a great job clamping down and we did a good job down low.”
While Marmol was ineffective, Samira Sargent scored a team-high 16 points, making three shots from behind the arc along the way. Piscataway made sure to keep a close eye on Sargent. Yamirah Bennett, who scored 13 points on the night, spent time face guarding Sargent.
“We had the same mindset going in like we did (in the semifinals) against Bishop Ahr,” Miller said of her team’s defense. We needed to treat Sargent like she was Emma Boslet and lock her down basically and force to take tougher shots.”
Edison had tons of open looks from the outside, but couldn’t make shots consistently. Credit to the Chiefs who closed on the shooters.
“I thought Saniya Myers, Ariel Jenkins, any of the bigs, they knew had to get there. And if you go out and have your hands up, they have to shoot higher, the arc is higher, and it just doesn't go,” Puder said. They did a great job getting out to the shooters.
“We try to pride ourselves on defense in Piscataway. If we play defense, we’ll be OK. We knew with the bigger court if we hold them under 40 points we’ll be OK.”
Next for both Edison and Piscataway is the start of the NJSIAA state tournament. The Eagles are the No. 11 seed in Central Jersey, Group 4 while the Chiefs are the No. 3 seed in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4.
Piscataway will host 14th-seeded Linden while Edison travels to sixth-seeded Middletown South on Feb. 27.
But before that, Miller and her team are going to enjoy this victory.
“It’s unbelievable that we made it back here. I haven’t been here since my freshman year and me being a senior, there’s a lot of emotions going through my head right now,” Miller said. I’m proud of my girls. …Just to get back here and end it like this is a great accomplishment.”
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