The degree of difficulty on the shot wasn’t lost on anyone except for the player handed the responsibility to make it.
The space was about as confining as a phone booth, but that seemed only fitting considering how dialed in Hannah Missry had been throughout from long distance.
The situation, a tie game with a few precious seconds left in regulation only heightened the moment. Yet, none of it had any bearing on Jackson’s junior sharpshooter, who’d already been hitting 3-pointers at an unconscious rate.
So, it was no accident when Missry accepted a feed from Tiffany Montagne deep on the left wing, with the sideline flirting at her heels and North Hunterdon defenders flying in her face, ignored it all and flicked an off-balance jumper that found its mark.
“I was really surprised that I had a lot of time on that last play,” Missry said, although her idea of “time” equaled about the duration of a blink of the eye. “Whenever, I think too much about it, the shot usually doesn’t go in. I just shoot it.”
On weary legs that were instrumental in a breath-taking clinic in the art of 3-point shooting, Missry elevated above the oncoming challengers one last time to drain a fadeway 22-footer with 8.8 seconds left that lifted Jackson, No. 13 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a dramatic 50-47 victory over No. 6 North Hunterdon for its first NJSIAA Group 4 state championship before 650 at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.
Make no mistake, Missry made this type of shot before. Few work harder at their craft more so than the 5-8 guard, who shot 8 of 11 from behind the arc in pumping in a game-high 27 points.
“There have been few games where everything I shoot seems to go in,” said Missry, who ran her season total to 107 treys and stamped an incredible weekend, in which she made a verbal commitment to Fordham, with the biggest 3-pointer of her career. “I practice so much and put so much work in that I deserve a game like that.”
Missry was instrumental in a perimeter assault that fueled Jackson (27-5) to an early cushion that appeared to be insurmountable. She buried four 3-pointers while Stephanie Mason and Montagne each connected for one during a 20-2 outburst that sparked Jackson to a 20-4 lead. The Jauguars went 6 for 7 from downtown during the uprising against North Hunterdon’s zone, 7 for 16 in the first half and hustled to accrue 19 rebounds against the taller Lions, including 10 on the offensive end, in taking a 30-22 lead into halftime.
“It was very important for us, not only to hit shots but play great defensively,” Jackson coach Rachel Gooodale said. “We hit shots but I knew it wouldn’t continue, Not many shooters are going to hit shots like that for 32 minutes. We had to come up with a big lead early.”
“They caught fire quick,” North Hunterdon senior guard Jess Pellechio said. “(Missry) was amazing. She had unbelievable range. We guarded her as best we could.”
However, the fact North Hunterdon (27-6) had cut that early deficit in half before intermission was a harbinger of things to come.
With North Hunterdon trailing, 35-25, Pellechio, who finished with 13 points, canned consecutive 3-pointers to spark a 16-5 tear that Alicea Foran culminated with a baseline drive to put the Lions ahead for the first and only time, 41-40, with 5:22 to play.
“These kids are resilient,” North Hunterdon coach Tom Hank said. “They didn’t quit. They didn’t panic. We had to cheer them up a little bit and get their juices flowing at halftime. But, they fought. That’s what this senior class, that’s what this group has always done for our program and I can’t be prouder of them.”
Shannon Evans reclaimed the lead for Jackson on a layup but the two sides were knotted a 47 apiece after Imani Martinez scored on a drive for North Hunterdon with 36 seconds remaining, which set the stage for Missry’s heroics.
Senior forward Alissa Tarsi supplied 17 points and 12 rebounds while for North Hunterdon while Montagne ended with 11 points and eight assists.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner