Molly Rubin’s shooting hand was taped but that didn’t stop her from firing away for the Princeton Day School girls’ basketball team as it played at Ewing last Wednesday in the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals.
The senior point guard, who has been playing through a sprained right hand, came up big as 12th-seeded PDS stunned No. 4 Ewing 42-39.
Rubin coolly dribbled through Ewing’s high-pressure defense and scored 11 points to help spark the upset.
“I think we worked pretty well today and played our hardest,” said Rubin. “We really wanted to win.”
The Panthers brought plenty of confidence into its uphill battle against powerful Ewing, having upended fifth-seeded WW/P-S 47-45 in the first round of the county tourney two days earlier.
“We had some good momentum coming into this game,” said Rubin.
“A 12th-seed has never gotten to the county semis so we have proved something.”
PDS rode that momentum to a solid start against Ewing, jumping out to a 13-8 lead after the first quarter. The Blue Devils, though, outscored the Panthers 13-9 in the second quarter to narrow the Panther lead to 22-21 at the half.
Down the stretch, the game turned into a nailbiter as the teams traded the lead several times. PDS hit six-of-eight free throws in the last 30 seconds and got a spectacular blocked shot from Emily Goldman right before the buzzer to pull out the unlikely win.
Rubin wasn’t surprised that PDS came through in the clutch at the charity stripe.
“We all made our free throws,” said Rubin, who hit two key foul shots with 20.9 seconds left. “We have been shooting free throws a lot in practice.”
The win was even sweeter considering that PDS has gone through an injury-riddled campaign which saw its roster sliced to just six players for much of the winter.
“Everyone has stepped up and played all different positions,” said Rubin.
“I have never played post before; I think it has been a team effort with people stepping up where there has been a void.”
PDS head coach Mika Ryan had the sense that her players were ready to step up in the Ewing contest.
“I think people fail to appreciate the difficulty of our schedule,” said Ryan, whose team’s Cinderella run ended last Friday when it fell 54-28 to top-seeded Hopewell Valley in the MCT semis to end the season at 9-12.
“We have played a really tough schedule; we might look like skinny suburban girls but we are pretty tough.”
The Panthers didn’t waste any time showing their toughness against Ewing as they seized the early momentum.
“I thought we had a pretty good start,” said Ryan. “The key to our start is that we didn’t let them score in transition. We knew if we started that, it would be a long night for us because that really ignites them and gets them going. I thought we did a terrific job of getting back.”
In the final moments of the contest, the Panthers executed well at both ends of the court.
“The free throw shooting was key and we didn’t turn the ball over,” added Ryan.
“We did a good job of containing No. 4 [Candice Scott-Mason] and we didn’t give up anything easy in transition.”
Another key to the victory was the play of the battle-tested Rubin and classmate Sarah Godwin, who led all scorers with 19 points.
“I knew that as long as they were playing hard, our two seniors weren’t coming out,” said Ryan.
“I have sat them out at times this year because they haven’t always performed but they were magnificent tonight.”
In Ryan’s view, Rubin’s performance exemplified the grit PDS has displayed this season.
“I thought Molly played a very good floor game; she made good decisions,” said Ryan.
“She handled the ball well and was good handling the press. She took shots when she had them. She didn’t force anything. That was an issue five or six games ago when she was just trying to do too much. We have asked her to do too much this year. She has to be the point guard, the center, and guard the other team’s best player.”
The Valparaiso-bound Godwin, who returned to the lineup in January after being sidelined by a knee injury since last season, gave the Panthers a major spark when she hit a three-pointer and a second long jumper in the first quarter.
“That was key because she is kind of a streaky shooter,” said Ryan.
“For her to get off to such a good start was key for us; it got her confidence going. It was nice to see.”
It has been nice for Ryan to guide a group with so much character. “It is hard for me to even talk about it; we have hung together all year through so many ups and downs,” said Ryan.
“I just love being around them. They never give in, they never stop playing. We might play crappy sometimes but we play awfully hard. They have to be one of my all-time favorite teams. I go to practice and I leave feeling good. They are everything that is right about PDS. I mean that, they are so resilient.”
Rubin, for her part, has enjoyed her PDS hoops experience. “I love the PDS program,” said Rubin.
“Mika has been great and the team has been great. It is definitely exciting to do this with people like my teammates. It is really fun. It is a good way to end the season and go out strong.”