It is officially the playoff basketball season for the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), which means that Rowan men’s basketball is in the midst of their run for the division title.
They tipped off their first playoff matchup this past Tuesday, Feb. 22, in the quarterfinal round of the tournament against New Jersey City University (NJCU). Rowan would go on to win that game by a final score of 96-91.
The game was held in front of Rowan’s home crowd in Glassboro, N.J. at the Esbjornson Gymnasium, which was filled with over 250 students and fans. For many of Rowan’s players, this game was the first playoff environment that they have played in as Profs.
“It is the first time in the playoffs with a new team,” Sophomore guard Marcellus Ross said. “For me, it is the first time [in the playoffs] since COVID hit. I’m proud of what we did tonight. We were a little sloppy at times, but I’m glad we got the win.”
Despite the lack of playoff experience that the Profs had as a unit, this was the type of environment that the coaching staff has been preparing the team for all season.
“[Each game] is always the same thing for us,” Head Coach Joe Crispin said. “We want to increase pace and create an up-and-down game [on offense and defense]. We almost always get good enough shots, so we just have to make them.”
Rowan was putting up those shots against NJCU, as they attempted 79 field goal tries and connected on 36.7% of them. However, the game was really won off of Rowan’s ability to get to the free throw line. 30 of the Profs’ points came from foul shots, which accounts for nearly one-third of their total points.
Ross was one of the key players in his team’s victory, as he put up 21 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds.
Forward Andrew Seager, a fellow sophomore who plays alongside Ross in the starting lineup, also had a big night with 18 points and eight rebounds of his own. He saved his best shots of the night for the end of the game, scoring ten of his 18 in the final six minutes of the game.
Both Seager and Ross had big breakout regular seasons for the Profs, and they showed no signs of slowing down in the playoffs.
While those two and the rest of the starting lineup did their thing, the bench made several big plays of their own that helped Rowan walk out with a win.
Collectively, guards junior Hafeez Melvin, sophomore Damian Smith, and freshman Josh Wright alon with junior forward Stretch Hawkins checked in for 38 points and four steals.
However, many of their biggest defensive plays of the game do not appear on the box score.
One of those big plays was Melvin’s chase down block late in the game when his team was narrowly up 86-80 with 1:38 left to play. That block led to two points on the other end for Andrew Seager.
Rowan’s next matchup will come on Thursday, Feb. 24, against Rutgers-Newark in the semifinal game of the NJAC playoffs.
“Rutgers-Newark plays more of a halfcourt game, so we are going to have to pressure them and have a great defensive effort,” Coach Crispin said. “They have two all-conference players who are some of the top guys in the league, so we are going to have to do a good job defending them.”
Rowan’s own two All-NJAC players, Seager and Ross, will be looking to lead their team to victory with a trip to the NJAC Championship on the line. If these two, their teammates, and the coaching staff can repeat their effort against NJCU, then Rowan should find themselves comfortably playing for the NJAC title on Sat., Feb. 26.
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