Glassboro is home to yet another New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) champion, as the Rowan men’s basketball team rolled past their rival, Stockton Ospreys, with a score of 103-88 on Friday, Feb. 24 — claiming their first NJAC Championship since the 2018-19 season.
“This is the best feeling I’ve had all year,” junior guard Marcellus Ross said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team, better staff and a better environment. I love Rowan. I’m so happy I came here and this is the best day of my life, best day of my life by far.”
A rematch of last year’s NJAC title game, the Profs were determined to not only avenge the heartbreaking 95-91 championship loss to Stockton but sweep them, just as the Ospreys did a year ago.
“We said before the game that we manifested this whole season,” Ross said. “Last year when we lost at Stockton, from that moment in the locker room we thought about next year and winning it, and we did that. We swept them three games to zero, we won at the crib for the championship. You couldn’t get a better story.”
From start to finish, the Profs put on a show in front of an electric crowd at Esby Gym. The two teams exchanged the lead early on, but a 23-17 deficit with just over nine minutes left in the first quickly turned into a 40-31 Profs’ lead entering the break after buckets from Andrew Seager, D’Andre Vilmar, Damien Smith and Ja’Zere Noel.
Even with the lead, Head Coach Joe Crispin was expecting an even better Profs team in the second half.
“I said it was a good job for a-not-so-great half,” Coach Crispin said. “We weren’t great offensively, we didn’t really settle in. They [Stockton] did a good job switching defenses, which was disruptive but I thought defensively we didn’t make a ton of mistakes in the first half and that was the emphasis. Guard personnel and make things difficult for them, and the guys did a great job.”
As Coach Crispin alluded to, the Profs’ strong defense forced Stockton to commit 14 turnovers and shoot just over 40% from the field. The key to this lockdown defense was the team’s ability to play with one another.
“We were just playing together,” Seager said. “Sticking to the game plan Coach Crispin had for us and we just executed it very well. It turned out very good for us.”
While there was no on-court halftime entertainment, fans were treated to the ‘Marcellus Ross show’ during the second half. The junior guard entered the break scoreless but quickly caught fire, finishing with 24 points and going 7-11 from behind the three-point line.
“He was awesome,” Coach Crispin said. “I said at halftime ‘oh by the way we have a fresh Marcellus Ross’, you know, he was as fresh as can be, so I said get some shots up and be ready to roll, and sure enough he was.”
While Ross was shooting the lights out, his teammate and NJAC Co-Player of the Year, Ja’Zere Noel, was living under the glass, as the 6’6” forward recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 18:32 left in the game and hauled in a career-high 17 rebounds to accompany his 16 points.
“I focused on their weakness,” Noel said. “They didn’t have much size so I figured I’d dominate the boards, and that’s what I did. I figured that’s the best way to win, the best way to help my team win.”
With the team dropping 63 second-half points and 103 total, the production didn’t just stop with Ross. Seager provided the team with seven of his 20 in the second half while sophomore guard Josh Wright gave the team 15 of their 22 bench points and went on a mini 6-0 run of his own midway through the second half as M-V-P chants reigned down on the guard.
“Playing in front of the Rowan crowd, there’s nothing like it man,” Wright said. “They bring us so much energy. I feed off that energy man, that’s why I do what I do.”
In what was the team’s first time hosting the conference championship in program history, the Rowan crowd did not disappoint. From chants of “You can’t do that” whenever Stockton fouled, to singing goodbye to Stockton’s sideline, the players loved every second of playing in front of the sellout crowd.
“We have the best crowd in the NJAC for sure,” Seager said. “It’s so much fun, so much energy. It’s so much fun.”
With 1:45 left to go and the celebration about to begin, Ross gave his teammates and fans one more thing to cheer about, as he hit his seventh three of the night to record his 1,000th career point at the collegiate level. Even with the milestone in reach, the championship was on the forefront of his mind all day.
“I woke up this morning and was like ‘yo, I want to be a champion today, nothing else, I want to be a champion’ and that happened,” Ross said. “It’s my first championship since AAU so this means everything to me, I’m ecstatic.”
That “ecstatic” feeling radiated throughout the team as they stormed out from the bench to jump around half-court and hug one another as the clocks hit double-zero.
“I’m speechless, this feeling is amazing,” Noel said. “Not only am I happy for myself, I’m happy for my teammates. I’m happy that my teammates can call themselves champions and at the end of the day, that’s all I wanted for my team.”
For senior guard Connor Dickerson, it had been a feeling he’s chased since his freshman year.
“It feels great,” Dickerson said. “I’ve been chasing this feeling since freshman year again. That time I was more of a role player, I think I was a little bit more of steering the ship this time. When you just make the rest of the guys so happy, that’s what it’s really about.”
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