Second-Half Surge Carries Men’s Basketball To First NJAC Victory

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Published December 2, 2021
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The Montclarion
Sophomore guard Kieran Flanagan goes up for a layup. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

After losing their first conference game against Kean University on Nov. 23, the Montclair State University men’s basketball team has put the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) on notice with a strong 94-76 victory against Ramapo College at the Panzer Athletic Center.

The Red Hawks are one of the hottest shooting teams in the conference and proved it in this game, coming out in the first half firing on all cylinders, shooting over 50% from the three-point range early on in the game. Junior guard Keyon Pryce made five out of his first seven three-point attempts in the first half, helping the Red Hawks gain a 31-20 lead with nine minutes remaining in the first half.

“I give all the credit to my team, they passed me the ball, I stepped into my shots and hoped it went in,” Pryce said. “My teammates got hype off the first one, then the second and then the third one went in and I knew I had it going.”

Keyon Pryce is currently averaging 13.7 points per game. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Keyon Pryce is currently averaging 13.7 points per game.
Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Pryce had 19 points in the first half and finished the game with 23.

Montclair State’s 11-point lead would be erased after Ramapo went on a run of their own in the second half. With three minutes left in the half, Ramapo gained a 41-38 lead.

Junior guard Greg Eck saves the basketball from going out of bounds. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Junior guard Greg Eck saves the basketball from going out of bounds.
Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Missed shots, turnovers and rebounding woes brought Ramapo back into the game. The Red Hawks started the game with a full-court press, but put an end to that game plan once Ramapo went on their huge first-half run, although the Red Hawks still finished the half with a four-point lead.

“We came out in a particular defensive strategy. Ramapo adjusted, so we had to tweak our defense,” Pryce said. “As soon as we did that, we just picked it up and played [better].”

Montclair State reestablished their defensive presence by forcing Ramapo into three turnovers with their press defense in the first two minutes of the second half. This would open up the flood gates to fast-break layups in transition. With nine minutes remaining in the game, Montclair State took a 76-66 lead and never looked back.

Steven Breeman prepares to shoot a free throw.

Steven Breeman prepares to shoot a free throw.
Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Because of the Red Hawks’ success with their press defense, they carried a significant edge in the turnover battle (26-12), something head coach Justin Potts aims for in every game.

“The way we play is we’re trying to play fast and want to generate turnovers with our pressure,” Potts said. “The turnover margin is something that’s really critical for us, so we try to take care of the ball and force turnovers and try to win the turnover battle by plus six or seven.”

Graduate student and forward Irving Callender IV, senior forward Steven Breeman and senior guard Devin Cooper helped extend the lead in the second half by their defense and scoring. Irving finished the game with 23 points, Breeman had 17 and Cooper finished with 11, who was perfect from the field (4-4).

The Red Hawks celebrate a big three pointer. Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

The Red Hawks celebrate a big three-pointer.
Trevor Giesberg | The Montclarion

Montclair State did cool off from the three-point line compared to how they started the game. They shot 40% from downtown in the first half, but that number dwindled to 27% from the field. Potts doubled down on their offensive strategy.

“We are going to take a lot of threes, that’s the way we play,” Potts said. “We have a lot of guys who can shoot it, and when they aren’t going in at the rate that we want, I [still] encourage them to keep shooting them. I want them to play free on the offensive end.”

Montclair State’s next home game is against William Patterson University on Dec. 8, as they hit the road to take on The College Of New Jersey at 8 p.m. this Saturday in a double-header, with the women’s contest happening prior.

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