By Otto Gomez
The Lions continued their hot shooting streak against No. 1 seeded New Jersey City University (NJCU) on Wednesday, Feb. 24, as the team was able to surpass the Gothic Knights, 92-82, on their way to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) final against No. 2 Stockton University on Saturday, Feb. 27. A win in the final would have been the first NJAC title for the College since 1988, but the win streak would end there as Stockton was able to fight off the Lions and come out victorious after a close 60-53 victory.
Fresh off from an NJAC All First-Team selection, sophomore guard Eric Murdock, Jr. continued his successful season by producing his best career game as he went 13-22 from the floor for 36 points.
Fortunately for the Lions, it wasn’t just their star player who shot extremely well. The team carried its momentum from the previous win into this game as the Lions hit 10 of their first 12 shots, (7-7 on three-pointers) giving them a 27-8 lead just seven minutes into the game.
While the Gothic Knights fought back and cut down the lead to six with 13 minutes to go, the Lions put the game away, as Murdock hit a pair of free throws and freshman forward Jordan Glover hit yet another three pointer. Glover has been on fire from the outside this season, hitting 15 of his last 19. Junior guard Eric Klacik contributed 20 points and sophomore forward Ryan McDowell also had a strong showing in 21 minutes, racking up four points, six boards and an assist.
The Lions were able to keep their composure the entire game, hitting 25 of the 33 free throws during a highly officiated game that ended with 56 fouls called. The win secured a final game for the Lions against a team that they split the season series with.
“We’ve been shooting the ball really well, obviously, the last couple games,” head coach Matt Goldsmith said in a TCNJ Athletics interview. “I think the biggest piece to it has been execution-wise, I think the guys are starting to see the intricacies of the offense a little bit better. Murdock has been doing an incredible job of controlling and running the point for us, he’s had two great games. We’ve come out to two really hot starts.”
According to the same interview, when asked about the team’s opponent on Saturday, Goldsmith said, “Stockton is the team to beat in the league. They’ve been the team to beat in the league the last three years. They have the experience. We have to take care of the ball, execute early and defend. It’s going to be a battle.”
Goldsmith’s team did get off to a great start and hung in the game during the entire 40 minutes. Trailing by only two with under a minute to go, there was no denying that the Lions gave the 21-6 Stockton team all they could handle. While they could not sink the last-minute shots they needed, the team should be very proud of themselves for the finest season the program has seen in 20 years.
More importantly, the team will return 16 of its 17 players, including senior forward Bobby Brackett, who did not play all year due to an injury.
For a team who started with a new head coach and had its best player injured before the regular season, the Lions played incredibly well and exceeded all sorts of expectations.