After a hard-fought losing effort in their last conference game, the Lions hoped to change their fortunes against a top conference opponent in Rowan University. The Profs had other ideas.
In a battle of offenses, the Profs overcame the Lions, 93-82, to win their 11th game in their last 12 tries.
The Lions dropped to 1-6 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and 10-8 overall, while the Profs improved to 6-2 in the NJAC (14-4 overall).
Despite the loss, the Lions still managed to shoot an impressive 46.7 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line.
The game featured 22 lead changes, including 20 in a back-and-forth first half.
Lions junior center Derek Brown scored a career-high 27 points, going 10-for-12 from the floor and hitting all seven of his free throws.
Three other Lions joined Brown in double-digit scoring, including junior guard Derick Grant’s 25 points.
“It seemed like the basket was real big,” Brown said. “Everything was dropping for me.”
While Lions’ head coach John Castaldo was a little disappointed in the Lions’ three point shooting (27 percent), his main focus was on team defense.
“When you score 82 points, you can’t look at your offense too much,” Castaldo said. “Our situation was defensively.”
“We were a little off defensively,” Brown agreed. “They were shooting the lights out of the gym.”
Rowan was on fire, shooting 57 percent from the field and 61 percent from three point range.
Castaldo noted that in the second half the Profs shot better from beyond the arc (75 percent) than from the foul line (63 percent).
The starting five all reached double figures for Rowan. Junior guard Ryan Cochrane led the Profs with 23 points, followed closely by senior guard Earle Agee’s 22.
The first half ended tied at 41, with Brown and Grant leading the way with 25 of the Lions’ points.
The Profs kept up by making 8 of 14 three-point shots in the half, including one at the buzzer.
The Profs came out to a fast start in the second half, leading by as many as 15.
The Lions closed to within six with 4:08 to play but could get no closer.
The Lions’ next game will be at Rutgers University-Camden, capping off a stretch when only two conference games were played at home.
Four of the Lions’ final six conference games will be played at home.
The Lions are a young team with no seniors, but they still have lofty goals for this season.
“We really want to make the playoffs this year,” Brown said. “The playoffs would be a great foundation for next year.”
“I believe in these guys, their work ethic, and their character,” Castaldo said. “If we take things one at a time in February, we can make a run. I know the guys would say the same thing.”
Professional athletes are usually hailed as heroes because of their ability to come through amidst the pressure of close games.
Junior guard Kyle Burke held that distinction for the Lions, hitting a huge three-pointer with 47 seconds remaining to lead the Lions to a 64-61 victory over Neumann College in a non-conference matchup.
The Lions lifted their record to 10-7 while the Knights dropped to 7-8.
“We didn’t play particularly well,” Castaldo said. “It’s ironic because we played better in many of our losses.”
Both teams shot under 40 percent from the field. The Lions shot only 40 percent from the foul line, after shooting 93.3 percent from the stripe in their close loss to Ramapo.
“The foul shooting almost came back to haunt us,” Castaldo said. “But our rebounding helped us out.” The Lions out-rebounded the Knights 52-41.
The Lions came out cold in the first half and paid for it by facing a 31-23 halftime deficit. They were down by as many as 16 in the half.
At halftime, coach Castaldo had only one message for his team.
“We needed to increase our intensity out on the floor,” he said.
That intensity finally showed in the second half, when the Lions fought back to take a 42-41 lead with 10 minutes left in the game.
While the Lions did not show their best basketball for much of the game, the Lions came through when it counted in the closing minutes.
“We made some big plays down the stretch,” Castaldo said. “Derick Grant made a perfect pass to Kyle Burke for the three.”
He also noted the effort of sophomore forward Dan DeSerio, who made a huge defensive stop to help the Lions hold their lead.
Even after the Lions’ late-game heroics, the Knights nearly sent the game to overtime.
Junior guard Randy Maultsby attempted a three-pointer with three seconds remaining, only to have it bounce off the iron.
Sophomore forward Scott Findlay led the Lions with 18 points.
Burke added 15 points, all from beyond the three point line. Grant contributed 14 points as well, giving him double digit scoring in all but one game this season.
Knights senior forward Solomon Harris had a dominating game, putting up a double-double with 18 points and 18 rebounds.
Overall, Castaldo was happy with the win and was not surprised by the Lions’ initial lack of intensity.
“I was wary of how the team would respond,” he said. “This was a non-conference game sandwiched between Ramapo and Rowan.”
Both of the latter teams are top conference opponents.