Tigers Girls Basketball Standout and 1,000 Point Scorer Going to NJAC School in South Jersey
SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ—Girls Basketball at South Plainfield has built a very solid tradition over the years. Led by coaches such as Hal Loud and Bill Schulte, and players such as Patricia Eckel, Cindy Eckel, Sally Eckel, Pam McCreesh, Yvette Nicholson, Cheryl Hughes (Bullock), Karen Kohl, Melissa Gromek, Jill Sosnak, Melissa Ferguson, Blaire Houston, Niya Santiago, Caity Hughes, and Sara Cargill, the SPHS girls basketball program has found ways to thrive and compete among the GMC’s best.
Add senior Mackenzie O’Brien to that list. O’Brien, a four year varsity player at SPHS, who became a 1,000 point scorer last season, is the latest standout player from the Tigers’ girls basketball program to make a significant contribution. Now, O’Brien, who signed a letter of intent in November 2019, will continue her academic and athletic career at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey starting in the fall.
According to stats compiled at nj.com, O’Brien played in 23 games, made 143 field goals, one three pointer, and 60 free throws for a total of 349 points, 334 rebounds, 62 assists, 57 steals, and 56 blocks, or an average of 15.2 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.5 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game this past season. She scored in double figures 21 times including 4 games of 20 points or more including a career high of 32 points versus Edison (49-46 win) on January 22nd.
Likewise, O’Brien had double figure rebounds in 22 of the 23 games played this year including one game with 24 rebounds in a holiday tournament game against Johnson Regional on December 27, 2019. She had 20 double-doubles along with a season high of 6 blocked shots in a game versus New Brunswick (43-17 win) on February 1st. One of her most productive games of the season was a 23 point, 17 rebound effort along with 3 blocks, 3 steals, and 2 assists in a 57-36 victory at Woodbridge on February 4th.
O’Brien accounted for 30.6 percent of the scoring, 36.0 percent of the rebounding, and 57.1 percent of the blocked shots for South Plainfield’s girls basketball team this past season. The Lady Tigers finished 15-12 overall including a 10-6 mark for a fourth place finish in the very competitive GMC White Division. South Plainfield, which was also 12-7 in conference play, was seeded 12th in the 2020 Girls GMCT, and reached the Round of 16 before losing to 5th seeded South River (46-35).
Then, in the 2020 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 State Tournament, the SPHS girls basketball team, which was seeded 11th, lost to 6th seeded Holmdel in the opening round (66-26). Despite the early exits from the GMC and state tournaments, South Plainfield still improved quite a bit over last season when it finished only 10-16 overall including an 8-8 mark in White Division play. After defeating Colonia (50-29) in the 2019 GMCT Girls Preliminary Round, the Lady Tigers lost to eventual finalist, Edison (53-35) in the Round of 16. South Plainfield also lost in the opening round of the CJ Group 2 State Tourney to Governor Livingston of Berkeley Heights (56-32).
As a junior, O’Brien played in all 26 games and made 179 field goals, one three, and 88 foul shots for a total of 449 points, 385 rebounds, 61 blocks, 48 assists, and 43 steals, or an average of 17.3 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. She accounted for just under 40 percent of the team’s scoring, 42.1 percent of the team’s rebounding, and 81.3 percent of the team’s blocks in 2018-19. O’Brien scored in double figures in 25 of the 26 games she played in including 9 games with at least 20 points, and a season high of 30 points in a 53-42 loss to Immaculata on February 9, 2019.
Similarly, O’Brien racked up double figure rebounding efforts in 23 of her 26 games played as a junior including five games of at least 20 boards or more. One of those efforts was a season high 27 rebounds in the 2019 GMCT Girls Preliminary round win over Colonia. She equaled a career best 6 blocks in a 54-19 victory over New Brunswick on January 29, 2019. O’Brien also collected double-doubles in 22 of 26 games. Things were pretty much the same in 2017-18 when O’Brien as a sophomore.
During that sophomore campaign, the Lady Tigers were also 10-16 overall including a 7-7 mark in divisional play. South Plainfield won its 2018 GMCT Preliminary Round game over Dunellen (41-27) before losing to South Brunswick (60-31) in the Round of 16. SPHS also lost to Delaware Valley (62-34) in the opening round of the 2018 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 State Tournament. O’Brien again played in 26 games, made 149 field goals, 3 treys, and 39 free throws for a total of 348 points.
In addition, O’Brien also tallied 368 rebounds, 42 assists, 41 blocks, and 35 steals for an average of 13.4 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. Despite only playing her second year of varsity basketball, O’Brien emerged as one of the leaders with 34.3 percent of the team’s scoring, 42.5 percent of the team’s rebounding, and 67.2 percent of the team’s blocked shots. She scored in double figures on 20 occasions including two games with 20 points or more.
O’Brien also had double figure rebounds in 20 of the 26 games she played in as well including a career high 30 boards along with 21 points, 4 blocks, 4 steals, and 2 assists in a 62-27 victory over Perth Amboy Tech on January 29, 2018. Earlier that season, O’Brien had a monster double-double of 28 points and 28 rebounds in a 50-44 win against J.F. Kennedy on January 11, 2018. O’Brien made a significant splash as a freshman for an SPHS girls hoops team that went 12-16 overall including a 7-7 mark in GMC White play.
Although in her first year of varsity basketball, O’Brien ranked second in total points behind Caity Hughes with 324 points on 131 field goals and 62 free throws while she also collected 300 rebounds, 43 steals, 41 assists, and 13 blocks in 27 games for an average of 12.0 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks per contest. Leading the team in rebounds in 2016-17, O’Brien also ranked 2nd in blocks, 3rd in steals, and 4th in assists. She also accounted for 27.3 percent of the team’s scoring and 32.4 percent of the team’s rebounding.
In her career, O’Brien played in 102 games, made 602 field goals, 5 three pointers, and 249 free throws for a total of 1,468 points along with 1,387 rebounds, 193 assists, 178 assists, and 171 blocks for an average of 14.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game. She scored in double figures on 84 occasions, and rebounded in double digits on 80 occasions while tallying 74 career double-doubles. During O’Brien’s time at SPHS, the girls basketball team compiled an overall record of 47-60 including a mark of 32-28 in GMC White play, and qualified for the state playoffs each year.
At Rowan, O’Brien will be playing for a familiar name to some if they recall their South Plainfield basketball history well. The interim head coach of the Lady Profs is Demetrius Poles, who was a standout player at Delsea High School in the late 1980s to early 1990s before playing D1 hoops at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He later transferred to Rowan, where he led the Profs to a National Championship in 1996. In the 1990-91 season, Poles led a Delsea team that rallied from a 31-17 halftime deficit to deficit the Eddie Bolton and Craig Kearney led South Plainfield boys basketball team, 71-65 in the 1991 NJSIAA Group 2 State Semifinals at Toms River East High School on March 8th that season.
Although the 6’8” Poles was held in check by the defensive efforts of Karim Stokes according to an article written by Brian Florczak for the South Plainfield Reporter on March 15, 1991, the Crusaders from the Tri-County Conference were able to prevail. South Plainfield, which began the season at 9-0 that year, won the GMC White, seeded 2nd in the 1991 GMCT, reached the GMCT Semifinals, and defeated Bridgewater-Raritan West in the Central Jersey Group 2 Championship that year, ended up 24-4 under then head coach Jeff Lubreski that season with the loss to Delsea being the only non-conference defeat from that campaign. The White Division and sectional titles were 2nd of back to back crowns for the 1990-91 Tigers.
Meanwhile, the Rowan University women’s basketball program finished 25-4 overall this past season including a 16-2 mark in the NJAC. After obtaining a first round bye, Rowan went on to defeat TCNJ (82-62) in the NJAC semifinals and Montclair State University (64-54) to claim the NJAC women’s tourney crown. The Lady Profs then went on to defeat the Merchant Marine Academy (72-68) in the opening round of the 2020 NCAA D3 Tournament before losing to the host school, Amherst (60-40) in the second round.
Rowan improved significantly from the year before when it went 15-11 overall including a 13-5 mark during the 2018-19 women’s basketball season. The Lady Profs fell to Kean University in overtime, 77-71, in the 2019 NJAC Semifinals.
Congratulations Mackenzie on your tremendous career at South Plainfield High School, and best of luck playing at the next level for Rowan.