Rowan Men’s Basketball picks up its second NJAC straight win

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Marcellus Ross goes up for a layup. Ross recorded 18 points in the win. - Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. - Photo via Lee Kotzen

With a new starting five, and players stepping into different roles compared to last year, head coach Eric Brennan and the Profs have experienced many highs and lows early in the 2023-24 season. After winning the first three games of the season, the team dropped their first two New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) games, matching the amount of conference losses they had all last season already.

After taking down William Paterson Pioneers to pick up their first NJAC win of the season, the Profs looked to keep it rolling against the 4-4 Rutgers-Camden Scarlet Raptors, in hopes of winning their first home game of the season.

After a second-half offensive explosion, Brennan and the Profs took down the Scarlet-Raptors 80-57 to improve to 6-3 and earned their first home win of the season.

“This was a must-win game with how competitive the NJAC is… we knew coming into this game that we got a good opponent across from us that brings a lot of energy, so it feels good to win against a team like that,” Brennan said. 

Junior Khalif Meares led the way with a new season-high of 28 points in addition to his seven steals. It’s Meares’s fifth game in a row with at least six steals, and his 46 total currently leads the nation, but that’s not all he’s proud of.

“To go from not playing college basketball in two years to being back on the court, I’m just proud of myself to not only be able to play but to also be doing really good in the classroom as well,” Meares said. “There’s not too many opportunities you get to do things like this, a lot of people can’t get to that number one list so it’s an amazing accomplishment.”  

Rowan got off to a slow start against Rutgers-Camden, shooting 26 percent from the field in the first half. Despite the poor shooting, the Profs were leading 35-31 at the half.

“In the first half we were very stagnant, weren’t moving around enough, weren’t sharing the ball enough, and weren’t getting the best quality looks,” senior Marcellus Ross said. “But we went into the locker room at halftime, talked about it and came back into the second half and fixed it.”

After a two-game absence, Ross made his return to the lineup and reminded everyone of the impact that his three-point shooting brings to the team. One of his threes helped jumpstart the Profs to a 37-16 run in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

“It’s huge to have Ross out there because of his ability to spread out our offense and his ability to space the floor and knock down big-time shots,” Brennan said. “The whole team trusts him so he always has that freedom because he earned it.”

Ross and senior forward Ja’Zere Noel both recorded 18 points in the contest. Noel added four steals of his own along with 10 rebounds to earn his sixth double-double on the season. 

The Profs had active hands on the defensive end, forcing 19 turnovers, 14 of which came from steals. The pressure that Rowan applied in the second half helped lead them to 24 fastbreak points. And now after roughly a month of play, the team’s chemistry continues to improve.

“The chemistry is getting better, we’re taking it game by game,” Ross said. “I say we’re a better team now than we were at the beginning of the season and hopefully with the more minutes we play, we continue that upward trend.” 

The Profs will look to continue this upward trajectory as they travel to Mahwah, NJ, for another NJAC matchup against the 6-2 Ramapo Roadrunners.

“We need to continue to lock in defensively, executing the scouting report, and trying to hold Ramapo’s guys under their averages,” Brennan said. “Offensively, we need to continue to share the ball, making smart decisions and continue to make smart shots.” 

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