The Rowan Men’s basketball team continued their season-long dominance after a 107-69 win over their rival, the Stockton Ospreys, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, to improve to 10-0 in New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) play and 14-3 overall.
Wednesday’s match was as big as it could get, with both teams vying for the NJAC title. The fact that Stockton won all three games last year, including the NJAC Championship game to eliminate the Profs, made it personal. So everyone, including the Rowan faithful in a packed Esbjornson Gymnasium, was ready for this potential playoff preview.
“A lot of our teammates are coming from last year, with sort of a chip on our shoulder to get it back,” junior guard Damian Smith said. “You know they beat us three times, so it was more of a ‘let’s get them back,’ especially home and being in front of people for the first game back after break.”
Even players who weren’t on last year’s team, like junior forward Ja’Zere Noel, could sense how much this game meant to the Profs and feel the energy within the gym.
“This is my first year and it’s interesting to learn a new rivalry. I love this energy, I love it,” Noel said. “The atmosphere was great.”
What started as a fast-paced, back-and-forth game quickly turned into a blowout. Rowan grabbed a 23-21 lead with 9:04 to go in the first half off of a Smith three and never looked back. The team went on a 24-8 run to take a 47-29 lead going into the locker room.
The second half was much of the same, as the Profs shot 51% from the field in the last 20 minutes of play. Five players had double figures for scoring, led by Noel with 17.
“We’re all ballers. We’re all confident and Coach [Head Coach Joe Crispin] instills that in every last one of us, which is great,” Noel said. “Not one of us shies away from taking the shot, which is very great.”
Ahmad Bickley, Josh Wright and Smith, who all scored in the double digits, came off a bench that helped produce 57 points for the Profs. There were also plenty of highlight-worthy plays, including sophomore guard Drew Amos’ ankle-breaking crossover and fellow sophomore guard Tim Petersen’s put-back dunk to record his first basket at the collegiate level.
“That’s the beauty of our team. I feel like a lot of guys are able to score and do a lot of things, and we have so much depth on our bench,” Smith said. “It’s evident when we start playing good, we start playing fluent, everyone’s flowing and feeling good, and you feel good, you shoot good.”
While it was the offense that stole the show Wednesday night, the Profs’ ability to defend guided them to the victory. They held Stockton’s leading scorer, DJ Campbell, to just nine points, ten below his game average. As a team, Stockton shot 33.3% from the field and just 17.4% from beyond the arc.
“I think we were just able to lock in,” Smith said. “Simply just lock in, focus on defense and paying attention to the scout, following the scout to a T and doing everything that we needed to do because we’ve been harping on defense a lot.”
Head Coach Joe Crispin backed his guard’s statement about the team’s defensive showing.
“They played a great defensive game in particular… Sometimes we haven’t executed the game plan the way we want,” Coach Crispin said. “Today we did a great job, they were focused on it and I’m proud of them.”
Now with the remaining eight games being all conference games, Coach Crispin wants his team to continue to strive to get better.
“I told them this week that this is the second half of the NJAC so now we’re going to see all these teams for a second time,” Coach Crispin said. “The goal is to play better against all these teams.”
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