CLINTON TWP. — After playing a pair of competitive regular-season games against Phillipsburg, the North Hunterdon High School girls basketball team was steamrolled Friday night.
The Stateliners came out flying, scoring the game’s first seven points and never looked back, en route to a 54-24 victory in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament Final on the Lions’ home floor.
Tournament MVP Jessica Kovatch, who averages over 20 points per game, looked like she’d get to that number again after a dominant second quarter for Phillipsburg (22-3). Kovatch connected on a pair of 3-pointers and totaled 11 points in the quarter, which opened up a 19-6 lead into a 34-11 halftime edge.
North Hunterdon (16-7) couldn’t get any offense going in the first half, shooting just 4-for-23 from the field, and coughed the ball up nine times.
Head coach Tom Hank credited the Phillipsburg defense for shutting his squad down.
“They were so physical against us and they took us out of everything,” Hank said. “Phillipsburg hit some shots right off the bat, which helped them, and we were running all over the place. It was one of those games where it was a very good team that made us look bad.”
Although Kovatch didn’t score again in the second half and finished with a game-high 16 points, Phillipsburg was able to keep its lead by pressuring the North Hunterdon offense into un-forced turnovers. The Lions committed four turnovers in the third quarter and five more in the fourth, shooting themselves in the foot throughout the half.
Hailey Stine, Alicea Foran and Kristina Harrel each scored five points to lead North Hunterdon, which shot just 9-35 from the floor.
“I just told the girls that we can learn from this game,” Hank said. “Honestly, I told them that if they win two games in the state tournament, we could see Phillipsburg again.”
The two teams are in the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV bracket, which gets under way on Tuesday. Phillipsburg is the No. 3 seed and North Hunterdon received the No. 7 seed. If both teams win their first two, they would meet in the semifinals.
“I said to the girls, ‘if I’m sitting in your shoes, that’s what I would want,’ because we had two very good games against them in the regular season. We weren’t any semblance of that team tonight. I don’t think Phillipsburg was either; they were much more aggressive,” Hank said.
The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each team winning on their home floors, but Friday night, it was clear that Phillipsburg was the better squad. Jen D’Anthony chipped in 12 points and six rebounds and Kylie Devlin added 11 points and four steals for the Stateliners, who led 47-19 after three quarters before scoring just five points in the fourth.
Before his team can even think about seeing Phillipsburg again, Hank said that a matchup against Skyland Conference rival Bridgewater-Raritan in the first round on Tuesday needs to be in the front of his group’s minds.
“Now it’s live-or-die time. That’s all we can think about right now,” he said.