It’s never a good thing to open up a season with back-to-back losses, but that’s exactly what the College fell victim to, dropping a pair of away games to William Paterson University and Bridgewater College by scores of 94-63 and 78-68, respectively.
“We suffered two tough road losses, but the key for us to bounce back successfully will be coming out strong Monday night for our home opener against Centenary,” junior guard Matt Rista said. “We need to come out with a positive mindset and grab a win to get momentum moving in a positive direction.”
The first of the Lions’ (0-2) two road games proved to be a blowout as the Pioneers were able to pull away in the second half. Both teams were on in the first half, but with the score 19-18, William Paterson exploded on an 11-0 run that put the College at a 12-point deficit. This eventually led to the score being 45-36 at the half, in favor of the Pioneers.
Proper adjustments were not made coming out of the intermission, as William Paterson used a 17-4 run opening up the half to put a stranglehold on the game. This led to the Lions being outscored by 18 in the half and losing by over 30.
“A loss is never a good thing, but I would have to say that playing our first two games on the road against strong opponents will in the end only make us tougher to beat at home,” Rista said. “I believe that it was a learning experience for some of our younger guys that playing on the road is very difficult and you must come mentally focused for the entire length of the game in order to be successful.”
While both teams started the game shooting the lights out, it only lasted for one of them. The College wound up shooting 41.3 percent, while the Pioneers shot 56.5 percent. They were also outrebounded 41-26 and turned the ball over 22 times.
For the Lions, sophomore guard Jayson Johnson led all scorers with 20 points, while also collecting three steals and three rebounds, all coming on the offensive glass. Rista had 14 points of his own. Sophomore guard Emmanuel Matlock paced the offense with nine points, three rebounds and five assists. Junior forward Joe Kane was big off the bench, tallying seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in only 11 minutes of action.
The game against Bridgewater was much more exciting, as the College put up a good fight. Losing by 24 points in the second half, the Lions cut the deficit all the way down to seven with three minutes to go before ultimately falling short.
Once again, the College’s opponent opened up the game shooting well and getting out to a 23-10 lead. The Lions trailed by a lot before staging an 11-0 run in the second half to breathe life into the game.
“I saw positives, especially in the backcourt, with Jayson Johnson and Matt Rista,” head coach Kelly Williams said. “We really need our backcourt to be our strength this season and it was nice to see that Jayson and Matt got off to a good start. We understand that all road games are tough, so to travel down and play a very tough and athletic Bridgewater team will make us better as the season progress. You want to play a tough schedule, so you can see your team develop and get prepared for the rigors of the NJAC.”
However, once they got it down to seven, the Eagles only allowed them to shoot four more shots in the final three minutes.
Despite the undesirable result, the College showed that they were not a team that would roll over in a game. Junior forward Skyelar Ettin, who drained 22 points to go along with five boards, fueled the late run.
Rista had a big impact on the game once again, netting 17 points and grabbing four rebounds.
“Personally I feel that I have started off this season on the right track,” Rista said. “I believe that I have grown a lot since last season both mentally and physically. I have always held myself to high standards and will continue to throughout the course of my career.”
Johnson and junior forward Alex Fox chipped in on the effort with nine and seven points, respectively.
The team will have their home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 28 against Richard Stockton College, as they look to make their way into the win column in front of their fans.
“Our goal this season is to get better every day as a team and to be in a position for a conference playoff appearance,” Williams said. “A major key for attaining that goal is to win our home games, so we can continue gain confidence as the season progresses.”