By Matt Hammond
With games on the calendar quickly disappearing, the Lions are running out of chances to gain ground in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) South Division.
Instead the Lions took some critical steps backward last week.
The College’s conference skid got worse in last Wednesday’s 70-49 loss to the hosting Profs. The Lions have now lost three straight games against NJAC rivals. But weekend weather created the wrong kind of separation for the Lions (12-9, 4-6 NJAC), canceling a game scheduled for Saturday and the chance for some much-needed mental conditioning.
“It is disappointing because we don’t get to make that game up,” senior guard Jay Frank said of the nixed date with Valley Forge College, which will not be rescheduled. “Especially since a win would have helped us get back on track,” he said.
Despite the end margin, the College didn’t drop its game against Rowan in blowout fashion. Even on a tough night of shooting (31 percent FG) the Lions led for a time in the first half, and kept the damage to a minimum early in the second.
“It just kind of evaporated when we went down 10 at halftime,” Frank said, who shot 5-14 from the floor and led Lion scorers with 12 points.
“We were deflated. Overall it was just a tough game,” he said.
Injuries to key players didn’t make upsetting the South Division-leading Profs (15-6, 6-4 NJAC) any easier.
Senior forward Aaron Syvertsen and freshman guard Brandon Johnson were both sidelined by the 13-minute mark in the second half, when the Lions slashed an early deficit to three.
But without Syvertsen, their best defensive presence, and Johnson, one of its more prolific scorers, the Lions were outscored 30-12 in the game’s waning minutes.
“The starters get a rhythm together and the bench gets a rhythm together,” Frank said. “We were playing a mix of both at the same time and we just never had that. If we had (Syvertsen) and (Johnson) coming back would have been easier, but regardless we just never got into rhythm.”
Now, with a mere three games remaining in regular season play, there’s far more than solace on the line. Three wins against three conference rivals are crucial for a postseason berth.
The final stretch offers grudge matches with Kean University and Richard Stockton University — winners of their earlier meetings — and Rutgers-Camden University.
Despite falling to a humble fourth in the division, the Lions have the tools to make noise in the post-season tournament.
First the Lions travel to meet the Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors tonight, Feb. 10. Then the College plays the last regular season game at home when the Kean Cougars visit for a 3 p.m. game on Feb 13.
But Frank knows they’ll need to blow out a quickly closing window.
“For the next three, we’re going to play our best because we know everything is on the line. I’m really hoping that we play our best and go on a streak, because we know we have the capability to beat anybody. If not, it will be because a team beats us andnot that we gave it to them,” he said.