NJCU turning disappointment into momentum

More news about: New Jersey City
Chinwe Wosu is the reigning NJAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Photo by Larry Levanti, Jr. 

After narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament last year, the New Jersey City men’s basketball team is expected to do big things this season.

The Gothic Knights were picked in the NJAC preseason coaches’ poll to win the conference championship. They last won the title in the 2010-11 season. 

New Jersey City went 15-3 against NJAC opponents in regular-season play last year, good for first place. But the conference tournament did not end as well for the Gothic Knights.

New Jersey City lost to the fifth seed, The College of New Jersey, 92-82 at home in the NJAC semifinals. Stockton, the No. 2 seed, won the conference championship and, with it, the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Gothic Knights were left hoping for an at-large NCAA berth. They didn’t get it. But New Jersey City made the most of its trip to the ECAC Metro/Upstate Tournament, winning the title as the No. 2 seed.

Head coach Marc Brown said that it was initially tough for the team to feel motivated after not making the NCAA tournament but that after the first ECAC game, “we kind of woke up a bit.” The Gothic Knights won all three of their tournament games by double digits. Brown viewed the tournament as a positive experience for his team.

“It gave us a chance to kind of finish on a high note,” he said, “instead of finishing with a letdown loss."

Brown said that the team’s high level of play has continued this year.

"I saw it in preseason,” he said. “The returners came back pretty ready to go, and the new guys, they saw what we had done last year to end the season and they were excited, so it definitely carried over."

New Jersey City returns three starters, including senior guard Jalen Harris. Harris was the ECAC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and an all-NJAC second team selection last season. He led the Gothic Knights in scoring with 17.1 points per game. Graduate student Chinwe Wosu--the reigning NJAC Defensive Player of the Year and, like Harris, an all-NJAC second team selection--and senior guard Ata Robinson also return to the starting lineup. Transfer Kevin Brown and freshman Sam Toney round out the starting five.

New Jersey City began this season with two straight wins. The Gothic Knights lost on Nov. 20 to Baldwin Wallace by points and then defeated Rutgers-Newark on Tuesday night in the conference opener.

Size is an issue, Brown said. His tallest starter, Toney, is 6’4”.

"Rebounding is going to be a concern,” he said. “And just defensively when we play dominant post players, we’re going to have to do some different things on defense. But we’re really athletic, and we’re quick, and we’re tough, so I’m pleased with that. I’m pleased with the progress so far.”

All four seniors and Wosu are captains.

“I’ve never seen it; I’ve never done it,” Brown said of naming so many captains. “I felt it was necessary this year. It was hard for me to separate the guys from each other. They all bring something different to the table, and it was a decision I made right away in September.”

Last season, New Jersey City had been picked in the NJAC preseason coaches poll to finish fourth in the league. The team’s first-place finish in the regular season, Harris said, was helped by team chemistry.

“We try to tell the new players, let’s keep that same chemistry going,” Harris said. “We did everything together off the court, and that carried onto the court for a successful year. So we plan on doing that this year as well.”

Opening night in the NJAC

The NJAC is one of the first conferences in Division III to start its regular season with the first game coming last night, November 22.

In addition to New Jersey City's win, another noteworthy final on the men's side was in Pomona, N.J. where Rowan edged Stockton, 101-100. The Profs led for much of the game until the Ospreys pulled even with under two minutes to play. Shawn Wilson made three of four free throws down the stretch to put Rowan back in front and the Ospreys were unable to come back.

Wilson finished with 21 points for Rowan while Khaliq Ford scored 27 points off Stockton's bench.

Ramapo opened NJAC play with a 92-76 win at William Paterson. The Roadrunners shot 62 percent from the field (37-for-60) with Sultan Aminu leading the way (24 points, nine rebounds). Ramapo is the conference's only undefeated team while three squads -- Kean, Rutgers-Camden and Rutgers-Newark -- are looking for their first win.

On the women's side, Montclair State is the highest ranked team in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, but Stockton was the coaches' selection to win the conference. The Ospreys were selected first ahead of the Red Hawks, Kean and TCNJ in that order. Montclair State proved the coaches right so far by beating Kean in the conference opener on Tuesday night.

Sarah Sommer

Sarah Sommer is a freelance journalist in New York City. She began writing for D3hoops.com in March 2015, when she covered the women's NCAA Tournament. She is excited to continue covering Division III basketball as the Atlantic columnist.
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