By Otto Gomez
The Lions finished their regular season on a strong note as they defeated Rutgers University-Newark 68-55 on Wednesday, Feb. 15. The team completed a perfect season at home this year, going 12-0 and winning every home game by at least six points. Their 14-4 overall conference record earned them the second seed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament, resulting in a bye over this past weekend.
In their last regular season game, the Lions needed a strong performance from senior forward Corey Stanford because senior forward Bobby Bracket and junior guard Eric Murdock, Jr. were out of the lineup. Stanford came up big, scoring 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds as well. Junior forward Elias Bermudez also played a key role in the win, almost securing a double-double with eight points and 10 boards. Sophomore guard Joe Montano added 13 points in the win off a strong shooting night.
The game was close throughout, as Rutgers-Newark hung tough all night. The Lions were down just four points with seven minutes to play, but they pulled away with a 13-2 run capped by Stanford scoring a lay-up with 2:36 remaining. The Lions did not shoot well from outside the arc, resulting in a tight game most of the time. However, their accurate free- throw shooting and lockdown defense secured the victory.
The strong home crowd was an important factor in the game, something that has not gone unnoticed by the coaches and players, alike.
“The biggest difference at home for us this year has been the incredible fan support from the TCNJ campus community,” head coach Matt Goldsmith said. “The crowds have been fantastic, the environment has been great, and hopefully the crowd will be rocking again on Tuesday.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., the College will square off against the third seed, New Jersey City University, in Packer Hall and will have a huge audience supporting them. The matchup will be the third consecutive year that these two teams meet in the NJAC playoff tournament. After the 2014-15 season, the sixth-seeded Gothic Knights defeated the third-seeded Lions, 74-60, in Packer Hall. The following year, the fifth seed Lions defeated the then top-seeded Gothic Knights, 92-82, in Jersey City, N.J.
Goldsmith shows extreme confidence in his team coming into the game.
“The biggest thing the team has to do is play our brand of basketball,” Goldsmith said. “Playoff games come down to the ‘little things.’ We always say take care of the small details and the results take care of themselves. If we can focus in, trust our instincts, and continue to do what we have done for most of the year, we should put ourselves in a position to get a good result.”
The Lions are striving for their first conference tournament championship since the 1997-98 season, while the Gothic Knights recently took the title in the 2010-11 season.