It is hard to beat a team three times. The College’s men’s basketball team had beaten rival Rowan University by 22 and 21 in their previous two meetings this season, but the Profs stole one from the Lions on Monday night, dealing the College a heartbreaking 63-59 upset in the first round of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament and ending the Lions’ season.
“The first two times we played we kind of had our way but that third time around is tough,” head coach John Castaldo said.
“I actually would have rather played a team that beat us twice in a row,” senior guard Kyle Burke said. “That’s how tough it is.”
With 8.7 seconds remaining, Rowan’s sophomore guard Timothy Bowser hit two free throws to seal the playoff win for the Profs and end the Lions’ season in disappointing fashion.
“We all knew it was either now or never and unfortunately we came up short but the effort was there,” senior guard Derick Grant said.
Trailing the entire game and down 57-50 with 3:27 remaining, the Lions made a frantic push to save their season. With the Lions in a full court press, senior guard Mike Snyder had two consecutive steals and junior forward Scott Findlay added six straight points for the Lions to pull the score to 57-56 with 1:23 remaining. Findlay finished with 15 points.
After Rowan senior center Evan Johnson added a bucket 10 seconds later, Snyder picked up another swipe and Burke nailed a three pointer with 46 seconds remaining to tie the score at 59 and bring the crowd of 750 Lions supporters to their feet. The three capped a 15-4 run that brought the Lions back into the game after trailing by as many as 11 in the second half.
Freshman guard Matt Byrnes nailed a runner on the following possession to give the Profs a two-point advantage. The College did have a chance at a game winning shot but Grant missed a three pointer with 10 seconds remaining.
“We had guys there to try to make the big play but it just didn’t go,” Castaldo said.
The Lions were subsequently forced to foul Bowser and put him on the line where he would seal the game.
“We tried and had opportunities to end it late but it didn’t drop,” Castaldo said.
The Lions were hurt by their poor shooting all game. After relying heavily on three-point shooting all season, the College shot at just a 15 percent clip from downtown and struggled at times with converting inside shots.
“We missed a lot of easy shots,” Castaldo said. “I still think we’re the better team but we didn’t play like it.”
After the Profs opened the game on a 12-3 surge, the College put together a 12-2 run later in the half to tie the score at 25.
Grant led the Lions with 16 points and Burke added 13 to conclude their careers at the College. It was also the final game for Snyder and seniors Derek Brown, Jody Crowley and Bobby Henning.
“These guys have great characters,” Castaldo said. “We’ve had a great run with these guys. They went down with a fight.”
The Lions came into the playoffs with momentum after last Wednesday’s 91-84 overtime win against Montclair State University in their regular season finale.
“We wanted to get in that mind frame of playoff basketball and tonight we got that playoff atmosphere,” Grant, who finished with 22 points, said. Grant became the College’s second all-time leading scorer in the first half, passing Kevin Ryan, who played from 1986-1990, with his 1,515 career points.
The victory left the College tied for second with Richard Stockton College in the NJAC. Both teams finished with 10-6 conference marks. Since Stockton took the tiebreaker by having beaten the number one NJAC team, Ramapo College, the Lions settled for the third seed in the NJAC Tournament first-round home game against Rowan.
The overtime win was made possible by a second-half comeback from the Lions. Trailing 46-37 at halftime, the College assembled a 16-0 run early in the second half that included two straight momentum-changing three pointers, including one to tie the game, from senior guard Kyle Burke, who finished with 13 points.
“I thought it was a real solid team effort tonight,” Castaldo said. “We had four guys in double figures scoring.”
Senior guard Mike Snyder scored 17 points and hauled down 10 rebounds to join Burke, Grant and Findlay as double-digit scorers.