JERSEY CITY, N.J. (NJCUGothicKnights.com) | The New Jersey City University men's basketball team will play for the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship. Behind the energy of the largest home crowd in years and a 41-point second half, the Gothic Knights ousted two-time defending conference Ramapo College, 66-58, in the 2019 NJAC Semifinals on February 19 at the John J. Moore Athletics and Fitness Center (Coach Charlie Brown Court).
NJCU, the No. 1 ranked team in the NCAA Atlantic Region and the No. 1 seed in the NJAC Tournament, wins its 20th game of the season, improving to 20-6 overall and 12-0 at home and will face No. 2 seeded Rowan (20-6) in the conference championship game on Friday, February 22 at 7 p.m. in Jersey City.
Ramapo (18-9), the No. 4 seed, sees its two-year reign atop the NJAC end and will await to see if it receives an at-large Pool C bid to the NCAA Tournament when those pairings are announced on Monday. Ramapo is the No. 3 ranked team in the Atlantic Region.
NJCU wins 20 games in a season for the third time in four seasons and the 17th time in the illustrious 86-year history of the program.
The Knights will be seeking to extend their all-time NJAC record by winning its 13th NJAC championship and its first since the 2010-11 season.
NJCU trailed 29-25 at halftime after shooting just 24.1 percent in the opening period (7-29 FG) and just 13.3 percent from three-point range (2-15).
NJCU battled back and took the lead for good with 13:57 remaining but could never completely shake Ramapo. Ahead by eight (53-45) with 7:48 to go, Ramapo drew within two (53-51) on a fall-away jumper by junior guard Rob McWilliams (Blauvelt, N.Y.) with 4:31 remaining.
That's when senior shooting guard Lavrone Green came up with the two biggest shots of the game. Green was held scoreless for nearly the entire game. But with 3:08 remaining, senior point guard Shaquan Worthy found Green in the right corner with an impossible pass threading the needle through traffic and Green buried the triple for a 56-51 advantage. After another jumper by McWilliams cut it to 56-53, Green came through again, knocking down another three in front of his own bench, for a 59-53, six-point cushion.
The teams quickly traded layups with senior forward James Julius scoring inside (1:13) and RCNJ freshman guard Jason Battle (Jersey City, N.J.) following 10 seconds later. RCNJ called timeout with NJCU up 61-57 with 1:03 left. NJCU turned the ball over but RCNJ could not hit a three and Worthy grabbed the defensive board.
NJCU had a chance to ice it from the line but missed its next three foul shots—two by sophomore guard Denzel Banks and another by Julius in a 1-and-1 after grabbing an offensive board with 41 seconds left.
Still down four, Ramapo needed a big play. But Worthy sensed it and stepped in front of a pass from junior guard Connor Romano (Old Bridge, N.J.), feeding Banks for a back-breaking fast-break layup and finished off a three-point play to extend the lead to 64-57 with 25.3 seconds left. Another steal and fast-break layup by Banks with 14.1 remaining put the cherry on top of the win.
NJCU had four players score in double figures, led by Banks with 15 on 7-of-12 shooting and six rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench before fouling out. Junior small forward Sam Toney, voted as the NJAC Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons earlier in the day, produced a double-double on a day where he couldn't find his shooting rhythm—still finishing with 13 rebounds, 11 points (4-20 FG, 0-8 3FG) and two blocks.
Also for the Knights, senior guard James Richardson scored 14 points on near-perfect shooting (6-7 FG), adding five rebounds and senior forward Yuri Brutus scored 10 points, mostly from the line (8-9 FT) with five rebounds in 16 minutes. All of his stats came in the first half when he led NJCU in scoring but picked up his third foul in the final minute of the period and didn't see much time in the second half. Worthy had five points, four assists and four steals.
Senior forward Rob Lewis (Scotch Plains, N.J.) led all scorers with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks in a full 40 minutes. McWilliams scored 14 on 6-of-13 shooting, also playing the entire game. Senior guard Kashaun Barnes (Toms River, N.J.) entered the day averaging 18.0 points but was limited to five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes on 1-of-9 shooting.
There were five ties in the first half but despite NJCU's shooting woes, RCNJ could not engage a lead larger than five, 25-20. In a physical first half, Ramapo picked up its seventh foul with the score tied 7-7 just 5:34 into the game. But NJCU quickly fell into foul trouble with Toney picking up his second foul with the game tied 11-11 at 11:28 mark. Barnes had two fouls in the first six minutes and Lewis two calls in the first 11 minutes. Brutus picked up his third foul in the final minute of the half.
NJCU scored the first four points of the second half and tied it in the first minute. Tied for the eighth time (38-38), NJCU scored the next eight points as senior guard Richardson and Worthy each attacked the rim and Richardson hit a runner off the window before Banks capped the run with a fast-break follow of a missed shot. That was NJCU's largest lead until the final minute.
- Series: 96th meeting. NJCU leads the all-time series, 69-27
- NJCU defeats Ramapo in the NJAC Tournament for the first time in four chances (1-3).
- NJCU, making its 32nd appearance in the NJAC Tournament, improves to 23-24 all-time in the event and 18-11 in 29 home NJAC Tournament games.
- Sam Toney moved into 11th place in school history with 1,330 points, passing the man for whom center court is named—the program's iconic former head coach, a Hall-of-Fame player himself, Charlie Brown—who scored 1,324 points in three seasons from 1962-65. It will be a while before Toney reaches 10th place, currently held by Hall-of-Famer and current assistant coach Abdul Madison (1,457 points, 1993-97).
- Sam Toney produced his 22nd career double-double and fourth of the season.
- Sam Toney reached double figures in rebounds for the 23rd time in his career and fourth time this season.
- Sam Toney scored in double figures for the 63rd time in 82 career games.
- Denzel Banks scored in double figures for the 14th time in 26 games in his first season playing for NJCU.
- Yuri Brutus scored in double figures for the 11th time this year and the 30th time in his career.
- James Richardson scored in double figures for the 10th time in his only season playing for NJCU.
- The 125th known meeting between NJCU and Rowan will be for all the marbles as the two teams tangle for the NJAC Championship and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The all-time series is even, 62-62. NJCU defeated Rowan, 76-68, in Jersey City on December 1 but Rowan got redemption with an 84-80 come-from-behind win in Glassboro, N.J. on January 19. Rowan, the No. 2 ranked team in the region, advanced to the championship game with a 95-86 win over No. 3 seeded Montclair State.
- NJCU and Rowan have met nine times in the NJAC Tournament with the Profs owning a 5-4 all-time record. NJCU is 4-2 at home against Rowan and has won the last two meetings in the league tournament—both at home—in 2004 and 2011. That last meeting was a 75-72 win for NJCU over Rowan in the NJAC Quarterfinals on February 19, 2011. The matchup in 2004, an 88-75 win, was in the NJAC championship game. Rowan's last win over NJCU in the NJAC Tournament was February 24, 1999 (72-60)
- NJCU is 7-5 all-time in the NJAC Tournament championship game and 6-3 at home.
- NJCU has won a league-record 12 NJAC championships: 1960-61, 1963-64, 1964-65, 1972-73, 1973-74, 1978-79, 1985-86, 1989-90, 1991-92, 1994-95, 2003-04 and 2010-11. The 1978-79 championship was its first under the NJAC Tournament format.
- Rowan last won an NJAC championship in 1998-99. The Profs have won 10 league titles in its history: 1957-58, 1958-59, 1962-63, 1970-71 (tie), 1974-75, 1975-76, 1976-77, 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1998-99.
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