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Monday April 15th

TCNJ men’s basketball win NJAC title, gets auto bid to NCAA Tournament

<p><em>Sophomore guard Nick Koch has been the leader of the College&#x27;s title winning offense this season (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gladstone / Multimedia Coordinator).</em></p>

Sophomore guard Nick Koch has been the leader of the College's title winning offense this season (Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Gladstone / Multimedia Coordinator).

By Eddie Young
Sports Editor

The Lions have capped off their magical New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament run with a 75-62 victory on the road over Stockton University in the final on Feb. 24. This win gave head coach Matthew Goldsmith his second conference title in his ninth season as the coach, with the other being in 2020. 

The College, the No. 5 seed in the tournament, became the first seed lower than No. 2 to win the NJAC Championship, and they were also the first team to win the title while winning three road games. 

Winning the NJAC title game gives the Lions an automatic bid into the Division III Men’s NCAA Tournament. It will be the second appearance for the College of the 21st century, with the other also being in 2020, and it will be their eighth in the school’s history. 

In the championship game, the College was able to get out to an early lead to put them far ahead. The first three minutes of the game were a little back and forth, but the rest of the first half was all Lions. In the next three minutes, they went on a quick 11-0 run that put them up 16-6. After a bit of fight back from the Ospreys, who were able to cut the lead to six, the College was then able to go on another quick run, this time scoring eight unanswered. 

Towards the end of the first half, the College was able to put together another 10-0 run, which ballooned the lead to 17 with around three minutes left before halftime. This run was led by fifth year forward James Beckwith, who scored the final eight of the 10 points. 

The Ospreys, however, were able to get themselves back within striking distance, as they went on a 9-0 run of their own to end the half. The halftime score was 45-37, with the Lions up. 

Stockton gave the College a few scares in the second half. The Lions were able to grow the lead up to 15 points many different times early on in the half, but a bunch of mini runs kept the Ospreys in the game. For a while, the College’s offense struggled to do anything, and they were unable to put the game away.

For a seven-minute stretch, the College did not score a point, and they gave Stockton every chance to get back into the game and come back from the massive lead built by the Lions. The Ospreys went on a 13-0 run during these seven minutes, and were able to get the lead to two points, the closest the game had been since early in the first half.

A free throw from star sophomore guard Nick Koch was able to end the scoreless skid for the Lions, and woke their offense back up. The Ospreys hit a three pointer to cut the lead to three with four minutes remaining, but those would be the last points that they would score. 

The College ended the game scoring the final 10 points, their third double digit run of the game, and they did not miss a free throw in the final two minutes. They ended up winning 75-62, and as the No. 5 team entering the tournament, they became the lowest seed to ever claim the NJAC Championship. 

“Winning the NJAC was a surreal feeling,” Koch said. “Looking around and seeing the team run up to me once the buzzer sounded was the best feeling. As a team we put in so much work during the season on and off the court, and we deserved this championship.”

Koch, a second-team All-NJAC member this season, led the offensive production for the Lions. He scored 20 points on an efficient 6-11 from the field, and he also added seven assists and three rebounds in his title-winning performance. Also, Koch played 40 minutes in this game, making this the first time in his collegiate career where he did not leave the court once.

Junior forward Matthew Okorie also had a stellar performance, scoring 19 points and getting nine rebounds in 36 minutes of action. His 19 points were tied for the second most of his career, and it is only behind his 21-point performance in the NJAC semifinals against Rowan that got the College into this championship.

Beckwith also put together one of his best games as a Lion, as his 17 points were tied for his second most in a game at the College, and his five threes were tied for the most he has had in a game. 

This win gave the Lions a record of 20-8. This year and the 2020 season are the only two times the College has won 20 games in a season in the 21st century. 

For Stockton, this loss stung. This was the fifth consecutive season that they have made the conference championship game, but they have gone 1-4 in those five games. However, they were still able to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, joining the College and Rowan University as the three teams from the NJAC to get into the pool of 64 teams selected. 

The Lions will now look to continue their hot streak into the NCAA Tournament. They will travel to Keene, New Hampshire to take on Eastern University in the first round on March 1 at 3:45 p.m. Eastern, who will be traveling from St. Davids, Pennsylvania, is 20-7 on the season, and won their first ever MAC Commonwealth championship this season, which gave them an automatic bid into the tournament. 

“It was cool winning the championship, but we know we can win more games and aren’t done yet,” Koch said. “We are going into these games with the same mindset as we did the playoffs, and are ready to take on any challenges we face.”

If the Lions can win their first round matchup, they will face the winner of No. 5 Keene State College and Marymount University in the second round on March 2 at 6:45 p.m.




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