After going 3-0 on the road to start the season, the Rowan Men’s Basketball team returned home for the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) opener against Stockton on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
The last time these two teams matched up in Glassboro was in February when the Profs dominated Stockton to win their first NJAC Championship since the 2018-19 season. But this time around, the Ospreys came into Esby Gym and handed new head coach Eric Brennan and the Profs their first loss of the season, winning 76-73.
It was an emotional night for the Rowan and Glassboro community. Not only because of this being the home opener and a rematch of last year’s NJAC Championship game, but because it was a night that the Rowan community celebrated the life and accomplishments of Demetrius Poles, the former Rowan Women’s Basketball coach, whose sudden passing in May of 2023 still heavily affects the community.
Before tipoff, seniors Ja’Zere Noel and Marcellus Ross met with the Poles family at half court to give their condolences and gave Poles’ sons custom Rowan backpacks.
To begin the first half, Stockton came out firing on all cylinders, opening the game on a 12-3 run in the first three minutes of the first half. Rowan was able to keep the game close and did achieve its first lead with five minutes remaining in the first half, and even led 42-39 at the break.
“Stockton came in with more energy, more excitement and capitalized on that by getting off to a hot start,” Brennan said. “We were able to close the tide. It was a back-and-forth contest but statistically we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, so on that end, we didn’t do a good job rebounding and just weren’t clicking as a unit tonight.”
The Ospreys out-rebounded the Profs 51 to 41, with 14 of them being offensive boards. This led to easy baskets in the paint for Stockton, who finished the game with 30 points in the paint.
However, Rowan kept the game close, and with 1:45 to go in the game, Esby Gym erupted after senior Booty Butler found sophomore guard Chris McCarron wide open for three to tie the game at 70.
“I’ve been telling Chris all year I trust you on the court, and when you’re open, always take the shot because we’re all here to play basketball,” Brennan said.
Unfortunately for the Profs, they were unable to ride the momentum, and Stockton pulled out the win after sinking a couple of free throws.
Despite the loss, Noel filled up every category in the stat sheet, ending with 16 points, 15 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, and two steals. Ross led the team in points with 25, shooting 8-16 from beyond the arc while adding four steals. Despite the stellar performance the Ross, he knows that he and the team didn’t play the best and could’ve come out better than they did in this game.
“Defensively we didn’t do nearly enough, we’re a much better defending team than we showed today, we let their best players get going and that can’t ever happen,” Ross said. “We know the scouting report and we didn’t respect it like we should have, Kudos to Stockton because they came in ready to go.”
The Profs left many points off the board by not being able to consistently hit free throws when given the chance, as they only shot 65 percent (15-23) from the line, a very uncharacteristic percentage for the team.
“We split a lot of free throws tonight and that cannot happen, especially when in the first two games we shot 90% from the line… not fully converting on those chances can be the difference maker in games like these and we saw that today,” Brennan said.
The Profs will pack up the bus for another road trip, traveling to Christopher Newport to participate in the Holiday Inn Invitational to take on Mary Washington on Nov. 25, and Christopher Newport on Nov. 26.
“It’s a tough weekend, Mary Washington is a very good team and Christopher Newport won the national championship last year, but our approach will be the same,” Brennan said. “We’ll watch the Stockton film and learn from that… I told the guys you never want to lose but we have the opportunity to look back and see what we can do better and hopefully the outcome of the next game will be different.”