Nick DePersia and Ramon Wright seem stuck in time, halting in their paths as Matt Green loads up for a contested three point jumper.
DaRon Curry, laying on the hardwood floor after tripping before his pass to Green, wonders if he did enough with what could be his final possession as a Rowan University basketball player.
DePersia now runs into the broadcast frame, arm raised, as if he knows what’s going to happen next.
“I thought it was good the second it left my hand. I thought I got fouled,” Green said. “They didn’t call a foul, then I saw the ball go in from the ground. It was just an unreal feeling.”
The sophomore transfer hit the biggest shot of his life, a contested three with 13.6 seconds left in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) final to beat New Jersey City University (NJCU), 80-77.
The Brown and Gold won their first conference title since 1999 and received an automatic bid to the NCAA DIII Tournament. They even made it onto SportsCenter, again.
The Gothic Knights, undefeated at home, stormed back in the second half, going on a 13-1 run with 11:14 remaining to pull ahead, 57-53. The teams would go at it throughout the half, with NJCU holding a late 75-69 lead with 3:32 left. The Profs then went on a 6-2 run. After a missed three by Gothic Knights’ Sam Toney, Curry drove down the lane for a contested left-handed layup to tie things at 77 with 55 seconds left.
Some could call it an unfavorable matchup, going on the road against an opponent that’s undefeated at home. But for head coach Joe Crispin, it’s what he’s been wanting for months.
“I actually said in October that I wanted to win there in the NJAC finals,” Crispin said. “I just felt like it’s about the hardest thing you can do in the conference…the atmosphere. The energy. We talk about building the program and taking the next step, that’s part of it. Winning in tough places. Walking in and believing you should win, no matter where you are. We did that. That’s what makes it really satisfying against a good, tough team.”
Five different players scored in double digits. Senior guard Nick DePersia scored 19 points. Senior guard Ramon Wright had 15 to go with nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks and steals. Junior forward Austin Kearney added 14 off the bench to go along with eight rebounds. Senior guard Rob DePersia netted 12 and had five assists.
Senior DaRon Curry finished with 11 points, all in the second half, scoring or assisting on Rowan’s last nine points.
“I just told myself, ‘I’m out here for a reason, the last couple minutes, so I’ve got to get involved,’” Curry said. “For me, this is a testament to sticking with things. I came from a Division I program to a Division III program. Most people were like ‘you dropped off.’ All power to [coach] Crispin. [He] always told me, like, ‘You’ve got the ability. Just go out there and do it.’ It means everything to me to actually get this here.”
As for hero Matt Green, he only scored five points and attempted one three-pointer in 13 minutes of playing time.
We know what happened with that three.
For a group of seniors who have sacrificed personal accolades for the greater good of the team, this win is so sweet. It is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication. It’s part of the goal that Crispin has been working on since he became head coach three years ago.
Crispin has seen enough seniors play in their final year to know that this particular group is special and will go down as one of the most talented groups to ever take the floor for the program. Three weeks ago, he spoke about his group and how important these guys are to the Rowan University program.
“They have shifted our identity,” Crispin said. “In terms of what we do and how we play. And then the identity of, we win. There’s two qualities I’ve seen in this group: empathy and humility. Just being there for each other.”
Now, the team heads into its 13th NCAA DIII Tournament appearance, the first since 2000. The Profs won the national championship in 1996 under now-professor Dr. John Giannini. Rowan hosts Emerson College on Friday at 7:30. The Lions are making their first national tournament appearance after winning the NEWMAC for the first time as well, defeating WPI, 93-75.
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