Teana Muldrow spends a good deal of time motivating. Her message to the collection of guards at East Orange is simple but sincere.
“Everyone focuses on me,” the 6-3 West Virginia-bound senior swing said. “If they key on me, it gives the guards the chance to step up and play. I’m always telling them to attack the basket and you can get yours, too. It doesn’t always revolve around me. They are small and think they are going to get their shots blocked. So what? Just play with confidence. If they miss, I got their back.”
That kind of tough love has not fallen on deaf ears. Instead, it’s instilled Jamie Cejour-Mobley and sisters Angel and Marvellous Osagie-Erese with the kind of faith in their own games that accentuated the resiliency of East Orange Campus, No. 12 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, which overcame a sizeable first-half deficit by making some halftime adjustments that ultimately resulted in a satisfying 49-45 victory over DePaul on Thursday at the Mount St. Dominic Holiday Festival in Caldwell.
It didn’t look like a promising afternoon for East Orange (4-0), which committed 15 first-half turnovers and found itself trailing by as much as 18-4 in the first quarter. A reluctance to put the ball on the floor and penetrate inside resulted in the three guards combining for just five shots and seven points compared to the 12 points accumulated by Muldrow on 5 of 9 shooting.
But, that all changed in the second half. Less charitable and more caring with the basketball, East Orange dramatically cut down its miscues (four turnovers in the second half) and its backcourt trio began to assail the rim.
Trailing, 35-24, with 5:32 showing in the third, East Orange got the desired spark it was looking for from someone other than Muldrow.
Marvellous Osagie-Erese, a freshman, canned a 3-pointer off a dish from the 5-4 Cejour-Mobley, who twice pierced the heart of the DePaul defense off the dribble for layups as part of a 15-4 tear that spanned the final five minutes of the third. Muldrow accounted for five points in the burst which Osagie-Erese capped by accepting an inbounds pass from her sister Angel in the left corner before knocking down another trey that gave East Orange its first lead, 39-37, and one it never surrendered.
“I don’t know if it was nerves or not, but we didn’t play how we usually do during the first half,” Marvellous Osagie-Erese said. “We had to pass the ball some more and look for better shots. Dribbling to the basket is our strong point and that’s just what we did in the second half.”
Cejour-Mobley opened the fourth by maneuvering once more inside for a bucket to build the advantage to 41-37. DePaul (0-5) got within a point on two occasions in the final period, the last time on a layup from freshman Nikki Johnson that got the Spartans within 43-42 with 1:27 to play.
East Orange sealed the triumph with a combination of rebounding and foul shooting. Ny-Asia Franklin grabbed two big defensive boards in the final two minutes and the Jaguars converted six free throws, including three by Muldrow, who finished with 24 points, in the last 1:18.
“They make mistakes but they also make adjustments,” East Orange coach Derrick Johnson said of his players. “At halftime, we talked about slowing it down, making better decisions and how we can’t rely on Teana every play. They responded big time in that third quarter.”
DePaul came out with purpose and balance. All five starters supplied at least a bucket as the Spartans shot 8 for 11 in racing to that 18-4 lead. Seniors Jade Walker (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Brianah Ramos (15 points, five rebounds, four assists) each accounted for four points in the opening surge.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner