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NJIT displays plenty of resolve in loss to Liberty

2019 did not end on a positive note for the NJIT Highlanders with a 69-47 loss at UConn thus dropping the Highlanders overall record to 3-10. However, NJIT returned to the Wellness and Events Center on Saturday opening up ASUN conference play. The task at hand would be a tall order taking on a potent Liberty University squad sporting an impressive 15-1 record including the only team in the country with 15 wins, undefeated on the road at 9-0 and ranked second defensively in yielding 52.7 points per game. Even more jaw-dropping three 1,000 point scorers.

Early on, NJIT showed no signs of fear, jumping out to an 11-6 advantage. The tide began to turn with the Highlanders going scoreless for over four minutes leading to a decisive 13-0 run by the Flames. Tempers flared as Head Coach Brian Kennedy was assessed a technical foul coupled with a skirmish between both teams’.

San Antonio Brinson ended the drought with a lay-up at eight-minute mark. NJIT hit another patch offensively in not scoring a point in the last five minutes of the half. Brinson and Shyquan Gibbs combined to score 14 points as Liberty led 29-18 at halftime. Liberty shot 47 percent to the Highlanders 30 percent while having the advantage with points in the paint at 18-8.

Kennedy on the first half, “I thought we did a really nice job in the first half. There were two possessions offensively and defensively that come to mind. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz dribbled the ball off his foot twice and we didn’t get either one and we come down offensively and run a set normally we run and got in great scoring position and turned it over. We followed that up with a really quick three and missed. A loose ball turns into a scramble and kid hits a three and they run an inbound play and score two and we don’t. A four-point game going to a nine-point game.”

In the second half, Liberty wasted no time expanding the advantage with an 11-0 run including burying six trifecta’s that boosted the margin to 49-26 with less than 12 minutes remaining. Coasting to the 65-38 victory, the Flames shot 47 percent from the field to the Highlanders 23 percent, leading in rebounds 40-30, points in the paint 32-12 and bench points 22-6. Gibbs finished with a game high 13 points while Brinson chipped in with 12 points. For Liberty Caleb Homesley led all scorers with 20 points.

“First of all let me say that’s a really good team, we have played a couple of high major teams now and they are good if not better than the four teams we have played and put together really well,” said Kennedy. “The kids fought hard and I told them Liberty is the number team in the league this year and what we need to aspire to. Their size and strength is quite noticeable.”

“A good learning tool for us. We know that if we play the right way and compete the right way we can hang in there. Moving ahead with the future we need to hit the weight room especially for the younger guys and as[ire to way the Liberty is playing at 15-1. We knew our schedule was loaded against us, we had some injuries, young team, and knew it would be a difficult non-conference season.”

The Highlanders (3-11, 0-1 ASUN)) hit the road with a two-game road trip to Florida facing off against Jacksonville on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. and North Florida on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. NJIT next home game at the Wellness and Events Center is on January 16th taking on Lipscomb at 12:00 p.m.

“Jacksonville always seems to be a one or two point game, Kennedy said. “North Florida is a senior laden team that’s really good and plays a different style and gets up and down the court, shoots three’s and tries to outscore you.”

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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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