Rowan Men’s Basketball has opened its 2023 season with a 2-0 record after coming out on top in the Rochester Chuck Resler Tournament over the weekend.
The team spent two days in Rochester, New York where they were one of four teams to participate in the tournament, which began on Friday, Nov. 10, and concluded on Saturday, Nov. 11. In the first game, Rowan defeated Maryville College 94-90.
Interim head coach Eric Brennan was thrilled to cross off the first win of his head coaching career in his first game.
“It was good, it felt good to kind of get it out the way,” Brennan said. “But it’s always good to start the season off with a win, so we were glad to do that.”
Junior transfer Khalif Meares led the way against the Scots with 26 points, six assists, two blocks, and two steals. Reigning Co-New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Player of the Year Ja’Zere Noel contributed 22 points of his own and mixed in four assists, three steals, and one block.
For Meares, not only was this his first game with the Profs, but also his first collegiate basketball action since 2021.
“It felt good to get the win, especially for me since I haven’t played college basketball in about two years,” Meares said. “It was just great to be back out there with the team and being able to help win this game.”
Brennan went further in depth about Meares’ ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor.
“Khalif is a great player, his attitude and his energy in practice bounces off the other guys,” Brennan said. “He scores the ball first but his defense is also exceptional, and when you work hard on the defensive end of the floor, I believe the other players on the team buy into that.”
Despite having led the team in scoring, Meares claimed that wasn’t an aspect of his game that he focused on.
“Growing up in high school I always was a defensive player, I never really wanted to score,” Meares said. “My goal was always to average ten steals a game, and I told coach Brennan when I committed here that’s still my goal for the end of the season. I just get out there and play hard. I’m real scrappy and real gritty.”
The championship game took place on Saturday, Nov. 11, and the Profs got the job done, taking down Wooster College 78-77.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with the largest lead for either side being just five points.
With the Profs down 77-76 in the fourth quarter, junior guard Josh Wright got fouled while driving to the hoop with four seconds on the clock, earning a trip to the free-throw line with a chance to end the game.
Wright showcased the ice in his veins and proceeded to sink both free throws to seal the win, as well as the tournament for Rowan.
“The only thing that was going through my head was ‘you gotta hit these two right here,'” Wright said. “I wasn’t really worried about it because I’m always working on my free throws, so that prepared me to go up to the line and knock those two free throws down.”
In the championship, Wright came off the bench and led the way in the scoring department, pouring in 20 points while knocking down four three-pointers. Last season, Wright’s season-high was 19 points, so he’s already eclipsed that total in the Profs’ second game of the season.
Wright is expected to continue where he left off last season by coming off the bench in a sixth-man role, one that Brennan views as one of the most important on the team.
“He’s always been that spark off the bench,” Brennan said. “Every player has something that they bring to the team, and his offensive scoring is what he brings. He’s a very good shooter and ball handler, I’ve seen him progress a lot since his freshman year and so far he’s done a great job.”
Meares added 18 points of his own in the contest, ending his weekend with averages of 22 points, six rebounds, five steals and one block per game. His performance awarded him tournament MVP honors along with NJAC Player of the Week and a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Meanwhile, Noel’s averages of 18.5 points, nine rebounds, two steals, and 1.5 blocks per game also awarded him a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
The Profs will continue their road trip on Wednesday, Nov. 15 when they go to Eastern University to take on the Eagles.
Despite the early success Rowan has enjoyed, Brennan knows there are still aspects of the game his team needs to continue to work on in order to win against Eastern.
“Eastern has a very good team that really gets after you defensively, and we need to continue to limit turnovers by continuing to take care of the ball,” Brennan said. “It’s gonna be a tough game, it’s their home opener so that means we’re going into a hostile environment. Regardless of that, we must continue to execute despite that pressure.”