Men’s basketball no longer in playoff contention

Sloppy play keeps men’s basketball out of the promised land. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)
Sloppy play keeps men’s basketball out of the promised land. (Photo courtesy of the Sports Information Desk)

In a week with extreme peaks and valleys, the men’s basketball team won only one of their games to fall just short of their hopes of making the playoffs.

The Lions (8-16, 6-11) began the week on Monday, Feb. 10, with a win over Rutgers-Camden University, breaking a six-game losing streak and keeping playoff dreams alive for the moment with the 70-66 overtime thriller. The game was back-and-forth for the duration, with neither team ever holding a lead of more than 10 points. In a rare occurrence, each team missed a potentially game-winning — and heavily contested — layup with less than 10 seconds to play in regulation, a testament to how close the game really was.

“I’m so proud of the guys (for breaking the losing streak),” head coach Kelly Williams said after the win. “I thought we made plays when we had to, and in February, that’s really what it comes down to. You’ve got to gut out games and we were able to do that.”

Williams had changed up his starting squad before the game, adding freshman guard Alex Cirlincione to the opening five, a role he continued to play in the next two games.

“It’s good to be out there, get the energy going,” Cirlincione said. “I still have to play my role, just trying to fit in.”

The College was led in the victory by junior forward Skyelar Ettin, who scored 23 points, and sophomore forward Bobby Brackett, who netted 14 points and pulled down a season-high 21 rebounds. Junior forward Alex Fox also chipped in 14 points, including a big three in OT, and junior guard Jayson Johnson scored all of his 11 points the hard way — by getting fouled and hitting 11 of 12 free throws.

The victory set the team up, at the time, for a good chance to make the playoffs, needing to win their remaining three games to be guaranteed a spot.

“I’m happy for the guys,” coach Williams said after the game. “And it feels good to be put into a situation where we’re still talking about playoffs with three games left and we still control our own destiny. That’s what you want in February.”

The win was not enough to start a streak, however, as the Lions lost their next contest against Rowan University 87-71. Unlike the Rutgers-Camden game, the contest quickly turned into a blowout, as Rowan led by as many as 30 points before the College made something of a brief comeback late in the game.

Despite the defeat, the Lions got another strong performance from Brackett, who had 24 points and 19 rebounds in the game and also made an emphatic dunk and a run-down block (ruled a goal-tending violation) with little time left to play.

“I’m just out there trying to play,” Brackett said. “It wasn’t really a statement. Coach said to just work hard the last 10 minutes and not worry about the score, so I was just playing like I usually would.”

Despite the loss, the players’ spirits were not dimmed, and they were already looking forward to their next games.

“The last two are pivotal games,” Cirlincione said. “Want to make the playoffs.”

Good spirits or not, the College’s playoff chances ended on Saturday, Feb. 15, with a loss at New Jersey City University. The game was a tale of two very different halves, as the Lions led 31-18 at the end of the first, but the final scoreboard read 66-53. Turnovers and fouls proved to be the difference makers in the match, as the College gave up the ball 26 times, despite out-shooting the opposition, and watched 12 more free throws taken by the other team.

After the rough week, the Lions will be playing for pride in the team’s season finale at home on Wednesday, Feb. 19, against Montclair State University.

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