Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. 2/22/22. It only happens once in a century, and it just so happened that the Montclair State University men’s basketball team opened up a New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) quarterfinals doubleheader against the William Paterson University Pioneers.
But while the number two was a big topic of discussion for the day, it was overshadowed by the crucial threes players like freshman guard Mike Jackson and sophomore guard Kieran Flanagan. The Red Hawks will move on to the conference semifinals with a 71-66 victory against the Pioneers.
There is no way to describe the strong energy from the Panzer Athletic Center crowd, both for the Red Hawks and for the Pioneers. Thanks to the screams and cheers from the energetic Red Hawks fans, this team’s season lives another day.
Head coach Justin Potts was all for the energy the crowd brought.
“Panzer was awesome,” Potts said. “Coming off last year when you had no one in the building, it was great to have the fans. So I think the energy of that, with the guys understanding that in the playoffs, there’s going to be swings either way. But they did a good job of how to respond to certain situations, and [William Paterson] is a very good basketball team.”
Jadon Cepeda and Domenic Mignone both scored double digits for William Paterson, but the Red Hawks responded with stellar performances from two key players for the squad. Senior guard Devin Cooper scored 17 points for Montclair State, along with four steals and five assists. He was everywhere on the court, and who else would catch some of those Red Hawk assists?
None other than the young man himself, Jackson. He began the first half with three consecutive buckets from beyond the arc, giving Montclair State more confidence as a team and hyping up the crowd to the point where all you could hear was screaming fans. Cooper speaks on the progression of Jackson this season.
“One thing about [Jackson] is that he’s going to put the work in,” Cooper said. “And he has done that very well. It’s a hard thing to do as a freshman, and in a college atmosphere, and you understand the hard work that you have to put in to make those shots in the game. That’s why he’s able to hit those shots.”
Jackson could have the ball for the whole 40 minutes of play in the Panzer Athletic Center, and everyone on the team and everyone watching would understand why he has the ball. He is always laser-focused on the net in front of him and he never backs down from an opportunity on both sides of the ball. He finished the game with 18 points and six rebounds in the quarterfinal game and has proven to be the next man up for the Red Hawks.
Two other plays stepped up and contributed in a big way for Montclair State as well, with the absence of players like junior guard Greg Eck and a lackluster performance from senior forward Steven Breeman.
Sophomore guards Amir Williams and Amari Mills both filled in as best they could, providing 12 points and three steals combined.
Jackson speaks on how important the squad has been in this stretch and to the freshman guard himself.
“Coach Potts is always talking about who the next guy up is, and I was the next guy up,” Jackson said. “But we stayed together, we got that chemistry and we gave it 100%.”
The Montclair State men’s basketball team will need to give it more than 100% as they move on into the NJAC Semifinals to face the No. 1 seed in the conference, the Stockton University Ospreys, in what is sure to be the toughest matchup of the whole season.