The College’s men’s basketball team began the toughest stretch of their season on Saturday with a 96-79 loss to Ramapo College, the top team in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
Things certainly aren’t going to get any easier for the Lions from here.
Saturday’s game was part of a four-game run that features the most daunting competition the NJAC can offer. The final stretch of the College’s regular season will include games against Rowan University and Montclair State University, ranked second and third in the NJAC, respectively, and another strong conference opponent in Rutgers University-Newark.
“This is a true test of character these last four games,” senior guard Derick Grant, who led the Lions with a game-high 31 points against Ramapo, said.
The College stayed tight with the Roadrunners during the first half, leading for the first four minutes of the game and never trailing by more than five.
After taking the lead for good with 11:47 remaining in the first and entering halftime with a 41-36 lead, Ramapo outscored the Lions 55-43 in the second half and opened up the gap to as many as 21.
A second straight double-double on 17 points and 12 boards from junior forward Scott Findlay wasn’t enough for the Lions, as they were still out-rebounded 42-30 for the game.
Senior guard Mike Snyder added 15 points, four assists and four steals, while the Roadrunners were led by senior guard Amin Wright’s 24 points and sophomore center Rashawn Wilson’s 21 points.
The Lions did get to enjoy one easy night in the NJAC on Wednesday with their 92-45 wrecking of Rutgers University-Camden.
It was the College’s second straight win and fourth in its last five games.
“It’s hard getting two in a row,” Grant, who had 13 points, said. “We’ll take it any way we can get it.”
The win was a good sign of the Lions getting back to where they were before their four-game losing streak in early January.
“(Wednesday) was a good mental test,” head coach John Castaldo said. “You want to come out and build on what we did (in the Lions’ win against Kean) with the sharpness and crispness.”
The College did just that, dominating the Scarlet Raptors in every facet of the game. The Lions opened the game on a 30-3 run, diced Rutgers’ full court press with effective passing and held them to 28.4 percent shooting. The Lions won the battle on the boards 56-28 and shot 50 percent from the field behind a balanced offensive attack that had five Lions reaching double digits in scoring.
If that wasn’t enough, the Lions dazzled in the second half with a minute stretch that featured three dunks. Findlay flushed an alley-oop from Grant and added a jam two possessions later. Sandwiched between those two plays was a commanding slam by junior forward Bobby Davison straight over a Rutgers defender.
“You want to say focused and try to stay sharp but at times you get a little loosey-goosey with the alley-oops,” Grant said.
Findlay led the Lions with his ninth double-double of the season, pouring in 19 points and hauling down 15 rebounds. Freshman forward Mark Aziz and senior guard Kyle Burke each added 15 points, which was a career high for Aziz, while senior guard Mike Snyder chipped in 15 points and four steals.
The Lions will continue their tough stretch when they host the rival Rowan Profs tonight at 8 p.m.