By Ann Brunn
The last time the men’s basketball team won the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship, most of the players on this year’s roster were not even born yet. But on Saturday, Feb. 29, the Lions topped Stockton University 75-60 and won their first NJAC Championship in 22 years.
With this win, the team was granted an automatic bid in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. This will be their first appearance in the tournament since the 1997-1998 season.
The victory was an all-around team effort, as the Lions shot an effective 29 of 64 from the field. Cheers from the crowd yelling “MVP” roared as senior guard Randy Walko led the way with 18 points. Senior guard Ryan Jensen and junior forward Travis Jocelyn each collected double-doubles as well.
Jensen had 13 points with 10 rebounds, while Jocelyn added 13 points and 10 boards. Like clockwork, junior guard PJ Ringel moved the ball well as he dished out six assists and tallied 10 points. Off the bench, freshman guard Anthony DiCaro contributed eight points.
The Lions defense stifled Stockton’s talented attack as they held their opponent to 20 of 66 from the field and three of 17 from behind the arc. The men forced 17 turnovers, which in turn led to 23 points off of turnovers. In the paint, the Lions outscored Stockton, 40-24.
Similar to the 2018-2019 St. Louis Blues hockey team, who was in last place in the NHL on Jan. 3, 2019 and then went on to win the 2019 Stanley Cup, the Lions were 4-6 at the start of January, but then ripped off a stretch of 15 wins in 17 games. Even more impressive, the men have won 11 straight games in Packer Hall.
With a championship victory over Stockton, they avenged their lone home loss of the year, which came at the hands of Stockton in the home opener.
Before their pivotal win on Feb. 29, the men needed to take care of business in the NJAC semifinals — which they did, beating Rutgers University-Newark, 65-48. Walko was a high scorer in that game as well, as he totaled 20 points on 8-of-16 from shooting and grabbed six rebounds.
Jocelyn pitched in 15 points on six of nine from the field, while senior forward Mike Walley picked up 12 points, all behind the arc. Jensen notched 11 rebounds and Ringel passed out six assists. The team shot 10 of 21 from three while also winning the bench points battle as they outscored Rutgers University-Newark, 21-4.
The Lions now await their seeding in the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, which will begin on Friday, March 6. The selection show will take place at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, March 2.