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STONE COLD: Women's basketball ekes out 56–54 victory over Rhode Island

Grace Stone's last-second layup helped the Tigers avenge last year's loss to the Rams

<h5>Senior guard Grace Stone had 10 points, three rebounds and two steals on the day, in addition to the game-winning basket.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of <a href="https://twitter.com/PrincetonWBB/status/1608276784952348674?s=20&amp;t=2fajbI0YVz4zLJa4X6u08A" target="_self">@PrincetonWBB/Twitter</a>.</h6>
Senior guard Grace Stone had 10 points, three rebounds and two steals on the day, in addition to the game-winning basket.
Courtesy of @PrincetonWBB/Twitter.

When Madison St. Rose stepped up to the right side block on Wednesday, all she knew was she probably wasn't going to finish the play on her feet.

The first-year guard was staring down Rhode Island guard Ines Debroise, a fellow rookie, who was barreling full speed ahead toward the rim with just six seconds left on the clock. The score was tied at 54 apiece and Princeton desperately needed a defensive stop.

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To put it kindly, there really wasn't another option. St. Rose was in the right place at the right time, so she took a breath and braced for impact.

"I saw that [Debroise] was running full speed, so I kind of stepped right under her," St. Rose told The Daily Princetonian. "I was kind of nervous because I didn't know if it was gonna be a foul or if it was gonna be a charge, and I knew that my team had to get a stop in order to try to get another opportunity on offense. So I kind of liked that risk."

The risk paid off — St. Rose's quick set feet and square shoulders caught Debroise completely off guard. Debroise committed the offensive foul, sending the ball back Princeton's way and opening the door for senior guard-forward Grace Stone to put up the Tigers' first buzzer beater in over 20 years.

On Dec. 28, Princeton women's basketball (8–3 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) defeated Rhode Island (9–3 overall, 0–0 Atlantic 10), by the score of 56–54, avenging last year's brutal loss to the Rams. Wednesday's win at Jadwin Gymnasium was the last game before a highly-anticipated Ivy League season tips off, which will bring plenty of high-quality matchups and exciting challengers.

It was hotly contested from the start. In the first quarter, the lead was passed back and forth five times as the Tigers laid the defense on thick but struggled to get shots to fall. Midway through the quarter, Princeton found success in the paint as sophomore forward Parker Hill nailed three consecutive shots from the post.

Hill is a relative newcomer to the Princeton rotation, but a welcome presence in the post. The 6'4” center looked unstoppable, leading the Tigers in scoring through the first three quarters. In fact, she didn't miss a shot until late in the third quarter. Part of Hill's dominance on the floor came from her ability to set clean, solid screens and her knack for finding open pockets inside as she rolled to the basket.

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"She really worked on her agility, getting quicker and laterally moving better," Berube told the 'Prince.' "I think part of it is confidence too, like when you feel good about your game, you have more confidence to take those shots and to be able to defend quicker players."

Hill ended up with a career-high 12 points, four rebounds, and two blocks in just 15 minutes on the floor. In times where the Tigers struggled to find open paths to the basket, she and St. Rose worked together to create space. Using Hill as a screener to wall-off defenders, St. Rose carved her way to the basket.

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The Tigers trailed the Rams by four points through the second quarter as they continued to try and build a scoring rhythm through an increasingly tight Rhode Island defense. Also working against them were the fouls that were quickly piling up and keeping key players, including senior guard Julia Cunningham, on the bench.

But there were bright spots too — Princeton had limited the Rams to just 26 first-half points (they average nearly 70 per game), and had forced 12 turnovers, while staying within striking distance. They had found success in the paint, too, and would continue to look for points there as they entered the third quarter.

Using their size advantage over the Rams, Princeton dumped in layups and nailed short-range jumpers until they had built up an 11–5 run, with Hill and junior guard Kaitlyn Chen at the helm. A clutch three-pointer from senior guard Grace Stone pushed the Princeton lead up to five, at 36–31. A couple of Rhode Island free throws later, the score was tied once again, at 38 apiece.

It was a similar story in the fourth quarter — every time the Tigers would pull away, the Rams would respond. Princeton was able to slow down Rhode Island forward Mayé Touré, but they couldn't seem to stop her completely, as she worked her way to a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double. Chen was working double-time at every position on the court, and would end up leading the Tigers with 21 points, five rebounds, and five assists.

With just 25 seconds left on the clock, Rhode Island had a one-point advantage, 54–53. Chen took seven seconds off the clock to make another quick coast-to-coast drive to the basket, but she was fouled by Touré. She sank one, but missed the second, keeping the score tied at 54 with 18 seconds remaining.

The game nearly came down to those free throws — an area the Tigers had had difficulty with all afternoon as they shot just 5-for-12 from the line. But the valiant charge St. Rose took in the final six seconds snuck the Tigers one final chance.

"That was huge," head coach Carla Berube told the ‘Prince.’ "That gave us the last shot, the last opportunity in regulation instead of them."

"It takes some time, [adjusting to] the pace of college basketball and how fast you need to move," Berube added. "[St. Rose] is just getting better and better, and more comfortable and confident."

Ultimately, it was confidence and calculated gambles that would help put the Tigers on top. With just six seconds on the clock, Princeton pushed into their final offensive set of the game. St. Rose tossed the ball in to Chen, who tossed it to Stone at the top of the key.

Stone surveyed her options, the Jadwin crowd cheering louder with every second. Senior guard Maggie Connolly was open on the left corner for three; St. Rose was sprinting around the other elbow toward the basket, only a step ahead of her defender; junior forward Ellie Mitchell set a screen for Chen, but Chen's defender was stuck to her.

"I mean it was crazy, I honestly thought we were going into overtime," St. Rose recounted. "We had a play set up, but then [Rhode Island] took away options."

And then, as white Princeton jerseys worked to space the court, a lane to the basket materialized — one that the Rhode Island defense had, perhaps unwillingly, left untouched. St. Rose said she clocked Stone driving right towards the spot she was cutting towards and quickly cleared out.

"Grace saw an opportunity for her to rip in and drive, [she] made the right decision," Berube said. "When there's about four or five people on her, that's when she's at her best."

That bee-line drive took Stone right to the rim, where she cleanly laid the ball in right as the buzzer sounded. Jadwin Gym erupted in screaming and cheering, the loudest it possibly could have been on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

It was colder than cold, a move so icy the only proper celebration was Stone's unbothered walk-away, her head held high as she was quickly surrounded by her teammates.

"Nothing really fazes Grace, right?" Berube said with a chuckle. "She's gonna come back out … and do what she needs to do to help us win the game. Putting the ball in her hands in a situation like that, I have a lot of confidence … in her to make the right read in the right play."

"I was really proud of her," St. Rose said. "She took that risk, and that risk helped us win the game."

Princeton opens its Ivy League season on Saturday, Dec. 31 against Harvard (7–5 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) at 12 p.m. in Cambridge. Princeton leads the all-time series, 49–41. The last time the Tigers took on the Crimson was in last season's hotly contested Ivy Madness semifinal.

Isabel Rodrigues is a staff writer for the Sports section at the 'Prince' who typically covers women's basketball. Please direct any corrections requests to corrections at dailyprincetonian.com.

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