By Otto Gomez
The Lions came up short on their quest to the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship on Feb. 21, falling to New Jersey City University, 77-69. The Gothic Knights advanced to the championship game at Ramapo College.
A roaring crowd watched on as two strong teams squared off. In the end, the Gothic Knights defense, ranked ninth in the nation, reigned supreme as they applied constant pressure throughout the 40 minutes. They were able to force 19 turnovers in the game, scoring 22 points off those takeaways.
The game was low scoring in the first half, as the Lions led 28-24 after the first two quarters. Junior guard Eric Murdock Jr. and senior forward Corey Stanford drained important three-pointers in the first half, allowing the team to have control early. However, the Gothic Knights started the third quarter on an 8-0 run, swinging the momentum to their favor.
Senior guard Eric Klacik stopped the Gothic Knights streak and nailed his 172nd career three-pointer, moving him into third of all-time in program history, past Lions hall of famer Greg Grant. Minutes later, the Gothic Knights clamped down on their defense and prevented the Lions from making a field goal for the next seven minutes.
Junior forward Elias Bermudez was able to put a layup off a rebound with 2:27 left in the game clock, cheering of the home crowd. The Lions eight free-throws kept them in the game.
The Gothic Knights remained strong on both sides in the second half, amounting a lead that was too much for the Lions. Their strong performance at the free-throw line held their lead as the buzzer went off. Murdock. Jr. led the Lions offense with 19 points, going 5-7 from the arc. Stanford posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards, and senior forward Bobby Brackett scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The conference semifinal marked Brackett’s last game and ended his historic career. He finished third all-time in rebounds with 836, fourth all-time in blocks with 79 and 19th all-time in points scored with 1,063. What is more impressive is that Brackett compiled the stats in three years.
“We’ve come such a long way since myself and Klacik got here,” Brackett said. “It all started a couple years before with guys like Skye Ettin and our (former) coach, Kelly Williams. We’ve been able to improve every season since our first year.
“To be second in the NJAC and be top five in the region at the end of the season is a great accomplishment for this program,” Brackett added. “Obviously, winning an NJAC Championship would make everything so much better, but unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”
The Lions look to continue their dominance in the NJAC in the next few years, as head coach Matt Goldsmith has accumulated a strong 34-20 record in his first two seasons.
“I am going to miss hundreds of things — the fans, games, other teammates and just being a TCNJ student athlete,” Brackett said. But Eric (Klacik) has been there all four years with me and has made me a better person and player, so I will absolutely miss playing with him the most.