After losing three straight conference games, the men’s basketball team proved it is as talented as any team by knocking off the top-ranked Pioneers of William Paterson University 73-63 at home on Saturday.
Not only did the Lions defeat the Pioneers, who came into the game on a nine-game winning streak and tied for first in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), but they also did it with their most balanced scoring attack of the season. Five players scored in double figures.
“It was the first time that we’ve had some good balanced scoring,” head coach John Castaldo said. “That was the difference in the game.”
With timely shooting and defensive intensity, the Lions took the lead from the start of the game and never looked back. Late in the game, junior forward Samir Sanu pulled the Pioneers within six points with 1:06 remaining as he knocked down his third three-pointer of the game. But that was the closest the Pioneers would come, as the Lions converted several key free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
Despite being double-teamed for much of the game, senior forward Scott Findlay led all scorers with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds. The 18 points gave Findlay 1,475 for his career, and pushed him past Skip Johnson for fourth on the Lions’ all time scoring list.
This win might just give this team the confidence it needs to get going, Findlay said. “When you lose three in a row, you start questioning yourself, but when you beat a team that’s won nine in a row, it helps a lot,” he said. “If guys keep knocking down shots like they did (Saturday night), we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Senior guard Jason Stallworth added 14 points and some offensive relief for his teammates. “Scouts knew that I was struggling so they would send my guy to double Scott,” Stallworth said. “I knew if I could knock down the shots, it would take pressure off the other guys, especially Scott.” Stallworth hit two key three-pointers in the second half to help the Lions maintain their lead.
Junior forward Matt Diamond also added 15 points, while senior forward Dan DeSerio and senior guard Brian Halligan each contributed 10 points in the win.
Earlier in the week, the Lions lost to the Gothic Knights of New Jersey City University 63-59, which was their third straight NJAC loss.
After losing six players to graduation, the Lions have struggled to find consistent scorers on a nightly basis and it showed. They shot just 33 percent from the field.
“We’re ranked in the top three defensively right now,” Castaldo said. “What we lack on the offensive side we’ve been trying to make up for it during the course of the year with our defensive awareness and intensity, and that has kept us in games.”
When the Pioneers enjoyed an 11-point lead with less than two minutes to go, the game appeared to be over, but the Lions managed to pull within one thanks to some late-game heroics from Diamond and Findlay, both of whom carried the team all night long.
Late in the fourth quarter, Diamond knocked down his third three-pointer of the contest, and then Findlay followed with two free throws and a three-point play of his own to cut the lead to 58-55 with 23 seconds remaining. After two missed free throws from the Knights, Findlay converted on a feed from Diamond to bring the Lions within one.
The Lions’ comeback came to a halt, however, after senior forward Ben Balcom grabbed a critical offensive rebound and converted on a pair of free throws to put the Lions away for good.
Findlay and Diamond each had double-doubles, but the Lions did not get much production from anyone else. Findlay scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Diamond notched 19 points and 10 boards. No other Lions player was able to contribute more than six points or four rebounds.
After giving up a 16-0 run in the first half, the Lions found themselves in an early hole 24-8. But they put the clamps down and went on a 16-3 run to close the half at 27-24.
Knights junior forward, Devin Davis, set the tempo in the second half by grabbing an offensive rebound and slamming it home to put his team up 33-26. From then on, the Knights continued to stretch their lead and pushed it to as many as 13.
Led by freshman forward Dana John who poured in 20 points to go along with five rebounds, the Knights are currently in second in the NJAC.
The Lions will try look to start a new winning streak when they travel to Richard Stockton College on Wednesday for a 6 p.m. conference matchup.