As she watched the visiting Adelphi Panthers make 10 of their 13 shots from the field in the second quarter last Wednesday evening, most of them on layups, Pace University women’s basketball coach Carrie Seymour knew things would have to change dramatically if her team was going to overcome its 10-point halftime deficit.
“Well, they were just getting to the basket, getting to the basket, getting to the basket, over and over again,” said Seymour afterwards. “The game plan was to sag in, to dig, to keep them out of the middle. And we just completely threw that out the window in the first half. I told ‘em at halftime we were gonna lose by 30 if we keep letting them do that.”
The Setters apparently got the message. Defensively, they limited the Panthers to 11-of-35 shooting in the second half and, offensively, exploded for 40 points after intermission. Sparked by senior captains Geena Rosalbo, who finished with a team-high 18 points, and Gabby Rubin, who erupted for a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter, Pace emerged with a 67-64 Northeast-10 Conference victory in the home opener at the Goldstein Fitness Center.
Rubin, limited to just 10 games last year by a knee injury, connected on back-to-back 3-pointers from the right side of the floor and then capped the Setters’ 13-3 run that tied the game with another trey, this time from the left corner with five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“Gabby Rubin came out, we challenged her at halftime,” said Seymour. “She came out ready to go and then it’s kind of contagious. I think playing good defense also leads to being more relaxed on offense, being more aggressive on offense.”
The Setters, who had opened their season with a pair of nine-point wins on the road in the annual ECC/NE-10 Challenge, tied the game again on an Iliana Krasniqi layup with 3:15 left in the third quarter. But they missed their last five shots of the period, enabling Adelphi to take a 49-44 lead into the final quarter.
Just three seconds into the fourth quarter, Allie Monteleone, who had averaged 23.5 points in the first two games but struggled against Adelphi, started a 7-0 Setter spurt with a 17-foot pullup jumper. A conventional three-point play by Jackie Dellisanti, who finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds, soon tied the game once more.
Another basket by Monteleone with 8:30 remaining gave Pace a 51-49 edge and the Setters never trailed again. The Panthers managed to tie the contest a couple more times before DelliSanti made an 18-footer and Rosalbo, the shortest player on the court, scored successive fast-break layups for a 59-53 Setter lead.
“Yeah, second half, she was huge,” said Seymour about Rosalbo, who finished the evening 7 of 10 from the floor. “Second half, she was big. She was very active. And, again, all those breakaways started with somebody coming and helping on a drive. And then we tipped the ball loose and we could go. We are small. We have to play like that. We have to be a nuisance on defense.”
When Adelphi moved back within two points, the Setters got a clutch 3-pointer from the left corner from Stefanie Svoboda with just under two minutes remaining. After consecutive baskets by the Panthers’ Niajah Morgan and Simone Hobdy cut the Pace lead to 62-61, DelliSanti made one of two foul shots with 24.6 seconds to go.
The Setters’ Kristina Olikhver, a junior transfer, provided a key blocked shot, leading to a pair of Rosalbo free throws with 14 seconds on the clock. But Adelphi’s Julia Strachan nailed a 3-pointer out of the left corner with 11.8 seconds left to cut the Pace advantage to 65-64. Rubin calmly sank two free throws with 10.4 seconds to go and the game ended with Fallyn Stephens of Adelphi misfiring on a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I think it means a lot,” said Seymour about beating Adelphi. “We were picked low and it’s a tough conference. Sometimes you start believing preseason polls if things don’t go your way in the beginning. I mean, it’s one conference game, but I liked our energy second half. I liked our attitude in the second half.”
The Setters closed last season with four wins in their final six games, but now lack the size up front they had back then.
“I think we’re a lot different this year,” said Seymour, now in her 26th season at the Setters’ helm. “We’re small, but we have a lot of kids that can play a lot of different positions. We’re more aggressive, we’re faster, obviously. We play a totally different style. They’re adjusting to it. They’re grittier. You know, they don’t shrink when we challenge them. We tell ‘em how hard it’s gonna be and they don’t shrink.”