Back-To-Back NJAC Tournament Titles for Ramapo College Men’s Basketball Team
In front of a capacity crowd of 1,250 people at the Bradley Center on Saturday afternoon, Ramapo College senior forward Thomas Bonacum knew how much was at stake in the NJAC Tournament Championship Game against William Paterson University for him and the rest of the Roadrunners senior led starting five. Knowing if you win, you play again and lose it’s over.
After rallying from a 19 point deficit in the second half and outlasting Montclair State on Wednesday night, the pathway to back-to-back NJAC Tournament Titles would not get any easier facing a Pioneers (16-12) squad that had knocked off New Jersey City University and TCNJ.
Early on, William Paterson led 6-2 but Ramapo quickly bounced back behind the play of Bonacum, scoring nine of his 12 points in the first half as the Roadrunners commanded a 22-13 with less than 10 minutes remaining. The Pioneers responded with a run thanks to the play of Sean Smith tallying nine points cutting the deficit down to four points. Scoring a career 24 points against Montclair State, sophomore guard Patrick Peterson delivered seven of his 13 points on the day as the Roadrunners led 35-26 at the intermission break while shooting 50 percent from the field.
“I had a tough game against Montclair and they played every good defense,” said Bonacum. “I know I had to be aggressive today and some guys were struggling to score in the beginning and know if I were aggressive I would get some good looks and luckily fell for me today.”
Once the second half got underway, the Roadrunners expanded the margin to double digits at 45-31 with five minutes left. Looking as though it would become a blowout, William Paterson answered back due to the combination of Richy Espinal scoring 14 of his game high 18 points and Domenic Mignone pouring in all of his 10 points trimming the deficit down to 51-47 with eight minutes to go. Senior forward Christopher Moseley quickly knocked down a trifecta and pair of free throws boosting the lead back to 56-49 but the resilient Pioneers squad went on a 6-0 run making it a one point contest with six minutes on the clock.
With the game hanging in the balance, it was the senior starting five that stepped up to make a big play and give Ramapo some much needed breathing room, senior forward Nick Stanek draining a trey and followed it up with a jumper extending the lead to 60-55 with 4:05 left. Once again William Paterson clawed back slicing the deficit down to 62-59 with less than two minutes left but Bonacum (19 points, 13 rebounds) punctuated his impressive performance draining three out of four free throws to seal the 67-59 victory, second straight NJAC Tournament Title and setting off a thunderous celebration.
“Surreal, personally I fought so much this season after last year and so happy we could win as a team and so proud of these guys,” Bonacum said. “Seeing the expressions on them and before the game is no better feeling because I play for them. Our offense got stagnant but we’re fighting and fought all year and doubted and hated on all year. No one cares who gets the credit as long as the team hits the shot. Luckily it was Nick (Stanek) who was huge with five points and got us over the hump.”
“They scored 95 in the semifinals which is impressive on the road against a TCNJ team that is very good and we knew they could score. We didn’t play defense against Montclair in the beginning and able to get the job done today. Weight off our shoulders and relief. We fought hard in the off-season and battled through different things and to go out on top.”
Head Coach Chuck McBreen on the championship win, “We blew a 14 point lead and made it really difficult but we knew it was going to be. Tommy (Bonacum) has been playing better and better of late and he shot 5 of 15 from the field but 9 of 11 from the line and 13 rebounds. We shot the free throws pretty good at 18-22.”
“The crowd here at the Bradley Center won us two games, when we’re down 19 against Montclair and falling apart in the second half today and kept us going and at the end of the day helped us pull it out and persevere. It’s been a grind and with the bulls-eye with the early season rankings and league picking Ramapo and we have been picked before but never realized how much one team had to overcome and battle adversity and pressure. It’s hard to follow up 26-3, that’s what made it so difficult.”
With the NJAC Tournament Championship win against William Paterson, the Roadrunners (21-6) earned an NCAA automatic bid. On Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. is the NCAA Tournament selection show where Ramapo will find out who they play in the first round and location of the game.
“We’re hungry and a lot of people said we’re complacent this year and still a very good team and ready to go and whoever we play going to battle,” said Bonacum.
Sunil Sunder Raj
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