Hard-knock hoops: College ballers lose three straight

A week after their huge upset of the No. 23 William Paterson University Pioneers, the men’s basketball team watched their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and home win streaks fall to pieces as they dropped three straight contests against Wesley College, Kean University and Ramapo College.

“All teams usually go through a tough week of basketball and this past week was just a rough one for us,” head coach Kelly Williams said. “We have to keep everything in perspective, realize we have two weeks left of basketball and keep in mind that we are still in a good position to make the playoffs in the NJAC.”

The week of bad breaks leaves the Lions at 4-5 in the NJAC, still good for second in the Southern Conference, and 8-12 overall.

The hardest loss to swallow came Saturday, when the Lions fell short against conference foe Ramapo 71-60 at home. For the third game in a row, the Lions were down by 10 or more points at half time. The Roadrunners jumped out to a 39-29 lead thanks to the inspired play of junior guard Andre Kenny, who netted 15 points in the first half and 23 on the day.

In the second half, the Lions used a string of surges set off by junior guard Jay Frank (16 points) and junior forward Aaron Syversten (15 points), who hit five three-pointers in the afternoon contest, to keep things close. But after a Syversten trey brought the Lions within two, Ramapo extended their lead to eight with a trio of layups around the two-minute mark.

The Roadrunners received a boost off the bench thanks to rookie Davian Plunkett, who posted a double-double against the Lions, tallying 10 points and 12 rebounds.

On Wednesday, the Lions traveled north hoping to gain ground against the NJAC Southern Conference leading Kean University Cougars, but the Lions were once again unable to surmount a second half comeback, falling 59-54.

Frank had another phenomenal game, as the sharp-shooting guard knocked down 16 in the second half and 21 on the day. But the Cougars stingy defense held the Lions to just 21.6 percent shooting from the field in the first half, while forcing turnovers that led to a 13-1 run that closed out the period and put the Cougars up 32-22.

“What it’s coming down to is there is usually a lull we have within the first half and in the last two games its come in that three to five minute mark of the first half,” Williams said. “Teams were getting loose balls and second shots and we weren’t mentally tough at those stages of the games.”

Again, the Lions used late runs to keep the contest close, pulling within one on two separate occasions in the final minute. But the Cougars’ junior guard Dean Hughes scored six points in the final sixty seconds. Hughes drained four consecutive attempts from the charity stripe to ice the victory.

Before the Lions’ two-game NJAC skid, they traveled to Wesley College’s Wentworth Gymnasium where they wound up on the wrong end of a shoot out, falling to the Wolverines 108-99 in non-conference action.

The Wolverines’ junior center Rashawn Johnson was the difference maker, pouring in 30 points and snaring 10 rebounds in the contest. While the faster-paced game seemed to suit the Lions and Williams’ new-look offense, the team couldn’t remain consistent on defense, as they went to the half trailing 56-45.

Syversten and Frank provided sufficient fire power once again in the second half, scoring 23 and 21 points, respectively. But junior guard Evan Martin backed up Johnson’s monster performance, scoring 11 points and hauling in 15 rebounds. The Lions were simply outgunned as the Wolverines tallied their ninth straight victory.

Upcoming chances for redemption for the Lions will be games against Valley Forge College and rival Richard Stockton College.

Williams says that while he’s disappointed with the three-game slide, he knows his charges still have the determination to win some in-conference games and snag a playoff spot.

“The next four conference games are huge because we play Kean at home, Rowan at home, and those are the two teams we’re competing with for those spots,” Williams said. “If we can get two wins at home and pull a nice victory on the road I think we’re going to have a good shot for the playoffs.”

James Queally can be reached at queally2@tcnj.edu.