The Ramapo College No. 4 men’s basketball team fell to No. 1 New Jersey City University in the NJAC semifinal game on Tuesday Feb. 19. Their overall record stands at 18-9.
The Roadrunners defeated the Gothic Knights six days prior in a close game, 74-66, at the Bradley Center. Earlier in the season, RCNJ lost to NJCU by a mere two points, 85-83 at an away game.
Ramapo headed into this semifinal game with a 1-1 record against this team and each game was won by the home team. With that being said, the organization knew they were going to have to put up a tough fight at another away game.
“We had just played them and beat them, so we knew the formula that it takes to win. Unfortunately, you can’t figure out the fans and the officials,” head coach Chuck McBreen said. “We got a better whistle at our place than we did at their place. And then you have a crazier atmosphere that our guys had to play in, which required more mental toughness to win on the road when you have to play in a hostile environment like Jersey City.”
Clearly, location of the game was a pivotal advantage that Jersey City ended up using to gain momentum during the game.
Regardless of the end game, Ramapo came out hot in the first half with captain Rob McWilliams scoring the first point off a free throw. From there, Ramapo pretty much dominated the court.
NJCU stole the lead a few times, but not by much. The biggest deficit for Ramapo in the first half was only two points.
Junior Andre Morgan started a mini 6-0 run for RCNJ, sinking a pair of free throws with 12:01 left on the clock. The game was neck and neck, being that it was the fifth time the Roadrunners tied it up only eight minutes into the game.
More points were tallied for both teams, until captain Rob Lewis posted a successful two-pointer to regain the lead for good, 17-16. McWilliams closed out the first half by recording the final two baskets to leave the score at 29-25.
For the half, the Roadrunners hit 10-24 (41.67%) field goals and secured almost all of the free throws they were given, 9-11 (81.82%).
The second half persisted similarly, with both teams laying it all out on the court. Morgan nailed a jumper which tied the game for the eighth time, 38-38, only 5:56 into the half. From there, Ramapo lost control a bit, with NJCU going on an 8-0 run. Junior Bryant Quill contributed a free throw with 12:01 left on the clock to break the Gothic Knights’ streak.
The Roadrunners continued collecting points and managed to only trail by two with 4:31 left, after a 6-0 run started by Morgan. With one minute left on the clock, freshman Jason Battle recorded a layup in the paint, leaving the Roadrunners only trailing by four points. They were unable to regain the ball and ended up being defeated by Jersey City. The final score was 66-58.
In the second half, Ramapo collected 10-24 (41.67%) goals from the field and shot 8-14 (57.14%) free throws.
“We were up to the challenge, our guys came ready to play. We led at halftime and led for a good portion of the game,” coach McBreen commented regarding the tail end of the second half.
“We were only down two with four and a half minutes to go, down four with a minute to go and had the ball.” McBreen continued. “We had our opportunities, I just think their depth wore us down in the end. We got tired, and their team is a little bit deeper than ours this year, so their depth and their bench wore us down enabling them to make a few more plays in the end.”
Rob Lewis led the team with 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks after playing a full 40-minute game. McWilliams proved to be a strong component for the Roadrunners, recording 14 points and four rebounds. Battle and Morgan each tallied six points apiece, followed by guards Connor Romano and Kashaun Barnes each posting five points.
McBreen stated that there were two players in particular who really came to play: “Rob Lewis almost had a double-double with 19 points and nine rebounds. Then Rob McWilliams played very well last night as well. They both had a major impact.”
McBreen continued, “What we needed was a few more guys to step up. When we have balance, like five guys in double figures or four guys in double figures and we gain that balance, we’re a better team and a better program.”
“Unfortunately, last night we didn’t score a lot of points, and we didn’t really have balance – a majority of our points came from two guys. That hurt us last night,” he said.
This is McBreen’s 21st season at Ramapo College, and he has really turned the Roadrunner program into a highly competitive playoff team. He has been named Coach of the Year in both basketball and tennis and was given this title twice by NJAC, Met Writers and NABC Atlantic Region.
The current head coach has set many school records, including overall wins (26), conference wins (17) and consecutive wins (17).
In addition, McBreen has the reputation of being the best recruiter in the state. When asked about next season’s recruits, he stated, “What is big in our program is bringing in high-character guys that have a great deal of humility and are good academically. That’s what we had when we were top five in the country the last two years – we went to the final four last year. Our program is at our best when we have an abundance of these types of players.”
McBreen noted that in the past year, there has been a major shift in players with a significant influx of new members. “The culture of the program was affected by the new guys not really buying into the winning culture and the way we have done things in the past that made us a top five program,” McBreen said of the change in team dynamics.
The way to return to that culture lies in recruiting the “players that fit that high-character mold, with great humility and who are ambassadors of the College and the program,” according to the head coach. Still, he said, “it might not mean instant gratification for us because it will take time to build it back up to where we were.”
McBreen believes the right recruitment and working to the ideal skill level could take a year or more, but will allow for a return to the success that the program has known. “We’ve been nationally ranked 13 in the last 17 years, so we’re just trying to get those kinds of kids so we can get back into the top 25.”
The Roadrunners still have one more chance to continue on in their season, that is if they receive an NCAA at-large bid. The bids will be announced on Monday, Feb. 25, at 12:30 p.m. in an NCAA selection show on ncaa.com.