QUEENS, NEW YORK- New Hope girls’ basketball Head Coach Sam Caldwell knew his team had to establish defensive pressure early if they wanted to beat St. John’s in the GEICO National Championship game on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers did just that as they held St. John’s, the second best team in the country, to 30 percent shooting and forced 16 turnovers in the 45-34 victory to claim the national title.
“Defensively, we have been outstanding all year,” Caldwell, who has won his third national title as a coach, said. “We put together some pretty good gameplans. We knew we could not allow Azzi [Fudd] to get in rhythm and get to her spots.”
There was little to no offense in the first quarter, as both teams combined to score 10 points. New Hope was solid defensively, forcing the Cadets to take bad shots and commit turnovers.
New Hope started to pick up the pace offensively in the second quarter, going on a 9-2 run that led to a 17-12 lead at halftime.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game in the world,” St. John’s Head Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “[New Hope] is a physical team and they presented trouble with their switching. We still got really good looks, but they just didn’t go down.”
St. John’s senior guard Carly Rivera helped the Cadets make a comeback in the third quarter. Rivera, a Columbia commit, made a pair of three pointers and dished out three assists to give St. John’s a 26-23 advantage with 2:49 remaining in the quarter. The Cadets would go on to end the third quarter with a 32-30 lead.
New Hope brought back its defensive pressure from the first half to the fourth quarter. Senior forward Jennifer Ezeh blocked a shot then senior guard Kylie Kornegay-Lucas converted a layup in transition to give New Hope a 34-32 lead with five minutes remaining. That sequence sparked a 11-2 run by the Tigers, which featured five turnovers by St. John’s in the final three minutes of regulation.
New Hope sophomore guard Jada Walker, who finished with nine points, five rebounds and four assists, was named GEICO Nationals MVP. Senior guard Kylie Kornegay-Lucas had 11 points, while junior Delicia Pinnick added 13 points. Lucas and Pinnick were named to the All-Tournament Team.
“Most of the season, we have been doubted,” Walker said. “We just kept working to we got to the top and we did.”
Fudd, the 2019 Gatorade National Player of the Year, struggled throughout the game. Despite Fudd leading St. John’s in scoring with 14 points, the sophomore guard went 5-14 from the floor and 0-6 from behind the arc.
“I couldn’t make a shot,” Fudd said. “The ball really wasn’t falling in for any of us. The whole game was pretty ugly, but [New Hope] was really physical.”
St. John’s senior and North Carolina commit Louise Thshitenge-Mutombo tallied six points and six rebounds. St. John’s shot 2-13 from the three-point line.
Just in its second season, New Hope’s girls’ basketball program has become one of the best in the country. The Tigers, who is ranked the seventh best team in the nation, will end the season with a 39-3 record and wins over the first (Miami Country Day) and second (St. John’s) best teams in the nation.
“We knew we had a talented group, and we had to figure out a way to best use that talent,” Caldwell said. “I’m glad we were able to figure that puzzle out and put our kids in positions where they can be successful. They brought into the New Hope way and it paid off.”