Three minutes and thirty-six seconds was all it took to turn what looked like another New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) win into a heartbreaking loss.
After building a 58-50 lead over the first 37 minutes of the Saturday’s contest against Rutgers University-Newark, the College’s men’s basketball team needed just one more score and a defensive stop in the final seconds to secure a victory.
Instead, the Lions went scoreless for the final three-and-a-half minutes and surrendered nine straight points to the Scarlet Raiders during that span.
The final back breaker for the Lions came with 3.6 seconds remaining in the form of a game-winning three-pointer from Rutgers senior guard Manny Rios to cap the Scarlet Raiders’ improbable 59-58 comeback win.
On the same night that Rowan University toppled the NJAC’s top team, Ramapo College, 89-75, the loss to Rutgers exemplified once again the competitiveness of the tightly contested NJAC.
“You look at this league and everyone’s schedule and it’s unbelievable,” head coach John Castaldo said. “Anyone can beat anyone.”
The Lions never got a chance to take the last shot after Rios’ score. They failed to inbound the ball cleanly as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Junior forward Scott Findlay led the Lions in the losing effort with 21 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, while senior guard Derick Grant dropped 19 points.
The loss drops the College to third place in the NJAC and out of position to gain a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which begins Feb. 21.
“That’s the story of the NJAC,” Castaldo said. “At this point, you have to be able to take a punch in this league and get off the ground. That’s how the league goes.”
Last Wednesday night, the Lions turned a tough matchup against rival Rowan into an unexpected blowout.
With the afterthoughts of a poor showing against Ramapo still lingering and the surging Profs entering Packer Hall on a six-game winning streak, the Lions emerged with a 75-54 victory to temporarily overtake second place in the NJAC.
“We didn’t play like (those factors) bothered us tonight,” Castaldo said.
To make things even trickier, the College went without two of their regular starters for the majority of the game. Findlay and junior forward Bobby Davison did not play the entire first half. Castaldo called it a coach’s decision.
With the Lions holding tight to a 39-35 lead with 16 minutes remaining in the second half, the two were inserted into the game and the College immediately went on a 9-0 run, with Findlay adding two points and two defensive stops on a steal and a block during the stretch. The run was part of a 22-5 push that padded the Lions’ advantage to 21 points at 61-50 with 8:30 remaining.
“We need this because from our own perspective, we haven’t been playing as well as we think we can,” senior guard Kyle Burke, who led the Lions with 22 points on 5-for-12 shooting from three-point range, said.
“We’re thinking about getting back to playing basketball the way we opened up (the season) and I saw flashes of it tonight,” Castaldo said.
Grant also tallied 22 points and Findlay chipped in eight points and five boards in his limited time.
The Lions opened the game with some impressive long-range shooting on 9-5 run but the Profs stayed on pace throughout the first half, even grabbing the lead on two occasions. Rowan never led in the second half.
Senior forward Derek Brown added some quality fill-in minutes for Findlay and Davison with five boards as part of the Lions’ 46-rebound effort. Junior forward Dan DeSerio, who started his second career game in place of Findlay, added a game-high six boards.
“We did a tremendous job on the boards,” Castaldo said. “It’s nice to have Derek Brown back and healthy just to give us another big body to go to.”
The College will host Montclair State University in their regular season finale tonight at 6 p.m.