By Otto Gomez
The Lions suffered its first loss in about a month on Wednesday, Feb. 1, as they fell 88-74 to Rowan University. The loss was not enough to stop their hot play, however, as they bounced back with an 84-78 victory over No. 7 Ramapo College on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Against the Profs, the Lions came in with a seven-game win streak, playing their best basketball of the year. However, it was the Profs that opened up the game firing on all cylinders. Reigning New Jersey Athletic Conference player of the week sophomore guard Nick DePersia scored 11 points and senior forward Shawn Wilson scored five of his own, giving the Profs an early 16-4 lead.
The Lions answered back behind senior star forward Bobby Brackett, who netted nine points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone before exiting the game due to a knee injury. The Lions still trailed 45-34 at the end of the second quarter.
“Rowan is a very good team, especially at home,” Brackett said. “They score the most in the conference and when they’re playing well, they are a very hard team to beat.”
The Lions guards put on a show in the second half, as senior guard Eric Klacik hit back to back three pointers and junior guard Eric Murdock Jr. scored his 1000th point of his college career, becoming only the 24th player in program history to achieve that feat. Their efforts were not worthwhile in the end, as the Profs were able to connect on their free throws late in the game to seal the deal and complete an 88-74 home victory.
Despite losing against the Profs, the Lions made a very strong statement on Saturday as they were able to upset Ramapo in Packer Hall by a score of 84-78 in one of the most exciting games in recent memory.
“After losing on Wednesday, we knew we had to come out and play our best game on Saturday,” Brackett said. “Ramapo is a top team in the country for a reason, but we believe when we play our best that we’re a top team, too. Fortunately for us, we played well that day and got a huge win.”
The opening 20 minutes were slightly sloppy, but competitive. The Lions connected on just nine of 26 total shots, but were fortunate that five of those were beyond the arc. Freshman Ryan Jensen provided productive minutes off the bench, tallying nine points and securing six rebounds in just 12 minutes. His presence kept the team in the game through the first half, as they only trailed by one.
The Lions offense bursted in the second half. The team shot 69 percent from the floor and an incredible 8-11 from outside range. With fewer than two minutes remaining and leading 76-70, Klacik nailed a clutch three on the Roadrunners, his fourth of the game.
The Lions then converted on their free throws late in the game to seal the deal and finish with an emotional victory. Murdock Jr. led all scorers with 18 points and a career-high 11 assists. Jensen posted a career-high 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting while junior forward Elias Bermudez finished with 15 points. Klacik added 14 points and sophomore forward Jordan Glover chipped in with nine of his own.
The Lions have three more conference regular season games on their schedule, each one as important as the next. The team is on the road this week. On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the Lions trek up to Wayne, N.J., for a match against the William Paterson University Pioneers. Afterwards, they will play an away match against the Montclair State University Red Hawks on Saturday, Feb. 11.
The team is aiming for a first- place finish in the NJAC, but they know it will not be easy. They remain positive, knowing they can compete with anyone.
“Now that we’re at the final stretch of our season, we feel like we’re playing our best at the right point in the season,” Brackett said. “We have to continue this for the next three games and into the playoffs in order to win the conference.”