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NJIT digs a hole too deep in 65-54 loss to Jacksonville

Coming off two close losses to North Alabama and North Florida, the NJIT looked to end that skid against the Jacksonville Dolphins (12-14, 5-6 ASUN) at the Wellness and Events Center on Saturday afternoon. A tall order considering the first time the two teams’ met the imposing duo of 6’10 David Bell and 6’7 Destin Barnes combined for 43 points as the Dolphins won convincingly 68-52 at the Swisher Gymnasium in Jacksonville, Florida.

In the first half, the Highlanders managed to take the lead on several occasions including grabbing a 19-14 advantage with eight minutes to go. However, Jacksonville answered back with an 8-0 spurt to reclaim the lead. NJIT responded with a run to go back on top at 26-24 with a minute and half remaining. Once again the Dolphins charged back, ending the half on a 8-2 run. Jacksonville shot 48 percent from the perimeter compared to the Highlanders 40 percent, leading in rebounds 19-13, bench points 13-2 and second chance points 8-4.

Jacksonville jumped out to a double digit lead just about eight minutes at 42-31 with an 8-2 run. With Souleymane Diakite assessed his fourth foul, the Highlanders would find themselves in a 54-37 hole at the eight-minute mark. Looking as though game might get out of hand, NJIT roared back behind the play of Zach Cooks knocking down a pair of free throws and trifecta that spearheaded a 9-0. Meanwhile on the defensive end the Highlanders employed a ferocious full court press that held the Dolphins without a point for over four minutes.

With the home crowd fully engaged in the game, it seemed NJIT was poised to further cut into the deficit but Bell ended the scoreless streak sinking a pair of free throws. A trey from Barnes made it a 61-59 lead with the less than three minutes left. Down the stretch the Highlanders had wide open looks but the ball did not find the bottom of the net as Jacksonville buried four three throws that sealed the 65-54 victory and sent NJIT to their third consecutive defeat.

Zach Cooks and San Antonio Brinson led the Highlanders in scoring with 15 point apiece while the Dolphins had four players in double figures with Barnes leading the pack with 17 points. NJIT won the second chance points 14-10, fast break points 8-7 and bench points 14-10 while Jacksonville outrebounded the Highlanders 43-32.

NJIT Head Coach Brian Kennedy on the loss, “We had some quick shots that led to fast breaks on the other end. We didn’t do a good job of rebounding the basketball which we needed to do. Too many guys were leaking out to get down the court before we secured the ball thought Souleymane did a good job on David Bell (14 points) especially in the first half. We fouled him at the end of the game so he got some points on the foul lane that way and part of the game. We had trouble with him in the first game. I thought their kids Barnes and (Aamahne) Santos did a really nice job. The points don’t matter but it’s how many you give up and how many plays they make.”

“Hats off to them on the job they did defending our guards in Shyquan (Gibbs) and Zach. Last time they did a better job on the inside and post play. When you are down you have to throw in the kitchen sink and to credit of our guys they never gave up and kept fighting. One of the traits about this team is they keep fighting which is a positive thing. The negative thing is we keep getting ourselves in a hole to have to fight out. We have to not need those lulls and little bit is due to our depth and injuries.”

NJIT (7-16, 4-6 ASUN) hits the road for the next two games, starting on Thursday night at Lipscomb (10-14, 5-6 ASUN) with tip-off set for 7:30 p.m./6:30 p.m. central time  followed by a Saturday match-up against Liberty (23-3, 9-2 ASUN).

“This is not a negative, we get to sleep in our own beds but we don’t have huge home crowds here,” said Kennedy. “Something when you go on the road and play in an atmosphere with big crowds the guys kind of respond to that. When you go down to Florida Gulf Coast and Lipscomb with huge kids that lifts you sometimes. We’re on the road and by no means out of it but definitely have to play better than we did tonight.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Sunil is the Rockland Boulders Beat Writer for DoubleGSports.com and also covers North Jersey High School Sports
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