The Red Hawks came into this rivalry playoff game having beat William Paterson both times they met this season. With Montclair State University being the third seed in the conference and William Paterson the sixth seed, it seemed like the odds were stacked against the Pioneers.
The Red Hawks narrowly defeated their opponent 84-78, as this game was not an easy win for them.
The first half of the game was almost fully controlled by William Paterson. It was a lot of back-and-forth between the two teams, but the shots were not falling enough for the Red Hawks. With a number of fouls coming from both teams, it seemed Montclair State was benefiting more off shots from the charity stripe. However, they still could not cut the lead.
Red Hawks head coach Justin Potts shared his thoughts on the recent Red Hawks game.
“The NJAC is a really physical league,” Potts said. “These guys, it takes a toll on them, from a physical standpoint. Playoff games probably raise it a little bit more, the physicality. We shot free throws well all year, it’s something we try to work on daily. I knew when we were getting into the fouls and the bonus and those kinds of things, that we had an advantage there because we were over 70% on the season.”
Senior guard/forward Irving Callender IV scored a game-high 22 points, nine of those coming from the free-throw line. With two of William Paterson’s top players, sophomore forward Yvens Monfleury and sophomore guard Jadon Cepeda running into foul trouble early on, it certainly impacted their game.
“I thought our guys did a good job of attacking situations where they knew they were in a little bit of foul trouble,” Potts said. “Cepeda couldn’t be as aggressive as he normally would because of the foul situation.”
Right toward the end of the first half things started to pick up for Montclair State. Junior guard Myles Mitchell-White scored a layup off the feed from freshman guard Amir Williams, right before the clock ran out. This made the score 39-37 with William Paterson now only up by two going into the second half.
“Coming into the second half, in the locker room we knew that we could come out with this dub,” Callender said. “We just knew we had to stick together and stick to what we did best when we beat them the first two times.”
It was clear a few minutes into the second half there was a huge momentum change for Montclair State. You could feel and hear the intensity in the gym from the bench, as well as the fans.
“Having the crowd being able to join in and adding to the atmosphere was great,” Mitchell-White said. “I mean we’re already a very high-intensity, high pace team and we love to make sound, make noise, get the gym loud, but having the crowd have our back into it definitely helps.”
Williams scored off a lay-up with a pass from Mitchell-White at the beginning of the second half for the Red Hawks to finally take the lead. The basket put the Red Hawks up by one with the score being 49-48.
Junior guard Devin Cooper was a huge factor in the comeback of the second half. Cooper finished the game with 11 points and six assists, but five of those points are what solidified the win.
With 56 seconds left on the clock, Cooper drained a three-pointer, making it an 82-76 lead for the Red Hawks. William Paterson answered right back, but Cooper came back again with the lay-up to seal the victory.
“Coop[er] does his thing. The last two possessions that were critical in the game,” Callender said. “When he made that big three and the scoop layup. We knew he could make that. He’s always at practice shooting his shot so the team had a lot of confidence in him.”
The win advances them to the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament semi-finals where they will take on New Jersey City University (NJCU).
With Montclair State having fallen to NJCU both times they met this season, this is an opportunity for the Red Hawks to get some revenge. The game is set to happen on March 12, with a time still to be determined.
“[I’m] just really proud of our guys,” Potts said. “I knew we had no quit in us. These guys have a bunch of character in them and knew what was at stake and were just really committed to playing the way we wanted to play and got the game more to our liking in the second half. They trust each other, they trust what we’re trying to do, they executed some stuff down the stretch.”