By Stephen Huber
The Lions won their home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 29, defeating Stockton University 95-84. They then defeated Kean University, 76-64, in Union, New Jersey on Saturday Dec. 2. With these wins, the Lions improved to 5-1 this season and 3-0 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Returning to Packer Hall, head coach Matt Goldsmith and the Lions were glad to have support from the home crowd.
“It was absolutely fantastic to play at home again,” Goldsmith said. “We played our best game of the season that night and the energy from the crowd definitely played a major factor in our performance.”
The College faced Stockton University before a crowd of 329 people on Nov. 29. Stockton led by as many as eight points in the first half, but an 11-4 run by the Lions kept the game close and a last second back shot by sophomore guard Niall Carpenter tied it at 48 points going into the second half.
The Lions then dominated the final period, outscoring Stockton by 11 and finishing with a season high 95 points. The team went on an offensive tear, scoring more than half of their shots beyond the arc. Carpenter and senior guard Eric Murdock Jr. shot for 23 points apiece and combined for nine assists.
The Lions also took advantage of 13 turnovers from Stockton, scoring 18 more points. During the game, sophomore guard Randall Walko added 21 points on 6-8 shooting and junior forward Jordan Glover scored 10 points.
On Dec. 2, the team traveled north to take on Kean. The Lions found themselves down by six at the half, as Kean junior guard Keenan Williams Jr. drilled four three-pointers. In a game where the Lions made just 10 three-pointers from deep, they found a way to fight back and outscored Kean by 18 in the second half.
Junior guard Joe Montano delivered a spark off the bench with 12 points on efficient 4-6 shooting. Murdock Jr. had a game high 23 points and sophomore forward Ryan Jensen pulled down nine rebounds to go along with 13 points, but the story of the game was not the offense.
Throughout the season, Goldsmith and the team have looked for varying strategies to win games.
“I tell the guys all the time that great teams win games in different ways,” Goldsmith said. “We are not always going to shoot well from the field and other teams are going to shoot well on contested shots sometimes. In those circumstances, we have to stay steady and control what we can control — effort, execution and defense.”
The Lions have now won five straight games, winning conference games with different offensive tactics and consistent defense. They held both Stockton and Kean to just 40 percent from the field and forced a combined 28 turnovers. Despite close first periods in both games, the Lions came up with clutch plays to seal both victories. Goldsmith tries to keep his team calm and ready in those final moments.
“In big moments, the simplest plays are the winning plays,” Goldsmith said. “Our guys have done a great job of maintaining their composure and taking care of the ball late in games.”