The Montclair State University men’s basketball team won a nail-biter against Rutgers-Newark on Feb. 19th at the Panzer Athletic Center. The Red Hawks rolled into this game looking better than ever, riding a 5-1 start to the season; and every team they have faced so far they have also beaten. However, this might have been their toughest test yet with junior forward Steve Breeman out with injury.
Stepping up in his absence was senior center Malachi Smythe, who was able to score nine points and grab a game-high eight rebounds. Smythe has been efficient all season, so with the added minutes it was not a shocker he was able to play well in a more important spot.
“Steve, that’s a big shoe to fill,” senior guard Irving Callender IV said. “Malachi really stepped in and played his best. He showed out today.”
Callender himself had another great game as he has been a force to be reckoned with all season. He scored 13 points, a team-high, including a couple of big-time foul shots late in the game.
Despite fouling out, junior guard Myles Mitchell-White played well on all cylinders, putting up double-digit points and getting a career-high five steals. He was joined by sophomore guard Keyon Pryce and junior guard Devin Cooper, both of whom scored 10 points.
Pryce was a crucial factor down the stretch, having scored eight of his 10 points in the second half. The sophomore has stepped up into a bigger role all season and has consistently delivered.
“It’s all my teammates right there,” Pryce said. “My teammates are giving me a great opportunity to put the ball in the hoop. They know what I am capable of and just tell me to always go out there and play my hardest.”
After a great defensive showing in the first half, the Red Hawks lead 31-22. Halfway into the second, the lead was erased thanks to the Rutgers-Newark senior guard Quincy Rutherford, who had a game-high 16 points.
Montclair State turning the ball over a season-high 27 times also did not help the Red Hawks. Rutgers-Newark junior guard Abe Kromah was able to snag four steals before fouling out late.
After a constant back and forth contest, Rutgers-Newark broke out to a 46-43 lead as senior center Dante Ralph hit a big-time jumper with 4:30 to play. That would be the last bright spot for the Scarlet Raiders though, as Montclair State battled back hard.
“We had to pick it up,” Pryce said. “We started beating on ourselves, turning the ball over way too many times. We just had to get back in it and just work.”
As the game went on it was all Red Hawks. With clutch free throw shooting from freshman guard Kieran Flanagan as well as the constant threat of Pryce finding the hoop, Montclair State took a 54-47 lead. By then with such little time left, Rutgers- Newark attempted a comeback but came up just one point short.
Towards the end of the game, the Red Hawks really kept their opponent guessing as they kept much ball movement on offense. Montclair State is ranked in the top 15 in the nation for assists, so it was no surprise to see their team chemistry on point.
“I give credit to those guys as players, understanding concepts and what we are trying to accomplish on offense,” head coach Justin Potts said. “In order to get assists, you gotta make shots. It always makes the game a little bit easier when you’re doing that.”
The Red Hawks have been winning all season and that continued as they swept Rutgers-Newark on the weekend to make their record 5-1.
Unfortunately, the Red Hawks dropped both of their games to New Jersey City University last weekend to finish the regular season at 5-3, making them the third seed in the conference. They will face the sixth-seeded William Paterson Pioneers in the New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament Quarterfinals on March 5th.