Strong defensive front fuels No. 11 Gulls past Ospreys and into Sweet Sixteen

Strong defensive front fuels No. 11 Gulls past Ospreys and into Sweet Sixteen

SALISBURY, Md. – A stingy defense that forced 29 turnovers while holding Stockton University to 19 second-half points guided the No. 11 Salisbury University women's basketball team past the Ospreys and into the NCAA sectional semifinals next weekend with a 61-54 victory Saturday night in Maggs Physical Activities Center. 

"I think we were more aggressive in the first half tonight than we were (Friday night) to the Bears," Head Coach Kelly Lewandowski said. "The defense in the second half was excellent, and I really think that fueled our offense." 

The defensive end gathered the momentum early for the Sea Gulls (27-2), using two turnovers and a block from junior Julia McLaughlin to ignite a front that only allowed two field goals by the Ospreys through the first eight minutes of play. 

Although Stockton (22-7) opened the game up with the first points off a free throw along with a layup, it was Salisbury that cruised out to an early lead off an 11-point run. In the run, senior Anna Hackett totaled four points off a three and free throw, while senior Courtney McManus and sophomore Lauren Rothfeld tacked in a jumper apiece. 

But the Ospreys wouldn't go away, hitting a run of their own to reclaim the lead at the 7:18 mark, 16-15. The game remained close through the next five minutes before Stockton hit a late run to take a 35-30 advantage into the break. 

The second half was all Salisbury on both sides of the ball, as the Ospreys had no answer to the stingy defense and quick tempo transition offense. With Stockton starting with the ball, senior Sarah Seipp made a statement early with a block, which would be turned into two points on the other end off a jumper by senior Melanie Mocniak from the left corner. 

By the first media timeout, at the 14:31 mark of the second half, the Gulls put together a 10-2 run to retake the lead and never looked back. On the defensive end through the first 5:30, Salisbury registered two blocks and forced the Ospreys to turn the ball over four times. 

Coming out of the media timeout, the full-court pressure was in full force by Salisbury, seeing Hackett make a steal at midcourt and transition it into a falling layup for a five-point advantage, 42-37. 

Continuing the pressure with Rothfeld up top in the formation, the sophomore, with her length, made the steal on the inbounds attempt by the Ospreys. Flipping the ball quickly to Seipp, who was cutting back to the basket, the senior finished the easy layup to keep the momentum building. 

"I think my team pretty much likes my wing span up there," Rothfeld said. "I don't really think about it too much. I just see where the girls are going to pass, launch my arms out and hopefully get a tip."

The Sea Gulls would put the game away after that with a 15-2 run, pushing the lead to the largest of the game, 18, with 6:04 remaining in the game. Eight of the points in the run came from the free-throw line, shooting 8-for-8, four by Mocniak and two apiece by McManus and McLaughlin. Rothfeld also cashed in on a transition three-pointer in the middle of the run to give Salisbury its first double-digit lead of the game. McManus and Rothfeld connected on the final basket of the run, with McManus making the steal and finding Rothfeld for the finish on the other end to push the score to 61-43. 

The Ospreys went on a late 11-point run, but the deficit was too large to overcome in a small amount of time, as Salisbury punched its ticket to the second weekend of the big dance with a 61-54 victory. 

"I think we are on a pretty good roll," Hackett said. "We had a loss to Marymount coming into playoffs and that was a little bit of a blow, but I think we have picked it back up. And we are glad that happened then rather than now." 

Hackett led all scorers with 21 points, while Rothfeld chipped in for 12. Seipp tied a career-high with seven steals, as the Sea Gulls recorded 20 for the game, second highest of the season. 

The defense as a whole held the Ospreys to just 19 second-half points, seeing Stockton turn the ball over 29 times, the most against the Sea Gulls this season. 

With the victory, Salisbury advances to the sectional semifinals against No. 12 Amherst College, which downed No. 17 New York University in a second-round matchup Saturday night. The next game is set for Friday, March 13 with the time and location to be announced. For more on postseason play, check out www.suseagulls.com as information becomes available. 

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