NEWARK, NJ - Newark, NJ - The final game of the Atlantic Sun Conference schedule was also senior night for NJIT and their final game at the Estelle and Zoom Fleisher Athletic Center. Next season, the Highlanders will be playing in their new, state-of-the-art arena on campus.
The sendoff was a night to remember. Battling back from a double-digit halftime deficit, NJIT rallied to post an 88-87 victory. The victory put NJIT at 3-11 in conference play, while USC Upstate fell to 7-7.
On the offensive side of the ball, NJIT checked in with an acceptable 101 efficiency in conference play. The defense has been a problem, as they are allowing a 110 efficiency on that end. USC Upstate was 107 on both ends, an above average offense coupled with a generous defense. The Spartans play at a 71-possession pace on average, while NJIT’s tempo is 68 possessions per game.
First five possessions:
USC Upstate: FG, FG, FG, missed FG, missed FG
NJIT: Turnover, three-point FG, 1-of-2 FT, missed FG, missed FG
The 6-4 Upstate lead at the 17:08 mark showcased what started at a half court pace suddenly turning into transition tempo, as both teams were willing to get out and run. While NJIT was in a zone, USC Upstate’s seven-foot center Michael Buchanan was effective inside. Against the zone, the Spartans looked for Buchanan inside, and reverted to a high post offense with him off the floor.
NJIT showed a willingness to get out and run, shoot the three or attack the basket. To counteract the zone, Upstate got out in transition to take the open three before the zone could set up. For a good part of the half, it had been effective, as the visitors owned a seven-point lead with just over seven minutes left in the half. After an early start in man-to-man, Upstate went to a zone, cutting off the inside and not allowing for outside shots. NJIT could not answer, unable to hit a shot beyond the arc for the final 12 minutes of the half. On the other side, Upstate knocked down five threes over those last dozen minutes to establish a 53-37 halftime lead.
NJIT opened the second half on an 11-4 run, reducing their deficit to nine points. Another good sign for the Highlanders was hitting a three to curtail a drought from that distance. They also did a nice job attacking the basket in transition. Tim Coleman, Osa Izevbuwa and Anthony Tarke were all instrumental in NJIT getting into a one-possession game, but USC Upstate keeps answering to maintain the lead as Mike Cunningham hit a few mid-range shots and Buchanan finished inside. Finally with 2:44 to play, a Chris Jenkins three gave the Highlanders the lead. Freshman Shyquan Gibbs sealed the verdict for NJIT on two free throws with six seconds left.
Offensive efficiency: USC Upstate 128, NJIT 129
Effective field goal percentage: USC Upstate 61, NJIT 54
Free throw rate: USC Upstate 26, NJIT 18
Offensive rebound percentage: USC Upstate 21, NJIT 46
Turnover rate: USC Upstate 6, NJIT 10
Leading scorers and EF:
USC Upstate - Michael Buchanan 27 points, EF 33 (per minute 1.27)
NJIT - Anthony Tarke 18 points, EF 28
What USC Upstate did well: Shoot and care for the ball. The Spartans’ outstanding eFG mark was bolstered by 8-of-16 shooting from three. In raw numbers, they committed just four turnovers.
What NJIT did well: Rebound. The Highlanders’ 16 offensive boards to just six of USC Upstate went a long way toward determining the outcome.
The game had seven ties and 13 lead changes. The ball control index for the two teams:
USC Upstate: 5.25 (interestingly, the Spartans did not have a steal)
USC Upstate had three in double figures, while NJIT put five in double digit scoring. Abdul Lewis of NJIT led all rebounders with nine, including four offensive. Buchanan was charged with two of the Spartans’ four turnovers. NJIT dominated on second chance points 19-6 and led 45-36 on points in the paint. Coleman, NJIT’s senior guard, finished with 15 points, six assists, four assists and an effectiveness factor of 25 on the night.
“When Damon Lynn went down, we lost a great player and a great person. Everyone has injuries, but we really struggled just to get over the hump. Tonight, senior night, brings good and bad. Guys want to go out and score 25 points and grab 10 rebounds. Sometimes they get nervous or overanxious on this night. We were down 15 at the half, but the mood in the locker room was good. We zoned the first half to try to limit Buchanan’s effectiveness. As a result, they hurt us from outside. The second half, we went man and limited them to two three-pointers. We also attacked their zone from the side rather than the perimeter in that second half. But at halftime, our guys did not give up. They have really stuck with it all year. A lot of our guys were under-recruited, so they come in with a chip to prove something. As a result, they are very resilient. I really had no doubt we would come back. Our last game here was important to our guys to play well. We lost two games at the buzzer and against Florida Gulf Coast, we gave them a good game here. Tonight, defensive stops and rebounds made a very big difference. Our league has so much parity. We will probably be on the road to play Lipscomb in our postseason tournament. They beat us pretty good here, but we really gave them a battle here before losing a tough game. Going back on the road, it just comes down to playing smart.” - NJIT coach Brian Kennedy