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EWING, New Jersey – The TCNJ women’s basketball team opened the 2022-23 campaign on the right foot, using a balanced effort to break away from Hunter for a 64-46 win inside Packer Hall on Tuesday night.
Nina Branzio scored a team-high 13 points and added six rebounds for the Lions, who also had 11 of julia setaro and a career-high 10 off the bench Jezlyn Cross. Six different players scored at least seven points and five grabbed at least four rebounds.
TCNJ began to pull away late in a first quarter littered with turnovers, taking an 11-3 lead after two free throws from sydney blum and a three-point play from Setaro.
Cross gave the Lions a spark off the bench in the early part of the second stanza, taking a drive-off pass from Setaro after the senior stripped a Hawk forward and finishing a layup through contact for a play from three points. Later in the period, Cross kicked Branchizio for a deep 3-pointer and a double-digit lead at 19-9, then drove the lane down another bucket to make it 21-11 at the 3:39 mark.
The hosts turned defense into offense a couple of minutes later when Blum hit a layup from Hunter and cornered the rebound before Katie Fricker found emily toy for a corner triple. Branchizio’s second 3-pointer of the half, an NBA-range effort off a kickout by Blum, hit the buzzer and sent the Lions into the locker room with a 29-14 lead.
TCNJ came out of the break firing flat out, scoring on his first three trips to open up a 20-point lead. Leazier sandwiched a pair of layups around a 3-pointer by Setaro, assisted by Leazier, and the Lions took a 34-14 lead just a minute into the third.
The Hawks went on a 12-0 run to get within eight (36-28) around the midpoint of the third, but the Lions restored order — and a double-digit surplus — with a couple of quick plays to score a 9- 0 own jet. First, Leazier hit a Blum cut for a basket and a foul. He missed the free throw, but Fricker came running to grab the fumble and hit a layup while he was fouled. He converted the three-point play and the margin increased to 47-28 when Leazier went ahead for a transition 3-pointer by Branchizio at the 2:32 mark.
Cross helped push the lead back to 20-plus with an assist from Blum and a self-driving layup, then split a pair down the line to make it 52-33 after three quarters.
TCNJ led by as much as 22 (62-40) in the fourth quarter before deciding by a difference of 18 points.
Setaro collected four rebounds and also stole five steals, tying Cross for the team lead as the Lions forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 21 points. Toy and Leazier each scored eight points, and Leazier also had six rebounds and four assists.
Cross went 3-for-4 from the field and 4-for-5 at the line, and his 10-point, 5-steal stat line was all the more impressive given that it came in just nine minutes of game action.
Blum was a defensive force, pulling down eight of his 10 rebounds in the first half and adding seven points and three blocks to his line. TCNJ outrebounded the Hawks, 37-30, and held a 13-5 lead on the offensive board.
Fricker recorded five points and a pair of rebounds in his collegiate debut.
Alexa Charles was a dynamo for Hunter, posting a triple-double with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 11 steals.
The Lions head to New England over the weekend for Smith College’s Tyler Tip-Off Tournament, where they will face Rhode Island College in the opening game on Saturday. The tip is set for 4:00 pm from Northampton, Massachusetts.