With only two games left in what’s already been an incredible season, it’s easy to imagine that the Montclair State University men’s basketball team would take their foot off the gas and rest players before the playoffs, especially since there’s no chance the team can jump to first place in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
The Red Hawks did the exact opposite of slowing down when they faced off against Kean University at the Panzer Athletic Center.
The day started off with a ceremony to honor forward Steve Breeman and guard Greg Eck, the two seniors on the team.
When the game started, it was fast-paced and intense. No team jumped ahead by a significant margin and both teams traded baskets. Montclair State typically runs teams off the court, but Kean was able to keep up with the Red Hawks and neutralize the transitional game.
Kean went into halftime with a 37-33 lead. Poor shot choices, turnovers and forced shots prevented Montclair State from going ahead in the first half. The team shot 34% from the field and had nine turnovers in the first half.
Montclair State also struggled to find success from behind the arc in the first half only shooting a meager 23% from three. However, the team shot much better in the second half, shooting an impressive 50%. The better second-half shooting was key to closing out the game and securing the win, but senior guard Keyon Pryce insists that there weren’t any adjustments between halves.
“No adjustments at all,” Pryce said. “It’s how we play our style. We’re going to shoot threes, we’re going to play fast and play with pace. Once you start going, shots are going to fall. We know it’s going to fall. We have a bunch of shooters on the court. Especially [sophomore guard] Mike Jackson and [Breeman] leading the team in scoring. They’re shooting the ball insanely well. And [Eck] who came out on his senior night and played a huge game.”
Montclair State came out of halftime and played much better than they had in the first half. They pressed with more energy, got better shot selections and shot significantly better. The Red Hawks shot a much improved 62% from the field in the second half.
The game was tight down the stretch, but some clutch baskets from Breeman eventually closed out the game. Breeman scored his 1,000th point with the Red Hawks during the game and put up 23 points on the day. Pryce spoke on Breeman’s play.
“[Breeman’s] the man, I love [Breeman],” Pryce said. “He’s been here since I got here and [Breeman has] been motivating me this whole time. That is a dog right there. Any time we need him, he’ll always show up.”
The final minutes of the game were tense. With three minutes left, Kean held a slim one-point lead. However, a Breeman dunk to give the Red Hawks a one-point lead would change the course of the game. The dunk ignited Panzer, and it was a spark the Red Hawks needed. Montclair State wouldn’t relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.
The Red Hawks would ice the game with ten seconds left on a pair of Pryce free throws and would eventually win by a score of 82-81.
This was the 20th win of the season for the Red Hawks, the first time they have reached this mark since the 2010-11 season.
The Red Hawks’ final regular season game is coming up against rival Rowan University. The Profs sit atop the NJAC standings and boast an impressive roster. Pryce spoke on the team’s mentality ahead of the big matchup.
“We’re going to go in with the same mentality we have every time,” Pryce said. “One game at a time. Every target gets bigger and bigger and this target is the biggest target that we have right now. It’s the last regular season game, right before playoffs so we’re trying to end it with a bang.”
Montclair State will play away in Glassboro against the Profs on Wednesday, Feb. 15.