The men’s basketball team split a pair of New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) games this week, pulling out a win at New Jersey City University and falling to Rutgers University-Camden.
The .500 week places the Lions third in the NJAC South Division with a conference record of 2-6 and an overall record of 6-13.
“Right now we are right in it,” head coach Matt Hunter said. “The top three get into the playoffs. That is our focus, that is our goal and we are going to do our best to get in.”
Saturday’s 52-47 road victory against New Jersey City University (13-7) lifted the Lions into the third spot in the NJAC South and into the playoff picture.
Digging in defensively with the score tied at 44, the Lions went on an 8-3 run to close out the game.
“Down the stretch we kept our poise and hit our free throws,” senior guard Jeff Molinelli said. “We tried to deny their key guy (junior guard Dana John) the ball and limit his touches.”
During the run the Lions sank seven of their last eight free-throw attempts while keeping the Gothic Knights scoreless on five consecutive possessions.
Senior guard Corey Gilmore and senior guard Jeff Warner each hit shots with less than two minutes left to help propel the Lions to victory. Gilmore paced the Lions with 14 points. Warner also contributed seven points and six rebounds. Sophomore guard Jay Frank added 11 points and eight rebounds to the winning effort for the Lions.
Solid defense was the key Saturday night as the Lions held the Gothic Knights to 25.9 percent shooting from the floor.
“Everyone was working so hard on defense,” Molinelli said. “We knew a lot of the plays they were going to run against us due to the great scouting report (Hunter) gave us. We just did a good job of staying with our men, keeping a hand in their face and working together to get the job done.”
Wednesday’s 58-53 loss at home to Rutgers University-Camden (4-15) snapped a 10-game win streak the Lions held over the Scarlet Raptors that dated back to 2002.
With 1:15 remaining in the game Molinelli got a put-back basket for the Lions that brought them to within one point (51-50). Frank then exchanged a three-point shot with Rutgers-Camden freshman guard Brandon Canty to keep the deficit at one with 24.5 seconds left to play.
The Lions then put the Scarlet Raptors on the free-throw line, pushing the lead back up to three points. After a missed shot by the Lions, the Scarlet Raptors iced the game with another pair of free throws, putting the game out of reach for the Lions.
In the first half, neither team could find the shooting touch, with the Scarlet Raptors shooting 36 percent from the field and the Lions making just 27 percent of their shots. The difference in shooting led to a slight 25-22 lead for the visiting team at halftime.
“We got a lot of good shots off in the first half, shots that we wanted to get,” Hunter said. “They just did not fall.”
The Lions were also hurt by their performance at the free-throw line, shooting just 46.7 percent (7-of-15) for the game compared to the Scarlet Raptors, who shot a perfect 100 percent (11-of-11).
Frank paced the Lions in scoring with 15 points and eight rebounds.
For the Scarlet Raptors, junior guard Bill Banks led the way, scoring 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
Nine of the Lions’ 13 losses have been by seven points or less while two of those losses came in overtime.
“I attribute the fact that our games tend to be tight down the stretch to the fact that our guys really play hard every night,” Hunter said. “The hard defense we play keeps the games close. It is just comes down some games to the last few shots.”
The Lions’ next home game will be against Stevens Institute of Technology on Feb. 6 at Packer Hall. Tip-off will be at 7 p.m.