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NJIT snaps 7-game losing skid with 74-46 victory over Kean

After a tough two-point loss to St. Francis Brooklyn that extended a losing streak to seven in a row, the NJIT Highlanders returned to action facing off against Kean University at the Wellness and Events Center.

However, it was just not a basketball game against Kean and attempting to snap a losing streak but the focus on academics for Head Coach Brian Kennedy and players. “We were coming off exams, NJIT is a great academic school and kids taking Calculus 6, Computer Science, IT, Biology and Chemical Engineering so it’s a taxing week mentally for them,” said Kennedy.

“Shyquan Gibbs graduated officially yesterday, got his undergraduate degree and taking a bunch of classes towards his master’s and in four years will graduate and what NJIT is all about. Don’t get me wrong we want to perform on the court but academics is the backbone with Dr. Bloom our President and Lenny Kaplan our Athletic Director. It’s just not lip service, they back up what they say.”

Displaying no rust at all, NJIT jumped out to a 20-8 advantage with less than 11 minutes remaining in the first half. An up and down pace NJIT dominated the points in the paint 10-0. Led by sophomore forward Souleymane Diakite pouring in 11 of his 13 points on the day allowed the Highlanders to boost the margin to 34-17 with three minutes left.

Brian Kennedy on Diakite’s play, “Souleymane is really coming into his own, he had to sit for quite a long time last season behind Abdul Lewis and Mohamed Bendary. He had to bide his time and this first half of the season getting some rust off him and now being able to come out of this game rebounding and scoring is a good sign.”

“He is getting better in practice, works hard and a great kid. A terrific student-athlete, computer science major with a cyber security major and diligent kid when it comes to his academics and very happy for him.”

Just when it seemed NJIT would end the half with a sizable lead the Cougars answered back with a 11-2 run to trim the deficit to 36-28 at intermission. The Highlanders shot 41 percent from the field, knocked down four trifecta’s and six of seven free throws.

Holding on to a 40-32 lead with 16 minutes on the clock, the Highlanders went on a 7-0 run. Limited to eight points at halftime, Zach Cooks caught fire pouring in 12 points as Cooks scored 20 or more points for the 11th time in 12 games. Reilly Walsh contributed in the scoring area contributing 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting as NJIT broke the game wide open and coasting to the 74-46 victory. Diakite finished with a double-double with 13 points and 18 rebounds.

The Highlanders defense held Kean to 26 percent shooting and 8 of 32 from beyond the arc. NJIT won the points in the paint battle 38-16, rebounds 50-36, points off turnovers 16-7, second chance points 15-10.

Kennedy on the win, “To be able to bounce back here on a Sunday and get a game under our belts. To play well in the second half and do a good job defensively and sharing the ball offensively is a nice way to go into the holidays. You have to play the game no matter who your opponent is. The older kids led by leadership today in Zach, Reilly and Shyquan. Even though Shyquan didn’t shoot the ball well he approached the game and was all in defensively and sharing the ball and playing hard.”

“Reilly had not shot the ball well this year but he gives a great effort every time like he does in the classroom. A 4.0 student, getting his MBA and four A’s this semester.”

Diakite and Cooks on the victory, “We needed the win and came out ready to go,” said Diakite. “We knew we had to change the mentality after losing seven games and more consistent throughout the game. The coaches have told me to go hard after every rebound and good things will happen.”

“I don’t look coming into score but I do take on a scoring role and try to find my teammates in getting assists and rebounds and do whatever to help my team win,” Cooks said. “When everyone is providing scoring, rebounding and assists helps out. In the locker room it was said we had to pick up the energy and open it up. We dropped a couple on the road but this is a confidence booster. We have UCONN and then have to prepare for the conference opener.”

“Every day in practice we come in and work on defense and take pride in it. Guarding our man and helping out teammates if they get beat. We guard the line and paint. The last game at the WEC before the break and we didn’t want to go home on a bad note and came out with energy and just followed it up.”

The Highlanders travel to UCONN on Sunday December 29 with a 1:00 p.m. tip-off at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut. NJIT returns to the Wellness and Events for the ASUN conference opener against Liberty University that is currently undefeated at 14-0 on Saturday January 4, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.

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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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