The quest for back-to-back NJAC titles concludes for Rowan men’s basketball after loss to TCNJ

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Ja'Zere Noel brings the ball up the court. Noel recorded 15 points and 17 rebounds against TCNJ. - Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. - Photo via Lee Kotzen

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, Rowan men’s basketball had the TCNJ Lions come into a sold-out crowd in Esby Gym to compete in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) semifinals game. Exactly one year ago on the same date, the Profs took down TCNJ in the NJAC semifinals 96-83 on their way to an NJAC title.

However this season, TCNJ has shown the ability to win on the road, as they knocked off the Ramapo Roadrunners in the NJAC quarterfinals to get to this matchup. The Lions also took down the Profs at Rowan on Nov. 29, when they came into Glassboro and beat Rowan 82-72.

Unfortunately for the Profs, history would repeat itself, as TCNJ came into Glassboro and knocked the Profs out of the tournament after a 79-73 victory.

“Defense in the first half was atrocious and we had some cold spells offensively,” head coach Eric Brennan said. “It was the same story the first time we played them here, it’s difficult to come back from that.”

In the previous home game, the Profs also struggled to get going offensively and stop TCNJ defensively, getting outscored 42-26 in the first half. That theme continued tonight, as the Lions held onto a 46-31 going into the half.

The Lions hit their shots with high efficiency, shooting 54 percent from the field and shooting 5-12 from three going into halftime, while the Profs show just 36 percent from the field and 25 percent from three.

Rowan would try and mount a comeback though, as they went on a quick 8-0 run in the early minutes of the second half to cut TCNJ’s lead to just seven and kept the game within 10 for the majority of the second half. This comeback attempt fell short though, as they made some costly mistakes with the ball.

“I liked the fight that we showed in the second half,” Brennan said. “We did enough to potentially take the lead but turnovers stopped us from fully taking it.” 

Junior Khalif Meares led the Profs in scoring with 21 points and also tallied five rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Senior Ja’Zere Noel finished with 15 points, 17 rebounds, five assists, one steal, and four blocks in the contest but it unfortunately wasn’t enough. 

“They were the better team tonight, they played together and played better defense,” Noel said. “It was just their night tonight and that’s just the game of basketball but we could of did a better job communicating with each other.”

Even though an NJAC title is not in the team’s future, an NCAA Division III tournament appearance is still potentially on the horizon. Entering this game against TCNJ, Rowan was ranked second in the region but Rowan will have to wait to see how this loss affects their chances.

“It’s too early to say but I hope that we had a strong enough strength of schedule and we can get in,” Brennan said. “A NJAC tournament [win] would’ve been nice and that was a goal of ours, but we gotta wipe that off of us if we’re still moving forward.”

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