For the first time since the 2006-07 season, the Rowan men’s basketball team are the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) regular season champions after their 77-70 win against the Rutgers University-Newark Scarlet Raiders on Saturday, Feb. 11.
With the win, the team clinches the top seed and home-court advantage for the NJAC tournament in addition to a first-round bye.
“It definitely feels good just so we can play at home,” junior forward Andrew Seager said. “Last year we had to travel to Stockton for the championship, so hopefully we can win our first game and host the championship here.”
While Saturday’s win was anything but a layup, the team was eager to get back out on the court and leave their heartbreaking loss last Wednesday against New Jersey City University (NJCU) behind them.
“After coming off of that tough loss and then being on SportsCenter, it was kind of tough,” sophomore guard Josh Wright said. “Most teams don’t bounce back from that kind of adversity, but we had to go out there and try and put our foot on their neck.”
The Profs looked like a team determined to bounce back, hitting on over 50% of their field goal attempts and entered the locker room with a 41-38 lead as a result. While the offense wasn’t a concern for the team with Wright and Seager combining for 27 of the Profs’ 41, turnovers kept the Scarlet Raiders in the game. Rowan committed 11 turnovers in the first half, just four below their per-game average.
“We were turning it over way too much in the first half,” Head Coach Joe Crispin said. “If we had gone in with 48 points, we would have felt great but instead it’s 41 because we turned the ball over too much.”
The Profs seemed to have the game under their control early in the second half after pushing the lead to 10, the largest for either side, but fatigue started to set in and the lead evaporated because of it.
“We got tired. We wore ourselves out a little bit probably, so we had to adjust and just go to half court defense and try to guard them,” Coach Crispin said. “We got the game to 10, and I just said ‘you gotta get it to 15’ and we just didn’t, so they came back and we were in a battle for ourselves.”
After being tied at 63 with 9:12 left, the two teams were on the see-saw for the remainder of the game. Rutgers-Newark grabbed their first lead since it was 38-37 after a three from Russell Ayala with 6:38 left to give the Scarlet Raiders a 67-65 advantage. Just a minute later, junior guard Marcellus Ross responded with a three of his own with 5:22 left to give the Profs the lead for good.
There was a nervous energy in Esbjornson Gym with 2:29 left, as the Profs held a slim 72-70 lead. After Ayala was off the mark with his go-ahead, step-back three, Seager secured the rebound for his tenth of the game. The Profs, in need of a bucket, called a timeout.
With just two seconds left on the shot clock, it was Seager who hit the title-clinching shot after spinning by a Scarlet Raider, giving him an even 20 points on the day.
“It’s just like any other shot honestly,” Seager said. “It’s just trying to get ourselves a win and it’s a big one trying to get the regular season champs, so no pressure at all. Just try to finish the game out like we always do.”
Now with just one game left in the regular season, Coach Crispin wants his team to rest up for the intensity the postseason brings.
“These kinds of games are good for us going into the postseason because the postseason is different,” Coach Crispin said. “So rest, relax, get ready to have a great game on Wednesday and rest a little bit more so we can get ready for the playoffs.”
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