Old Westbury, N.Y. — The Battle of the Boulevard is headed to Rochester!
Fourth-seeded NYIT overcame a six-point fourth-quarter deficit and defeated fifth-seeded Queens, 69-57, in the ECC quarterfinals on Wednesday night at Recreation Hall.
The Bears advance to play top-seeded LIU Post in the ECC semifinals on Saturday at noon at Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester.
NYIT handed LIU Post its lone ECC loss of the regular season, 79-72 in overtime on Jan. 27, en route to splitting the season series.
Pioneers head coach coach Deirdre Moore was among the spectators at Wednesday's game. Also in attendance: NYIT president Hank Foley and ECC Commissioner Bob Dranoff.
NYIT trailed Queens, 47-41, heading to the fourth quarter. The Bears (18-11) then opened the period on a 13-0 run while holding the Knights scoreless for the first 4 minutes 20 seconds.
"I wanted to make the ECC Championship one more time before I leave," said senior point guard Nina Vukosavljevic, who had a team-high 18 points. "And the team needed me, because — let's be honest — the first half wasn't my best. So I tried to bring as much energy as I could in the second half and we got this win."
Jill Spagnuola's three-pointer during that spurt gave NYIT its first lead of the second half. The Bears proceeded to open a 54-47 lead when Corinn Baggs produced a steal and Spagnuola finished at the other end with a layup. NYIT's lead reached double-digits at 59-49 when Spagnuola drained a three-pointer with 3:26 to go.
"Jill is an offensive threat," coach Kenny Parham said. "She can shoot the basketball. That's really what she wants to do. And they had a defensive scheme that kind of left her open on a certain situation, so we ran that four times in a row, and Jill got some great shots out of it."
Said Spagnuola: "I was very confident. I knew this is a big moment, and you had to step up."
It had been a rocky shooting performance for NYIT through three quarters. The Bears were shooting only 34.1 percent from the field, including 2-for-11 from three-point range, entering the final quarter.
"We didn't start off well," Parham said. "Defensively, we didn't do a couple of the assignments we were supposed to do, and they took advantage of it. And I actually had to find the correct lineup that defended them well, because some of the other lineups, they were just breaking us down defensively. And I finally found the lineup, and I think we went on a 13-0 run with that lineup."
Vukosavljevic, NYIT's all-time assists leader, also contributed six rebounds and eight assists. Spagnuola had 14 points, matching her career high.
Wednesday's victory marked the second straight postseason that NYIT has eliminated Queens. The Bears ousted the then-top-seeded Knights in last year's ECC semifinals at Bridgeport, snapping Queens' 16-game winning streak in the process.
"Queens, they made it to the Final Eight of the NCAA Tournament last year," Parham said. "And a lot of those young ladies are still on the team. They have championship mettle over there, and they played really hard. And they made us work for it. They really did."
The latest win also prolonged the collegiate careers of graduate student Maia Hood as well as seniors Kayla Bomani and Vukosavljevic. And it set up a final tilt for the trio with rival LIU Post.
"The first thing we need is a little bit of rest," Parham said. "We have to digest this win. And then we have to talk about Post. Post is one of the best teams in the region. They lost one game in the conference this year. And they're very good and they're very deep and they do a lot of things well. We have our work cut out for us, for sure."
Provided by the NYIT Sports Information Department.