By Otto Gomez
Having already clinched a playoff spot, the men’s basketball team continued to play well against Kean University on Wednesday, Feb. 18, in Packer Hall. The Lions’ 86-70 win against Kean guaranteed them a home playoff game in the NJAC tournament.
Playing to avenge themselves of their previous loss against Kean and to secure home-court advantage, the Lions got off to a very strong shooting start, leading 14-3 after six minutes. Kean responded, however, with strong three-point shooting, connecting on 15 in total for the game.
The teams went basket for basket for most of the remainder of the half, finishing the break 33-31 in favor of the College. After halftime, the Lions made a big change on defense and started to press Kean, giving them a hard time on offense. The press gave the College an opportunity to create points off turnovers, and 10 minutes into the half, the Lions took a commanding 63-44 lead. Strong shooting and consistent rebounding held the Cougars from coming back in the second half.
Having secured the home court for the first round of the playoffs, the Lions squared off against New Jersey City University on Saturday, Feb. 21. The Gothic Knights were quick right off the gate, hitting five three-point shots in the first 10 minutes, jumping out to a 25-13 lead. While the Lions were able to play better defense during the rest of the half, they still trailed 37-26 at the break. Sophomore Eric Klacik, who finished with 17 points, was able to hit a three-pointer and a mid-range jumper on back to back possessions to make the score 46-42.
However, the Knights quickly responded with another three-pointer, a blow that ignited a quick 12-4 run from which the Lions could not come back. With under one minute left, a three-pointer by senior Jayson Johnson gave him his 21st point of the night and 1,000th point of his career, an accomplishment that was received with a standing ovation from the crowd. This marked the last game of Johnson’s college basketball career, as well as fellow seniors Skyelar Ettin and Alex Fox, both key contributors on the team this year.
This game was also the last for coach Kelly Williams. He will now move into an administrative role at the College as senior associate director of athletics after finishing his best season as head coach of the program.
Sophomore Alex Circlincione, who averaged 13 minutes a game and was fourth on the team in steals, looks to step into a bigger role next season.
“The seniors really set a good example and created a new culture for TCNJ basketball,” Circlincione said. “Even though Coach Williams had been telling us for a few years that we had a special group, I think everyone really bought in this year and actually believed that we could succeed. Now that we know what it takes to be successful in such a competitive conference, hopefully we can carry that into next year.”
Circlincione will look to lead a young squad back to the playoffs next season.