Farmingdale's Graham ready for the moment

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Farmingdale state coach Brendan Twomey on Graham: “When he gets the ball, I’m confident he’s going to make the right decisions."
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When Farmingdale State played at Merchant Marine on Jan. 28, sophomore forward George Riefenstahl saw only 16 minutes of action due to foul trouble. So he had one of the best seats in the gym for sophomore point guard Matthew Graham’s performance.

“Me and a couple of the guys on the bench, we were just waiting for Matt to catch the ball,” Riefenstahl said. “We knew as soon as he caught the ball he was going to shoot it, because that’s just the amount of confidence he had in his shot that day.

“It was honestly one of the best shooting performances I’ve seen.”

Graham scored a game-high 20 points, making six of eight three-pointers in the Rams’ 82-62 victory. He followed that outburst with 17 points against SUNY Maritime on Jan. 31 and 19 against Mount Saint Vincent on Feb. 4. The Rams won those games as well.

Farmingdale State is now 16-5 overall and 12-0 in Skyline Conference play with four regular-season games remaining. A major reason for the Rams’ success is Graham, who averages 10.5 points and 24.8 minutes—the second-most minutes on the team—per game.

“I think he would be starting and probably one of the best guards on any of the teams in our conference,” head coach Brendan Twomey said.

But at Farmingdale State, Graham comes off the bench. After starting the Rams’ final 17 games last season and five of their first seven games this year, he is now the sixth man.

Twomey tinkered with Farmingdale State’s starting lineup early this season, trying, he said, to find the best combination of players. Graham has not started since Dec. 12. Though the Rams lost their first two games after that date, they have now won 12 in a row.

“It just ended up how, when we started playing well, Matt was coming off the bench,” Twomey said. “He gives us a little spark off the bench, so it helps us.”

Being a reserve has been “a little bit of a transition,” Graham said. “But I’m starting to get used to it, and I think I’m excelling in my role.”

Graham’s minutes this year are only a bit lower than the team-high 27.1 per game that he averaged as a freshman. His scoring has increased slightly from his rookie season, when he had 9.6 points per game.

“When he gets the ball, I’m confident he’s going to make the right decisions,” Twomey said. “He doesn’t really take that many bad shots.”

Graham has helped Farmingdale State secure its closest conference wins. In a 57-56 victory over Old Westbury on Jan. 7, he made one free throw with 24 seconds left and two with 13 seconds remaining. Those foul shots gave the Rams a four-point lead, allowing them to withstand a three-pointer by Old Westbury with three seconds left. At St. Joseph’s (L.I.) on Jan. 11, Graham made three free throws in the final 21 seconds of a 73-71 win.

“He is always ready for the moment,” Riefenstahl said. “He’s very dependable down the stretch of the game.”

Against SUNY Maritime on Jan. 31, Graham’s jumper with 23 seconds left—”a very, very clutch shot,” Riefenstahl said—helped Farmingdale State earn an 80-75 win.

Graham has scored in double figures in 12 games this year. He had 18 points in the Rams’ second game of the season and 17 on Dec. 8. But he had not scored at least 17 points in consecutive matchups until his 20 at Merchant Marine and 17 against Maritime. With his 19 points against Mount Saint Vincent, Graham has now had three big games in a row.

The recent scoring outburst did not surprise him.

“I feel like this is what I could be doing every game,” Graham said. “I just need to stay aggressive and try to make it happen.”

Rowan, DePersia heating up

Sophomore guard Nick DePersia has heated up for Rowan (14-8, 9-6 NJAC). His last four outings were huge: 29 points against Rutgers-Camden on Jan. 25, 29 at Montclair State on Jan. 28, 21 against TCNJ on Feb. 1, and 24 against New Jersey City on Feb. 4.

“The key thing is for me to get going early,” DePersia said. “These past four games I’ve had strong starts, and it just really has built my confidence up and helped our team be successful as well.”

DePersia went six-for-seven from three-point range against Rutgers-Camden and five-for-six from beyond the arc against TCNJ. He also had five three-pointers at Montclair State and four against New Jersey City.

The hot streak comes after a very cold one. DePersia missed all 13 of his three-point attempts in Rowan’s first three January games combined and then went 4-for-15 from downtown in Rowan’s next three games combined.

With DePersia’s help, Rowan went 3-1 in its last four games. Last week, the Profs beat TCNJ, which is in second place in the NJAC standings, and New Jersey City, which was ranked 24th in the nation at the time.

Sarah Sommer

Sarah Sommer is a freelance journalist in New York City. She began writing for D3hoops.com in March 2015, when she covered the women's NCAA Tournament. She is excited to continue covering Division III basketball as the Atlantic columnist.
2011-2015 columns: See Around the Atlantic/Mid-Atlantic