BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, N.Y. – The ghost of Norman Dale seemed to hover around the Pope Physical Education Center Nov. 21 on the campus of St. Francis-Brooklyn. And in doing so he reminded all the lessons put forth in the 1986 blockbuster movie Hoosiers.
In leading his Hickory High School team to the state tournament in Indiana, Dale, played by Gene Hackman, proved to his squad that no matter where, basketball courts are the same size and the rims are the same distance from the floor.
St. Francis-Brooklyn coach Linda Cimino conjured up some classic Norman Dale after her Terriers scored the final six points of the game, all in the last 45 seconds, to overtake and stun Michigan State 66-63 to record what is believed to be the biggest win in the history of the program at the school.
The win was the second straight for St. Francis-Brooklyn, which is now 2-3 on the season. Michigan State, meanwhile, dropped its second straight game after opening the season on a four-game winning streak. The Spartans lost at Fordham 71-68 on Nov. 21.
“There’s something special about St. Francis,” Cimino said, “ … we need four walls, two hoops and a ball.
“It doesn’t matter where you are,” Cimino added. “We know we don’t have the big, fancy arena … but what we have is that Brooklyn toughness.”
Oh, what Cimino’s Terriers also have is a monumental win in the 48-year history of the program at the school.
The win over the Spartans is the first-ever for St.-Francis-Brooklyn, which began its’ program in 1973-74, against any team in one of the Power Five conferences. A win over West Virginia in 1978 took place when the Mountaineers were playing as an Independent while in their sixth year of existence.
Ally Lassen scored on a short-range shot with 45.7 seconds left in the game to pull the Terriers to within 63-62. They regained the lead for the final time 20 seconds later when Nevena Dimitrijevic connected on a pair of free throws to go in front 64-63. Teammate Jaila Lee’s two free throws with 13.1 seconds left closed the scoring and the book on the Spartans on the day.
The Terriers trailed by as many as eight points in the third quarter and it looked like the Spartans, of the Big Ten Conference, were poised to put the game out of reach. A 3-pointer from the right way by DeeDee Hageman gave MSU an44-36 advantage with 5:12 to go in the period. It was the fourth time in the period the Spartans’ lead had ballooned to as many points.
But the Terriers were undaunted each and every time and continued to chip away at Michigan State lead and a driving layup by Isabella Posset brought the Terriers back within striking distance at 46-43 with 2:46 left in the quarter.
The visitors managed to regain their eight-point bulge on a pair of field goals from Matilda Ekh. Her trey from the right corner pushed the lead to 49-43 with 1:56 in the period and she added a second field goal just 12 seconds on a driving layup off the glass to put the Spartans in front 51-43 at the time.
Jada McMillan converted an MSU turnover into an easy layup and teammate Khaleah Edwards connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 29 seconds remaining in the quarter to cut the Spartan lead to 51-48 heading into the final period of play.
“We took care of the ball in the second half the way we are capable of … and that was a huge key,” said Cimino, who is in her fourth season leading the Terriers.
St. Francis-Brooklyn had 18 turnovers in the game, but just two came in the pivotal second half of the game. The Spartans, meanwhile, committed 21 turnovers in the game which led to 24 points for the Terriers.
Edwards was one of four Terriers to reach double figures. She connected on five of nine shots from the floor, including three from long range, to finish with a team-high 14 points and paced the team with seven rebounds. Lassen and Lee both finished with 13 points in the game while Fruzsina Horvath, who also knocked down three 3-pointers in the game, ended with 11 points on the night. She also tallied a game-best two blocked shots.
The Spartans were paced by Nia Clouden who had 21 points in the game. She has scored in double figures in all six games this season for Michigan State and her 21 points against the Terriers was the third straight game of at least 20 points and the 21st time she has reached that plateau in her career. Ekh was the only other Spartan in double figures with her 14 points.
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.