It was truly the Akbar Hoffman show at Panzer Athletic Center as the Montclair State University Red Hawks men’s basketball team overcame an enormous New Jersey City University (NJCU) comeback to defeat them 81-76 in a ruckus crowd.
The win moves the Red Hawks up to 8-1. In one of the most entertaining games of the season, Montclair State showed why they are the top-ranked team in the conference.
It looked like it was going to be an easy victory for the Red Hawks after the first half. They dominated in all aspects of the game. The Gothic Knights struggled to defend Montclair State’s high-powered three-point shooting, as they shot 60 percent from downtown in the half. A 13-4 run by the Red Hawks in the first half was capped off by a layup by Myles Mitchell-White to give the team a 28-15 lead with 8:58 remaining.
Montclair State would finish the half up 49-33 with all the momentum on their side. A big reason for the Red Hawks first half surge was Hoffman. The junior guard is the team’s leading scorer and showed why in this game. He scored 18 points, most of them from three-point land.
While many teams have been focusing more on last year’s returning scorer, Mitchell-White this season, it has allowed for Hoffman and the rest of his teammates to flourish.
“Many teams try to focus on me throughout the game,” Mitchell-White said. “But when Hoffman gets hot, they have to focus more on both of us, which really opens up the game for the rest of our teammates and us as well.”
NJCU would not go down quietly, unleashing a 16-4 run midway through the second half, as senior forward Yuri Brutus nailed a contested jump shot to cut the Red Hawks’ lead to three at 62-59 with 8:48 remaining.
The Gothic Knights shot higher quality baskets in the paint and from mid-range, which Montclair State struggled to defend against. NJCU shot 46 percent from the field in the second half, compared to 41 percent in the first.
However, Hoffman would make his mark late in the half. With the score 73-72 with about three minutes remaining, he scored seven of the last eight points for the Red Hawks. His final bucket was the decisive one, knocking in a huge mid-range jumper to make it 80-76 with 52 seconds remaining, bringing the crowd to their feet.
A clutch free-throw by Mitchell-White would make it 81-76 with 30 seconds remaining. NJCU would miss their final two three-point attempts which sealed their fate, allowing Montclair State to escape with a narrow victory.
Montclair State was fortunate to come out of the game with a victory, as they were up by as much as 18 in the first half but broke down defensively in the second half. Hoffman knew that his team could have played much better.
“We played down to our competition today,” Hoffman admitted. “They played us hard on both the offense and defensive ends, but we were able to play as a team and win.”
After taking down two of the top teams in the NJAC, Ramapo College and NJCU, the Red Hawks have made it known that they are playing the best basketball out of anyone in the conference. Hoffman believes so as well.
“We are loaded, we have players that can compete at a high level,” Hoffman said. “We’ll for sure be able to make a run at the conference tournament.”