In the Rowan men’s basketball team’s regular season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 8, the Profs welcomed Swarthmore College, a team that almost cracked the national preseason top 25 rankings.
Rowan managed to stay in the game right up until the last minute, despite battling a slow start. However, the Profs still fell to the Garnets 71-70.
“The guys’ effort was good, we probably don’t know who we are yet, they’re [Swarthmore] clearer about that,” Head Coach Joe Crispin said. “So the team who’s clearer about that, they ended up winning, but I liked our effort.”
The effort wasn’t always evident throughout the whole 40 minutes of play, as Rowan struggled on both sides of the ball during the first half.
While in possession of the ball, the Profs were outshot by over ten percent, going 28.9% from the field compared to Swarthmore’s 40.5%. On the defensive end, they allowed George Visconti and Colin Shaw of the Garnets to take control of the game. The pair recorded 25 of their team’s 39 first-half points.
“First half we just didn’t throw the first punch,” senior guard D’Andre Vilmar said. “We’ve never seen a team like that, so we didn’t know what to expect. We were prepared for the game but we didn’t start how we wanted.”
This all changed in the second half, however, when the Profs’ aggression ramped up.
“It was our defense. In the first half, we were zoning a little bit and we’re just better when we’re aggressive,” Coach Crispin added. “[In the second half] We were just aggressive and physical and we had to match their toughness.”
Overall, it was clear that there was an energy shift for the Profs heading into the second half down 39-29. Veterans like D’Andre Vilmar, Marcellus Ross and Connor Dickerson all saw improvements in their game coming out of the locker room and sparked their team’s comeback.
“We went to the locker room, Coach [Crispin] just told us to keep our composure, we’re a second-half team,” Vilmar said. “I got guys on the bench just telling me we need my energy, I know we feed off that. So I just try to bring energy for everybody else ‘cause if I can be contagious and everybody can feed off that, that’s just a ripple effect.”
Throughout the first ten minutes of the second half, the Profs were able to start chipping away at Swarthmore’s lead. With 9:51 left in the game, Vilmar hit a jumper that tied up the game 53-53.
From then on, it was back-and-forth action between the two, with Rowan holding the 70-68 advantage with less than 90 seconds still to play. That was until Visconti hit his third three-pointer of the night to put Swarthmore ahead with 19 seconds left.
With Rowan having one more possession to pull off the upset, Coach Crispin went to newcomer Ja’Zere Noel, who led the team with 18 points. After taking the ball down the court, Noel went to the right off a screen from Vilmar, and a couple of feet from the basket took a contested jumper that came up short.
“We had what we were looking for,” Coach Crispin said. “We probably should have made one adjustment on the screen ‘cause I think we would have had a better look if we did that, but we’ll learn from that.”
Rowan has now opened the season with a 0-1 record, but for a team still trying to adjust to playing with the six new transfer additions, they aren’t too worried.
“We didn’t expect to have it all the first game, we have new pieces and it’s a whole new year,” Vilmar said. “We didn’t know how it was going to look. So yeah we want to win the first few games, but it’s all about what we’re doing in March.”
Despite the fact an adjustment period was expected for the new guys, Noel still wasn’t satisfied with the result of the night.
“At the end of the day my goal of the game is to win, regardless of how many points I had,” Noel said. “Our goal at the end of the game is to win. So I feel it’s just something we can learn and get better from.”
Coach Crispin agreed this is a game that this team will not only learn from, but will use as a stepping stone for the rest of the season.
“You usually don’t schedule this game first but I like it,” Coach Crispin said. “Our team needs to know that’s what we want to do, we want to beat these teams, we want to be in the top ten, top 25 and learn how to win these games and we were close tonight but we’ll figure it out. We’ll learn quick.”
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