SFU star Kovatch hits NEC-record 11 treys
LORETTO — Earlier in the day on Wednesday, it was confirmed what many had already known — that Saint Francis’ Jessica Kovatch was the Northeast Conference player of the year.
Once the game started, Kovatch showed an ESPN3 audience and anyone that hadn’t seen her play yet why she is the league’s top player as she set an NEC record by sinking 11 3-pointers while scoring 39 points.
The junior erupted for 21 points in the opening quarter, including a 6-for-7 showing from 3-point territory, to help the Red Flash jump out to a 10-point lead. It was a lead they eventually finished off with an 89-70 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson in quarterfinal action of the NEC Tournament at DeGol Arena.
“I thought it’s cool being named player of the year, and obviously having Ace (Harrison) and (Caitlyn) Kroll defense player and rookie of the year, I thought that was cool too,” Kovatch said. “I think we just wanted to win today. So, I’m glad with all the accomplishments that we had, but we just wanted to win today.”
With the win, Saint Francis improved to 22-9 and advanced to the semifinals against Sacred Heart, which defeated Bryant 80-63 in the second semifinal at DeGol. Tonight’s tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I’m really lucky to be able to see stuff like that, and it’s crazy to say, but almost regularly because she does special, cool things like that a lot,” Saint Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “And we also get to see her in practice … These things don’t just show up on game day. We see some of that same stuff on the practice court also.”
Kovatch scored the first 10 points for SFU, including a four-point play, but the Knights were hanging tough up to that point as they eventually tied the contest and took the lead, 14-12, when Madelynn Comly made a layup off of her own steal.
Courtney Zezza drained a triple to put Saint Francis back on top for good and start a 14-2 spurt to end the quarter.
Kovatch’s trey from 30 feet out at the 1:07 mark of the first tied the NEC all-time mark, men or women, for 3-pointers made in a single season of 126 held by Robert Morris’ Sade Logan since 2008. Her next trifecta with just 22.7 left established the new high.
“What can you say? The shots that Jessica Kovatch hit today were just unfathomable,” Fairleigh Dickinson coach Peter Cinella said. “Our goal was obviously not to let her get there. She got one where we left her open, one where she shook one of our defenders and was pretty open. The other nine she hit, there was a hand in her face or someone flying at her. She hit those with five to eight feet off the free-throw line.”
During the first stanza, the Red Flash began to pull away. In the second quarter, they put the game out of reach by outscoring the visitors, 21-8, to take a 47-24 edge into the locker room.
Much like it has for most of the season, the defense played a huge part in setting the stage for the offense as it forced five turnovers and 10 missed shots during a 16-0 stretch to open the second quarter.
“I thought we defended really well in the first half,” Haigh said. “And then when Jess has a big shooting night like this, it makes things a lot easier for everybody. That was really something cool to watch, and I’m lucky to coach players like Jess and the rest of the ones we have on our team. I think they really put on a fun show today.”
Kovatch began the spurt with another four-point play just six seconds in, while Kroll, the top rookie and a third-team all-NEC member, scored twice. Leah Morrow converted a layup and Karson Swogger hit a stepback 3-pointer to set the lead at 42-16 with 3:39 to go before the half.
A putback by FDU’s Lauren Francillon just 27 seconds later ended the run, but the Red Flash earned their largest lead of the game after Maya Wynn, who tallied 10 points drained a triple, and Harrison, the top defensive player and a first-team all-NEC pick, made a layup off a Kovatch steal to put SFU up 47-18.
Saint Francis was upset in the first round last year, 65-57, against Central Connecticut State at home. So, the start was exactly what the Red Flash were looking for to ensure history would not repeat itself.
“We were disappointed (last year) because we thought we were better and we lost. So that’s something that I keep in the back of my head,” Kovatch said. “… Letting the freshmen know that anything can happen in the playoffs, any team can get a run and play their best game, and we might play our worst game. So we have to be prepared for anything and just stay mentally into the game because you lose, you go home.”
In the second half, Fairleigh Dickinson (15-15) never quit and was only outscored, 28-26, in the third, and with most of the Red Flash starters on the bench for the majority of the final quarter, it scored 20 points to just 14 for SFU that made the score closer than the game actually was.
Francillon posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Comly led the Knights with 16 points, Kamrin Weimer had 15 and Amina Markovic added 10.
Kovatch broke and set new records in the second half as she established a new NEC Tournament record for 3-pointers made with her ninth at the 5:18 point of the third quarter and then rewrote the record for all-time treys knocked down in a game with her 11th when she hit a stepback off an inbound play with 2:44 remaining.
“I think I just shoot, and when it went in, I just kept shooting until it doesn’t go in,” Kovatch said.
The 39 points were a new tournament high for the guard as she shot 12-of-20 from the field and 11-for-17 from 3-point range. In addition, Saint Francis fell one 3-point make away from tying the SFU single game record of 19.
“If you were to tell me our goal was somehow to cut the turnovers down — we actually won the turnover battle. If you were to tell me we would make 27 field goals and hit 12 3s … I would have said it would have been a five-point game either way,” Cinella said. “But when someone hits 11 3s, that blows all the other stats out of the water.”
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (15-15): Markovic 4-8 2-3 10, Comly 6-15 2-2 16, Serrano-Ranz 0-0 0-0 0, M’Bikata 0-2 0-0 0, Weimer 5-12 0-0 15, Zamora 3-8 0-0 9, Francillon 6-14 0-0 12, Saral 0-0 0-0 0, Clark 2-7 0-0 6, Graham 0-0 0-0 0, Blankenship 1-2 0-0 2, Stanley 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 27-69 4-5 70.
SAINT FRANCIS (22-9): Zezza 2-9 1-2 7, Harrison 1-5 0-0 2, Kroll 6-11 0-1 13, Wynn 4-7 0-0 10, Kovatch 12-20 4-4 39, Swogger 2-5 0-0 6, Morrow 4-7 1-2 9, Mastellone 0-0 0-0 0, Falvey 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 0-2 3-4 3. Totals: 31-66 9-13 89.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Fairleigh Dickinson 16 8 26 20 – 70
Saint Francis 26 21 28 14 – 89
3-point field goals: Fairleigh Dickinson 12-31 (Weimer 5-9, Zamora 3-6, Comly 2-6, Clark 2-7, Blankenship 0-1, Francillon 0-2); Saint Francis 18-34 (Kovatch 11-17, Wynn 2-3, Zezza 2-5, Swogger 2-5, Kroll 1-2, Harrison 0-2). Rebounds: Fairleigh Dickinson 35 (Francillon 11); Saint Francis 43 (Harrison 9). Assists: Fairleigh Dickinson 17 (Comly, Weimer, Zamora, Blankenship 3 each); Saint Francis 22 (Harrison 7). Blocks: Fairleigh Dickinson 4 (Markovic 2); Saint Francis 1 (Harrison). Steals: Fairleigh Dickinson 9 (Blankenship 3); Saint Francis 9 (Wynn, Morrow 3 each). Turnovers: Fairleigh Dickinson 18; Saint Francis 19. Total fouls: Fairleigh Dickinson 16; Saint Francis 10. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none.
Officials: Michael Schmidt, Michael Henderson, Lorraine Ellison.