NEWARK, N.J. – The victory was significant on several fronts. NJIT defeated UT Arlington 63-60 on Thursday at the Highlanders’ Fleischer Center.
For one, it was a 20th win for NJIT. Hitting twenty is still an admirable milestone even in these days of expanded schedules. An added bonus was NJIT’s advancing to the College Insider Tournament semifinals for the second consecutive year. Once again, another proud accomplishment. Three points of emphasis:
- NJIT did not panic. UT Arlington, an up-tempo team, came in with wins over improved Fordham and on the road at Ohio State and Memphis on their body of work. The Mavericks got out to an early 11-3 lead and enjoyed a double-digit lead midway through the first half. NJIT continued to run their sets while not trying to erase the deficit all at once. By the half the UT Arlington lead was trimmed to four, and the home team entered intermission with renewed optimism.
- The first 90 seconds. The first four minutes of the second half, coaches feel, are crucial. In this contest the first minute and a half set a tone. NJIT came out with energy and quickly ran off a 6-2 spurt during that time. That seemed to change things and set the tone for the rest of the game. “No doubt,” NJIT coach Jim Engles said when it was suggested those 90 seconds were a game-changer. “We played nervous the first half and were determined to come out the second half and play our game.”
- Other players stepped up. Coming off a 31-point performance in the win over Boston University on Monday, Damon Lynn scored 11 against UTA. “They are a physical team and defended him (Lynn) tough,” Engles said. “Second half, we moved the ball and our players better on offense. That opened up a lot for us. We have good players and when we get player and ball movement we are more effective.”
Notes: UT Arlington of the Sun Belt, coached by Scott Cross, finished 24-11. NJIT is 20-14 and scheduled to visit Columbia in the CIT semis on Easter Sunday. Drew Charles of UTA paced all scorers with 14 points, but rimmed a potential game-tying three at the buzzer. Lynn and Ty Howard of NJIT shared team honors with 11 points each. Exhibiting their physicality, the Mavericks enjoyed a 17-7 edge in offensive rebounds with a 14-5 advantage in second chance points.
Among those on hand were St. Anthony’s High School coach Bob Hurley with wife Chris and several assistant coaches. Just off a 13th TOC title, over Linden on Monday, Hurley called this one, “a lot of fun. I think we were able to sneak up on everyone this year. This one was especially fun to get.”