By Otto Gomez
The Lions clinched a spot in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament as the fifth seed after an incredible finish against Kean University on Wednesday, Feb. 17. The team had control of its own destiny, meaning that the Lions would automatically make the playoffs with a win. However, that win did not come easy, as Kean fought hard the entire game.
Sophomore guard Eric Murdock, Jr. was as clutch as ever as he scored the last six points for the Lions. First, he banked in a layup with 1:14 remaining to break a 60-60 tie.
Kean responded quickly with a three-pointer to give his Cougars a 63-62 lead. The Lions’s sophomore was then fouled and consequently made his two free throws to regain the lead, but Kean was able to respond again, as a Cougar’s players was able to knock down Murdock’s free throws, leaving 18 seconds on the clock.
Murdock got the last laugh, however, as he knocked in the game-winning jumper with two seconds left on the clock to give first-year head coach Matthew Goldsmith his first taste of an NJAC post-season.
“Eric has been tremendous this year,” Goldsmith said. “In the game, his presence gives everyone on our roster more confidence. (Murdock’s) leadership, both on and off the court, has been terrific, as well. It is hard to describe just how important he is to this team. To have your best player also be one of your hardest workers, I couldn’t have asked for anything more from Eric this year. Without him, we would not be in the NJAC playoffs this weekend.”
The Lions then traveled to Mahwah, N.J., on Saturday, Feb. 20, for the first round of the NJAC tournament to compete against Ramapo College.
“Ramapo is a great team who loves to play an up tempo game,” Goldsmith said. “We have to control the tempo as much as we can by having great shot selection and taking care of the basketball. I think our biggest issue the first two match-ups was having way too many turnovers. It is very challenging to simulate their athleticism and defensive pressure in practice on a daily basis but having played them so recently, I think we will be able to adjust to the pressure quicker.”
It quickly became the highest scoring game for the Lions, as they shot extremely well since tip-off.
Tallying a season-high 105 points in the contest, the team had five players in double figures. No two players scored more than the team’s star forwards, sophomore forward Elias Bermudez and freshman forward Jordan Glover. Bermudez registered a career-high 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting and Glover went an incredible 7-8 from the floor, scoring 21 points as all his shots were from behind the arc. Murdock made his contributions felt as he put up a triple double, with one point, 11 rebounds and 14 assists.
The Lions advance to the championship semifinals where they’ll face New Jersey City University on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The College split the regular season series with the Gothic Knights, winning in Jersey City, 76-74, on Saturday, Jan. 9, before falling on Saturday, Feb. 6, 81-56, in Packer Hall.