This past week the College split two games against conference opponents, as they were narrowly defeated by William Paterson University, but rode some hot hands on their way to a win over Kean University.
The Lions (5-12, 3-8) came up just short against the Pioneers in the fleeting seconds of the ball game. With 5.7 seconds remaining, guard Bright Mensah nailed a tough shot to put William Paterson ahead, and the College was unable to counter as they lost 65-61.
“It was a hard fought game that came down to the wire,” junior forward Skyelar Ettin said. “Every basket was so important, we were one stop, one play away from winning the game. In games like that, sometimes it just comes down to who made the extra effort and extra play and unfortunately with their basket at the end they came away with the game.”
Doing a good job defensively in the first half, the Lions battled back and forth with the Pioneers, trading baskets and leads. At intermission, the College walked into the locker room with a 36-33 halftime lead.
The second half was even closer than the first, with both squads going shot for shot and not giving up enough ground for anyone to build a big lead. With four minutes remaining, Ettin turned a sloppy pass from sophomore guard Emmanuel Matlock into a spectacular save, thus leading to a basket by junior guard Matt Rista.
“As Manny passed me the ball, I saw Matt streaking down the court, so I just tried to stay inbounds and get it to Matt,” Ettin said. “Luckily it worked out.”
The exchange of points continued until Mensah’s shot left the College with no answer. Junior forward Alex Fox led the Lions with 13 points, three rebounds and four steals. Matlock, who has been improving, had an all-around solid game with 12 points, four rebounds and four assists. Ettin also chipped in with 12 points and Rista had 10 to go with his five boards.
Beating Kean was crucial in keeping the College in the playoff hunt. The Lions were on fire, connecting on over 60 percent of their looks and draining 10 three-pointers in an 85-73 win.
This was an exciting game to watch for many reasons. First off, in the game’s first 11 minutes, the College hit 12 of 16 shots (75 percent), including five of six long balls. This was all part of a 22-2 run that built the team a big lead and showed just how effective the Lions are when they’re running on all cylinders.
Despite the Cougars attempt to get back into the game, they were no match for the College. Whenever it seemed that Kean was getting back into it, the Lions would fire back. This was especially evident when a Kean dunk that gave the team momentum was countered with two three pointers by Rista.
Rista had a huge game with 19 points, but he wasn’t the only one. Ettin led all scorers with 25 points and six rebounds and Fox had 20 points of his own. The trio had 64 of the College’s 85 points for the game (75 percent).
“It was very good to see those guys knock down shots,” head coach Kelly Williams said. “I have been waiting for those three guys to have a great shooting night together on the same night. All of their shots came in the flow of the offense, which was encouraging that we were sharing the ball. Our team is so unselfish, that we do not care who scores.”
Over the break, the Lions went 2-3. They picked up wins over Western Connecticut State University and Montclair State University. They lost to Rutgers-Newark University, FDU-Florham University and New Jersey City University.
“We struggled a little bit during the first half of the season, but the good thing about the NJAC is that we play everyone twice so we know we just have to bounce back to give ourselves a chance to make the playoffs,” Ettin said. “We have improved each game and are a different team coming into the remainder of the season, so we just need to do the small things and turn our season around.”
The Lions will return to action on Wednesday, Jan. 23 on the road against Richard Stockton College. They will look to build off of these close losses and start converting them into wins.
“It was a much needed win on Saturday for us,” Williams said. “We are to make a run for the playoffs, so we know that we have to continue to win our home games for the rest of season and get a couple road wins over the next couple weeks to ensure a playoff berth.”