JERSEY CITY, N.J. (NJCUGothicKnights.com) | New Jersey City University used an 18-2 rally in the final 6:17 of the game to try to overcome a 23-point second half deficit and pulled within one with 20 seconds left but couldn't force overtime as No. 6 seeded William Paterson University shocked No. 3 seeded NJCU, 81-78, in the New Jersey Athletic Conference Quarterfinals played February 17 at the John J. Moore Athletics and Fitness Center ('Coach Charlie Brown Court').
NJCU, which entered the game as the No. 1 ranked team in the NCAA Division III Atlantic Region for the second straight week most certainly will not be in the top spot next week as the Gothic Knights (19-7) bid to win their 20th game was denied for the second time this week.
William Paterson (15-11) snaps a six-game losing streak to the Gothic Knights and improves to 8-2 all-time against NJCU in the NJAC Tournament. The Pioneers survive to face No. 2 seeded TCNJ (19-6) in the NJAC Semifinals on Wednesday, February 21 (7 p.m.) in Ewing, N.J.
A week ago, NJCU was considered a near-lock for the NCAA Division III Tournament after beating six current or previous regionally-ranked teams. But the loss placed NJCU in a precarious position on the NCAA Tournament bubble and the Gothic Knights will have a nervous wait when the NCAA pairings are announced on Monday, February 26. Should NJCU not qualify for the NCAAs for the second year in a row, it will play in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division III Tournament.
William Paterson used 54.5 percent shooting (18-33) in the first half, highlighted by 6-of-10 three-point success, to build a 20-point margin in the final moments of the opening period. The percentages reversed in the second half when NJCU shot 53.8 percent (14-26) but the Knights committed a season-high 20 turnovers.
NJCU lost despite another gargantuan effort from the favorite for NJAC Player of the Year honors, sophomore power forward Sam Toney (Plainfield, NJ/Williamstown), who scored 29 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 11-of-12 from the line. His only three-point attempt was the final shot which glanced off the front rim with under four seconds remaining, but he helped give the Knights a chance to win by scoring four points in the final 1:17.
Toney scored at least 20 points in a game for the 16th time in his career and the 13th time in 26 games this season; the 29 points were a game high and his sixth best single-game total—all this year. He added seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 39 minutes. Toney scored 16 in the second half when he shot 5-of-9 and was 6-of-7 at the line.
WP senior forward Richy Espinal (Ridgefield Park, N.J.) produced 17 of his team-high 28 points in the second half and was the game's most abundant shooter, making 11-of-22 from the field. He added eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocks in 39 minutes.
Each team had three in double figures. Also for NJCU, junior shooting guard Lavrone Green(Teaneck, NJ/Teaneck) had 13 points (3-7 3FG) and six rebounds and freshman center Chika Wosu(Jersey City, NJ/University Academy Charter)) finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Sophomore guard Jeff Haddock (Burlington Township, NJ/Willingboro) finished with seven points but no other Gothic Knight had more than four.
For the Pioneers, sophomore forward Sean Smith (Moraga, Calif.) scored 16 points while navigating around four fouls. He hit four threes (4-13) with three assists. Senior guard George Sapp (Sicklerville, N.J.) also scored 16 points (5-6 FG, 5-5 FT) with three assists in 37 minutes. Senior guard Dapo Badmos (Toronto, Canada) and junior forward Saint Simeon Beaubrun (Irvington, N.J.) each finished with nine points and were among two of the five WP players that picked up four fouls yet managed to not get a fifth.
HOW IT HAPPENED
In a back-and-forth first half, NJCU led by one (13-12) before the Pioneers scored 13 of the next 15 points to claim a 25-15 lead at the 10:32 mark of the half. Sapp had seven of the 13 points.
The Pioneers then scored the next nine points to elevate the lead to 17—34-17—with 7:11 remaining as the WP run reached 20-4. Smith scored five straight during the second 9-0 outburst.
A fast-break posterizing dunk by Toney electrified the crowd and he helped the Knights draw within 12 (39-27) before a triple by Smith and a layup by freshman Nasir Fields (Winslow Township, N.J.) made it a 53-32 game. NJCU trailed by 18 at the half.
A triple by Espinal unmarked on the left arc pushed the lead to 23—60-37 with 16:56 left—and the Pioneers equaled that margin when he sank a foul shot with 14:54 to go (62-39). The 23-point deficit matched NJCU's largest deficit of the season—both coming this week.
Still down by 17 when Espinal hit another jumper with 6:29 left that made it 77-60, the Knights began their late comeback bid when Green drilled a three with 6:17 to play and hit two foul shots with 5:13 to go. Two foul shots by Haddock with 4:50 left cut it to 77-67. After WP committed its second turnover in a minute to give the Knights back possession, Toney hit a wild shot against contact for his 25th points with 3:10 to go to shave the deficit to single digits (77-69) for the first time since it was 26-17 midway through the first half. After WP missed its next shot, Toney zipped a pass down low to junior small forward Salomon Pierre (East Orange, NJ/Bloomfield Tech), whose second basket of the game made it 77-71 and Green buried a three with 2:02 remaining to make it a contest, down just three (77-74).
WP missed seven consecutive shots before Espinal sank a jumper with 1:43 to play. Toney sank two foul shots with 1:17 left to return the deficit to three, 79-76 and after Toney made a leaping off-balance rebound of the next WP miss, his spinning layup in the lane drew NJCU within just one points, 79-78, with 20 seconds left.
NJCU was forced to foul with 17.5 to play and Badmos went to the line in a 1-and-1 scenario and hit both shots, meaning the Knights needed a three to tie it. After a timeout, NJCU tried to work the ball to its star but Toney was well-defended and couldn't get an uncontested shot off as his straight-away three fell just short. WP smothered the rebound to run out the clock.
- Series: 152nd known meeting in a series NJCU leads, 82-70. NJCU had swept both regular-season meetings and won the last six matchups.
- WP won its first game against NJCU since a two-point, 63-61 win in Wayne, N.J. on February 24, 2015 in the NJAC Semifinals.
- William Paterson is 8-2 all-time against NJCU in the NJAC Tournament.
- NJCU ranked No. 1 in the first NCAA Division III Atlantic Regional rankings of the 2017-18 season (February 14, 2018) for the second straight week and receiving 19 points in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll.
- NJCU was without starting small forward James Julius (Linden, NJ/Linden) and backup center R.J. Thomas (East Orange, NJ/St. Benedict's Prep), who both missed their second straight game with injuries.
- Sam Toney (Plainfield, NJ/Williamstown) scored in double figures for the 42nd time in 55 career games. He has scored 885 career points.
- Toney scored at least 20 points in a game for the 16th time in his career and the 13th time in 26 games this season. He has 530 points this year.
- Lavrone Green (Teaneck, NJ/Teaneck) reached double figures in scoring for the 20th time in 26 games as a Gothic Knight. For Green, it was the 37th double-digit scoring effort of his collegiate career.
- Chika Wosu (Jersey City, NJ/University Academy Charter)) scored in double figures for the seventh time this season.
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