The men’s basketball team had an up-and-down winter break, tallying four wins while dropping four. Its overall record stands at 10-8, with a 3-3 mark in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
“With us losing seven players last year and six players the year before via graduation, we are in a bit of a rebuilding mode,” head coach John Castaldo said. “We have been working hard and are currently gaining that much needed experience and confidence.”
On Jan. 17 the Lions defeated Rutgers University-Camden 65-62 in overtime. The game was sent into overtime after senior guard Dane Nicholson pulled the Scarlet Raptors even. Junior forward Mark Aziz scored the game-winning shot from the baseline with 22 seconds remaining in the extra frame. He would finish with a team-high 18 points. Halligan sealed the win by blocking a potential game-winning shot on the other end of the court just before time expired.
On Dec. 20, the Lions lost a tight one, 64-63, at home against St. Mary’s College (Md.). St. Mary’s junior guard Tyson Lesesne would need all of his team-high 21 points to overcome the Lions. His game-winning shot from the baseline with two seconds remaining sealed the win for the visiting team. The Lions were led by Aziz’s double-double_ – 11 points and 11 rebounds – and a team-high 13 points from guard Jeff Molinelli.
The College began the new year with a 70-53 home win over Valley Forge Christian College. Coming out sharp after a two-week layoff, the Lions jumped out to a 34-23 lead at halftime and never looked back.
A balanced attack gave the Lions the victory with four players scoring in double figures. Freshman guard Jay Frank led the way with 15 points. He was followed by Aziz and Molinelli with 13 points and 11 points, respectively, and junior guard Corey Gilmore had 10 points as he rounded out the group.
Taking advantage of a rematch with St. Mary’s College on Jan. 5 in the opening round of the Casa Mia Tournament at DeSales University, the Lions dominated in a 93-73 win. The high-scoring victory was made possible by a blistering 58.7 field-goal percentage. Junior forward Jeff Warner tallied a career-high 26 points to pace the team. Senior guard Brian Halligan had a career game in scoring with 20 points in the contest, while Aziz added 21 points and seven rebounds.
Splitting the games with St. Mary’s College is an example of the Lions’ potential to play exceedingly well, despite losing many key players in the last two seasons.
“All of our players need to continue to work hard, develop and improve, and most importantly, become more consistent. It is my hope that the consistency comes with experience,” Castaldo said.
The Lions fell in the second round of the tournament to host DeSales University, 76-64. DeSales took control of the game midway through the first half with a 17-6 run, giving the host a 15-point lead at halftime. The second half saw DeSales extend the lead to as much as 24 points.
Attacking from long range, DeSales outscored the Lions 33-9 from beyond the arc. Frank led the Lions in scoring with 16 points, and Aziz put forth another solid performance with 14 points in the loss. For the Bulldogs, senior guard Steve Kriczky scored a team-high 21 points.
On Jan. 10, the Lions lost 66-57 against Richard Stockton College in their first conference game of the break. Down only one point at halftime, the Lions played the Ospreys close until the second half. A 23-point and 13-rebound performance by Ospreys senior forward Jon Greene led his team to a 37-29 second-half lead over the Lions. Gilmore was the high-man for the Lions with 18 points in the game.
The Lions were defeated at home 68-59 on Jan. 13 in another conference game against Rowan University.
Rowan led 40-30 at the break with the help of 12 first-half points by senior guard Thomas Baker. He would finish the game with a team-high 23 points. Halligan led the Lions with 17 points.
The Lions came back with a convincing 73-51 win over Brooklyn College two days later.
The Lions dominated defensively, out-rebounding Brooklyn 47-33 and holding the opposing team to just 31.1 percent shooting. Another key to the Lions’ success was a balanced scoring attack. Three Lions finished in double-digits. Aziz finished with 24 points and Halligan scored 20 in the win. Freshman guard William Jett was the third man in double figures, finishing with 10 points.
With a winning season thus far, the Lions’ head coach outlines what the team needs to do going forward in the season.
“I think we are still searching for our identity and hopefully we will continue to develop in the weeks ahead,” Castaldo said. “With such a young team I really don’t have an expectation (other) than us working hard every day to become a better team.”
The Lions’ next game is at home tonight against William Paterson University at 7 p.m.