NEWARK, N.J. (PRESS RELEASE) – NJIT out scored Canisius 15-2 over the span of 4:11 late in the second half and the host Highlanders made 9-of-12 chances at the free-throw line in the game’s closing minute to lift NJIT to a 78-73 win over the Golden Griffins Saturday night in the Fleisher Center. The win allows NJIT (21-11) to advance to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament semifinal round, where the Highlanders will play at Northern Arizona on Tuesday, while the Griffs see their season come to an end with an 18-15 record.
NJIT forward Tim Coleman and guard Damon Lynn were good for 22 points apiece in the win for the Highlanders, who shot 50 percent from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes. Coleman also had 11 rebounds, four assists and four steals for NJIT. Canisius had four players score in double-figures in the loss, led by junior center Kevin Bleeker, who ended the night by going 4-for-5 from the field, 3-for-4 from 3-point land and 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. Redshirt-freshman Kassius Robertson scored 13 points off the bench, while sophomore Zach Lewis had 11 points, eight boards and two steals. Senior Jeremiah Williams added 10 points, three assists and two steals in the loss for Canisius, which ended the night shooting 41.7 percent from the field, 17.4 percent from 3-point land and 79.2 percent from the charity stripe in the loss.
“I thought we battled, but they made that run late and the crowd lifted them up when they needed it,” Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. “I give them a lot of credit, we were trying to pull away and they just kept coming at us. They’re a good team and playing them in this gym gives them such an advantage.”
A lay-up by junior Jamal Reynolds with 6:08 left in the game put the Griffs up 60-54, but the Highlanders answered back with a triple by Lynn that cut the Griffs’ cushion to 60-57 with 5:48 left to play. The 3-pointer from Lynn started NJIT’s 15-2 run, which put the Highlanders up 69-62 with 1:37 left to play. A basket by Robertson with 1:20 left to play made it a five-point game at 69-64, and after an NJIT turnover, Robertson was able to make 1-of-2 from the free-throw line with 58 ticks left on the clock to make the score 69-65. Robertson drained two free-throws with 47 seconds left to make the score 70-67 in favor of NJIT, but the Highlanders sealed the win by going 8-for-10 from the line in the final 47 seconds of the contest.
Canisius led 35-31 at the halftime break despite shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 13.3 percent from 3-point land in the game’s opening stanza. Canisius started the second half by scoring four quick points thanks to two-made free-throws by Lewis, and a steal and a dunk by senior Josiah Heath. Lewis started the second half for the Griffs on the free-throw line after NJIT was given an administrative technical foul following an ugly incident as the Griffs left the floor at halftime. As Canisius’ players and coaching staff tried to leave the court and head to the locker room, NJIT’s student section surged forward and began pushing some of the Canisius players and staff. NJIT got Canisius’ lead down to three at 39-36 after a 3-pointer by Winfield Willis and a driving bucket by Lynn. Canisius stretched its lead to as many as seven midway through the second half, but NJIT kept battling and hung tough before the Griffs used a quick 5-0 scoring spurt in 50 seconds to take the 60-54 lead with 6:08 left to play.
Heath fouled out of his last career game as a Griff after he was called for a block call with 3:25 left to play. The only player in school history to play in more than 130-career games, Heath tallied seven points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal in 15 minutes of action. Reynolds had seven points and six rebounds in the loss, while redshirt-freshman Jermaine Crumpton scored five points and was good for two boards in 12 minutes of playing time – his first action since breaking a bone in his foot Feb. 8 at Monmouth.
The loss ended Canisius’ run in the CIT quarterfinals for the second time in the last three seasons. Canisius’ 59 wins since the start of the 2012-13 season are the second most among MAAC schools. The team will return nine letterwinners, four regular starters and two redshirts next season.
Game Notes: This was the first meeting between the two programs in men’s basketball… Canisius is now 4-3 all-time in the CIT, and the Griffs are just the second MAAC program to play in the CIT three times… Williams closed out his career as a Griff by scoring in double figures in the team’s final nine games… Heath ended his career with 599 career rebounds… Reynolds’ 6.6 rebounds per game for the season stand as the highest rebounding average for a first-year Canisius player since Micheal Meeks in 1992-93… Canisius allowed an average of 62.9 points per game, the lowest opponent scoring average for the team since 1996-97… As a team, Canisius ended the year shooting 72 percent from the free-throw line, the fourth-straight season the team was better than 70 percent from the charity stripe for the year.