NJAC men's race shaping up to be a battle

Sandy Burgos (26.4 points) is one of two William Paterson players averaging more than 20 points per game.
William Paterson athletics photo

If last week is any indication, life in the New Jersey Athletic Conference for its men’s basketball programs is going to pretty fun for fans. As for the coaches, let’s be sure that the local drugstores have a bunch of antacids handy. The NJAC is one of the more exciting conferences because every arena is tough to play in, but it seems this year is more unusual than others.

Take William Paterson for example, the Pioneers handed Richard Stockton its first loss of the season 74-72. Then last Saturday, William Paterson dropped a hard-fought 64-62 decision at Rutgers-Newark. Most teams have played four games and as an early example of the NJAC madness headed to a gym near you is that every team has at least one win and one loss in the conference.

Rowan, Ramapo, and Rutgers-Newark all begin the week with three-game winning streaks. Richard Stockton bounced back from its loss to William Paterson by cruising to a 69-51 road win against New Jersey City, who after opening the season with five straight wins will be trying to end a three-game losing streak when it takes the court on Dec. 28.

This week’s big game in the conference will Wednesday when Rowan visits William Paterson. Richard Stockton was the preseason favorite to win the NJAC and the Ospreys haven’t done much to disprove the coaches’ poll as they are 6-1 headed for a tough road game Saturday at Farmingdale State.

The Pioneers, who are 5-2, features the NJAC’s top two leading scorers in Sandy Burgos and Javae King-Gilchrist. Both players are averaging over 20 points per game. Burgos is burning opponents with a 27.2 point per game average and King-Gilchrist is scoring at a 21.2 point per game clip.

Fly, Eagles, fly

The Juniata men’s basketball team is off to a 6-1 start thanks to a six-game winning streak. The Eagles opened Landmark Conference play with a 66-50 win over Moravian. In that game, the Eagles held Moravian to one basket over the final 16:51 of the contest. In the win over Moravian, senior Brian Scholly finished with a game high 17 points and classmate Jeremy Hays notched his second double-double in as many games with 12 points and 11 assists.

Scholly and Hays have been part of Juniata’s big three along with Kevin Stapleton, who leads the Eagles with a 15.9 point-per-game scoring average. Hays is averaging 7.3 assists per game. During their six-game winning streak, the Eagles have allowed more than 70 points once.

History at Widener

Widener has a tradition that matches any program in the nation. The Pride reached another milestone after beating Lebanon Valley, 86-75, last Saturday at the Schwartz Center. The victory was the 1,200th in the 104-year history of the program. Widener, which has won 15 Middle Atlantic/Commonwealth Conference titles and has played in the NCAA Tournament 17 times, is 1,200-855 all time. In the win over Lebanon Valley, Greg Lawson again went on a tear, getting his fifth double-double of the season by halftime and ending with 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting to go with 16 rebounds. Rob McPherson also poured in 23 points, sophomore Laron Byrd scored 17 and junior Dillon Fields added 10 for the Pride, who are off to solid 6-2 start.

Staten Island travelers

The Travel Channel would love the Staten Island men’s basketball team. The two-time reigning CUNYAC champion Dolphins should change their nickname to the Travelers. CSI opened the season with six consecutive road games. Fortunately after its last road game of a six-game trip at Montclair State on Tuesday, Staten Island will be home for the holidays, literally when the Dolphins begin a four-game homestand Thursday against Ramapo College. CSI will not leave the state of New York again unless it qualifies for the ECAC or the NCAA tournament. Part of the road trip madness was caused by a renovation project to the Sports & Recreation Center that limited CSI's ability to practice in its main arena during preseason practices.

The Dolphins are off to a 3-2 start with both of their defeats in overtime to Eastern Mennonite and FDU-Florham by a combined eight points.

Staten Island’s top players so far have been Frankie Schettino and Javon Cox. Schettino leads the Dolphins in scoring with a 15.2 point per game average. Schettino opened the season with a 26-point effort against Eastern Mennonite. Following his monster 22-point, 15-rebound effort against Brooklyn, Cox is averaging 14.8 points and 9.6 rebounds. Cox has scored in double figures three times this season and posted a pair of double-doubles. Will Fonseca has averaged 10 points in four games for CSI. Through five games, four different players have led the Dolphins in rebounding.

The Dolphins will be looking to do something special this season. The last time the Dolphins won three consecutive CUNYAC titles was between 1981-83.  Venerable coach Tony Petosa was a freshman on the 1982-83 team that accomplished the three-peat. Now, he’s in his 24th year at the helm 25 wins away from 400 for his career.

Messiah works OT to remain perfect

Brad Bolen scored 22 points to lead three Messiah players in double figures in a 71-64 overtime victory against Elizabethtown last Saturday. Messiah is off to a 7-0 start, which is the best since the Falcons started 8-0 in the 1979-79 and 1979-80 seasons. Messiah will try to match its best start in school history Wednesday when it hosts Hood.

The secret to the Falcons’ success has been simple as four players average double figures led by Bolen’s 20.3 point per game average. Bolen is eight point shy of reaching 1,000 for his career. His scoring average and 45.3 percent field goal percentage are career bests.

Taylor Groff averages 13.6 points per contest, David Fernandez scores 12.0 points per game and Zac Hoy adds 10.9 points per outing. Fernandez is thrilled to be back on the court after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Scott Bolen has chipped in 9.5 points per contest. Groff has been a beast on the boards lately as he has posted double-doubles in two of the Falcons’ last two games. He had 15 rebounds against Albright to go along with 23 points. Then in Messiah’s win over Elizabethtown, Groff finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

The Falcons are averaging more than 70 points per game (78.9) for first time since 2006-07, which is the highest since the 1979-80 squad averaged 79.9 points during the entire season.

Spartan spirit

The York (Pa.) women’s basketball team is off to an 8-0 start following a 75-63 victory over No. 14 Christopher Newport Saturday afternoon. It was the Captains’ first Capital Athletic Conference contest. Led by senior Brittany Hicks’ 21 points and 10 rebounds, the Spartans claimed a major win this season. Hicks has been the heart of the Spartans during a sterling career as she has 1,203 career points and 763 career rebounds.

The Spartans haven’t been a one-woman show this season. Senior Kristen Haley leads the Spartans in scoring at 15.6 points per contest and has been the leading scorer six times. Haley scored a season-high 23 points in a win over Franklin & Marshall. She has 1,279 career points and 734 rebounds. Amazingly, Haley has started 94 straight games for York. Kelsea Murphy leads the Spartans with 15 3-pointers. She is averaging 9.1 points per game.

All eight of York’s victories have been by double figures this season. The Spartans are holding teams to 29.4 percent shooting through eight games. This is the second straight year York has opened the season with eight straight wins. The Spartans opened 11-0 last year before ending the season 9-7 and missing the NCAA tournament. York will have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of its labor as it returns to action in three weeks when it travels to compete in the Oglethrope tournament. The Spartans will battle UW-Stevens Point on Dec. 29.

Haverford highlights

The Haverford women’s basketball team is making some noise in the Centennial Conference. The Fords are off to a 6-0 start, the best in program history. The six-game winning streak is the longest in school history and the third time in program history that the Fords have enjoyed a six-pack of consecutive wins. The other two times, the Fords have won six straight games was during the 2011-12 and 1990-91 seasons. Haverford will go for its longest winning streak in school history while continuing its memorable beginning to the season when it hosted PSU-Hazleton Monday night.

With Bobbi Morgan guiding the Fords and a bunch of talented, hard-working players, Haverford is on track to win double-digit games for the fourth straight season. Prior to Morgan’s arrival, the Fords won 10 or more games just once in their program history (1990-91). Of course, the Fords have their sights on bigger prizes such as winning the Centennial Conference championship for the first time in school history.

The strong start is impressive considering that the Fords graduated three starters from last year's team that had started a combined 275 games including Dominique Meeks, who currently sits second in program history in points and rebounds and first in steals. This year's squad features two of the most proficient fouls shooters in program history in junior Jacquelyne Pizzuto (.800) and senior Nina Voith (.796).

The Fords have enjoyed numerous highlights during their splendid start to the season. In addition to knocking of nationally ranked Marymount to begin the year, the opening win streak includes victories in two of the toughest venues in the Centennial -- the program's first ever win against Dickinson in Carlisle and just the second win over Muhlenberg in Allentown.

Brooklyn’s best

While the Brooklyn Nets are struggling, there is a still a reason to head Brooklyn to see good basketball. The St. Joseph’s (Bklyn.) women’s basketball team has won six of its last seven games after starting the season with consecutive losses. The Lady Bears continued their winning ways by edging SUNY-Old Westbury, 77-75, in overtime Saturday. Senior Kelly McNamee scored a career-high 22 points to lead three Lady Bears in double-figures in the win. Junior Samantha Retas recorded her third double-double of the season with 15 points and a game-high 15 caroms.  Junior Kristin D'Chiutiis added 13 points, four boards and four assists. Also against SUNY-Old Westbury, the Lady Bears had 23 assists on their 32 baskets as every started had at least three assists.

This was the second overtime game for the Lady Bears in a one week span as St. Joseph's dropped a 67-61 decision to Southern Virginia. Prior to this season, the Lady Bears had not played an overtime game for five full seasons, their last win in overtime coming against NHTI in February 2008.

McNamee, a 5-2 guard, has enjoyed a breakout season for the Lady Bears, leading the team in scoring with a 13.7 point per game average. She was a career 7.1 ppg scorer prior to this season. So far this season, McNamee was named AD3I Player of the Week and earned tournament MVP honors at the Cedar Crest College Tournament. McNamee has scored double figures seven times this season.

Rallying Red Hawks

Every now and again, a top-ranked team needs to be tested. The No. 3 Montclair State women’s basketball team has literally stretched the limits of that hypothesis. Days after overcoming a 10-point halftime deficit in a win against William Paterson, the Red Hawks did themselves one better by pulling off a rally to remember. Not sure if it was in the script for Montclair State to fall behind by 22 points last Wednesday in its conference contest against Rutgers-Newark. That’s exactly what happened, but the Red Hawks stormed back and claimed victory when junior guard Janitza Aquino drained the game-winning 3-point jumper with 35 seconds remaining that proved to be the difference as Montclair State escaped with a 70-68 decision.

The unbeaten Red Hawks fell behind 55-33 with 14:15 left in the game when junior forward Jade Howard hit a jumper.  A layup by Courtney Woodard put the Scarlet Raiders up 59-38 with 12:50 left before the Red Hawks preserved their 33-game regular season winning streak and their 22-game string of regular season wins in the conference by shutting down the Rutgers-Newark attack. Montclair State added one more win total to their regular season and conference winning streaks by rolling past Ramapo, 78-44.

Help Me

 This is the last column until January so until then, I am wishing everybody happy holidays and along prosperous New Year. May all your jumpers find nothing but net. While you stuff stockings, please remember to fill my inbox with story ideas, press releases, and milestones.

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and is immensely happy this is no longer a laugh line among the D-III basketball community.
2013-14 columnist: Rob Knox
2012-13 columnist: Pete Barrett
2011-12 columnist: Brian Lester