The Rowan men’s basketball team is heading back to the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship game for the second straight year after taking down The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) Lions 96-83 on Tuesday, Feb. 21.
While Tuesday’s game may have been the official start of the NJAC playoffs for the team, Head Coach Joe Crispin believes his team has been waiting for this moment for a while.
“We probably have been ready for the playoffs for a couple weeks and I think that’s why we dropped a couple there at the end,” Coach Crispin said. “I think our guys were focused and they were ready. We still made a few mistakes but overall it was a good game.”
The focus was evident early on, as junior guard Marcellus Ross forced a turnover on the Lions’ opening possession of the game to set the tone for the night.
“The whole time we were preaching to be the aggressor, we wanted to make sure we threw the first punch, the hardest punch,” Ross said. “We didn’t want to let anybody come in here and throw a punch at us. Even though we beat them last time, we knew we had to come out and be aggressive and assert our dominance throughout the game.”
After an initial 6-2 lead from the Lions with 17:11 left, it was all Rowan. A 17-4 run that was led by nine of Ross’ team-high 22 points shortly followed, and the team never looked back. They entered the locker room with a 45-34 lead as a result.
The Profs’ first-half lead was built by Ross, Andrew Seager’s nine points and Ja’Zere Noel’s eight points and five rebounds. Noel also finished the day just one rebound shy of a double-double. But the team’s assist to turnover ratio was key, as they had 10 assists to just three turnovers.
“We just played well together,” Noel said. “We played together, we shared the ball and most of all, we had fun. That’s our goal this year. Our goal is just to maintain and have fun. There’s no pressure, there’s no attitude, we just want to go out there and have fun. As long as we have fun, the score will take care of itself.”
Coach Crispin backed his forward’s statement about the team’s ball movement.
“We just shared the ball,” Coach Crispin said. “That was part of our emphasis. When we’re together and we let the game be easy, we make offense look pretty easy. I thought in the first half we did a great job of that, and that’s also why shots go in.”
The shots kept falling for the Profs, as the team hit on over 50% of their field goals throughout the game and connected on 54 percent of their three point attempts.
TCNJ threatened early out of the break, cutting the lead to 54-47 with 16:14 left to play. However, the team quickly responded with a 7-0 run, which was capped off by Seager’s one-handed put-back jam to push the lead back into double figures, where it stayed for the remainder of the game.
“The second half, we don’t think we played as well as we should have in the first couple minutes,” Ross said. “We just wanted to finish the game strong. Let the first half be the first half and second half be its own half, and handle business and get it done.”
The Profs handled business from that point on, as the lead grew to as large as 20 at one point.
The Profs will host Stockton University in a rematch of last year’s championship game on Friday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. with the NJAC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament on the line.
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