By Miguel Gonzalez
The men’s basketball team found itself in a tight spot on Saturday, Jan. 20.
With only 11 seconds left in the game, Kean University left Packer Hall quiet as they completed two free throws and extended their lead, 69-64. Kean’s victory seemed inevitable, but the Lions refused to throw in the towel.
The Lions outlasted Kean University, 78-73, in overtime at Packer Hall. On Jan. 17, the team defeated conference foe Rutgers University-Camden 98-88, at home.
During January, the team continued their winning momentum from December and gathered significant conference victories against Rutgers University-Newark, Montclair State University and Ramapo College, a team nationally ranked 19th according to D3hoops.com.
Coming into Packer Hall on Saturday, the Lions rode on a four-game winning streak while undefeated at home. The team did not expect a competitive match against Kean, who sat at a 5-12 record, but Kean proved to be a tough opponent.
At the start of the first quarter, the Lions jumped to a 13-4 lead. Senior forward Elias Bermudez and junior forward Jordan Glover powered through defenders and hit layups. By the 15th minute, Kean began to crawl back when junior forward Michael Summerer got a layup. Kean then followed up with a three-pointer swished in by junior guard Justin Watson.
Two minutes later, senior guard Eric Murdock Jr. scored a three-pointer to put the Lions ahead, 16-9. Kean immediately fired back with two consecutive three-pointers by junior guard Keenan Williams Jr.
The Lions responded with a combination of layups and three pointers. Bermudez and Glover were both good for low post baskets while sophomore forward Ryan Jensen and sophomore guard Randall Walko made three-pointers.
By the end of the first half, the Lions were up by 39-32.
Coming into the second half, the Lions were overwhelmed by Kean’s rally. It took three minutes for the Lions to score when Bermudez hit a layup beneath the basket.
The Lions defense endured more pressure from Kean as they went on a methodical 9-0 run. By the 28th minute, Kean had mounted a 53-43 lead.
After the team made two substitutions, Walko sparked a gradual rally when he made three consecutive free throws. Bermudez then followed up with two more to cut the Lions deficit to 54-48.
With the clock down to seven minutes, Walko ignited Packer Hall when he stole the ball from Kean freshman guard Adrian Baucum and threw down a fast break dunk. After several turnovers by both sides, Jensen caught a quick pass by Bermudez and scored a layup to put the Lions just one point behind Kean.
Free throws then became the instrument of choice for the Lions offense when Murdock knocked in four consecutive free throws to help the team gain the lead. Kean responded by scoring on four straight possessions and clamping down the Lions offense.
On the next possession, sophomore guard Niall Carpenter drained a three-pointer and cut the deficit to two points. Yet, Kean still had the upper hand and possession with only four seconds remaining.
Despite the dire situation, the Lions found a way to prevail.
With seconds remaining, Walko caught an inbounds pass, leaped forward and scored the game-tying basket to send the match into overtime. Here the Lions secured another victory, 78-73.
Head coach Matthew Goldsmith believed the team worked together to launch the last minute comeback.
“I think the team just focused on one play at a time during that closing stretch,” Goldsmith said. “Every possession mattered and without all five guys doing their job, we would have never won that game. I was very proud of our effort in that last two minutes.”
Goldsmith also acknowledged that any player could have scored the game-tying shot and sent the game to overtime.
“We came out with a plan and Randy ended up being the guy to get the ball,” Goldsmith said. “I think all five guys on the floor could have made a game tying shot for us. Randy had his name called and came through in the clutch.”
The Lions do not have much time to celebrate, as they take on Stockton University and New Jersey City University on the road this week. The Lions play Stockton on Wednesday, Jan. 24 and NJCU on Saturday, Jan. 27.
Goldsmith says every player will be needed to win future conference matches.
“We need every player to be ready when there name is called and to play with 100 percent effort,” Goldsmith said.