Game #9-114: New Jersey Tech at Saint John`s Red StormDecember 1, 2012 1:00 pm
QUEENS, N.Y. - I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I didn't even know the nickname of New Jersey Tech when I walked into Carnasecca Arena Saturday afternoon.
I actually didn't even know what to call them. New Jersey Tech sounds awkward, and NJIT may send people's brains scrambling to try to make sense of the anagram. People may know its recent basketball history
, but only because they went through a whole season (2008-09) without winning (0-29).
Things actually started wonderfully for New Jersey Tech in Division I, it won its first two games ever in 2007-08 (over Manhattan and Rider), before everything went dark. Poor Jim Casciano, who saw NJIT through the transition was gone, and in came Jim Engles, who beat Bryant to end a 51-game losing streak, beat finished 1-29 in 2008-09.
You may not have noticed, but Engles got New Jersey Tech to 10-21 in 2009-10, and did such a good job the following year (15-15) that he was the only coach below the Red Line to receive a vote for National Coach of the Year, even in a season where Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens went to the Final Four.
(Casciano, by the way, is now entering his second year coaching at Division III Maine-Presque Isle. You want to know how close Presque Isle is to you?
As Engles' team took the floor, I wondered what it must be like trying to recruit at one of the few Division I schools that have no real chance to play
in the NCAA Tournament. I watched a guy like freshman Terrence Smith who just seemed so excited to be out on the floor, or a Division II transfer such as Ryan Woods drill #superhoops, and contemplate how many schools saw them play and thought they weren't really good enough to play Division I basketball.
And yet, NJIT (who brags in its media guide about staying within double digits of major conference teams, they've never beaten one, although they only lost to Providence by a point in the season opener) stormed in front midway through the first half. Chris Flores showed he can shoot, too, and when Woods was left open again
with seconds to go, he made yet another #superhoop, and New Jersey Tech had an improbable 35-23 in Queens at the break.
At halftime, I walked over to what I thought was a small group of visiting friends
and family, but it was actually a decent sized visiting student section for NJIT complete with T-shirts and signs. They mimicked the St. John's "you suck" chants on missed free throws, which was a good call because the Red Storm finished a pathetic 11-of-29 from the line.
New Jersey Tech has nearly 8,000 undergrads, so I guess it shouldn't have been that surprising, but it makes me think maybe they can be a "real" Division I team someday. course, with their pseudo-conference, the Great West, seemingly falling apart, where can NJIT go? With the conference realignment tornado swirling around them, the NEC seems like the best fit, but they passed NJIT over five years ago for Bryant
. But things have gotten much better in Newark since that article was written, even if the NJIT ambitions still seem a little high. The WAC needs teams desperately, and NJIT has been mentioned
. I would say that's the craziest thing I've ever heard a couple of years ago, but, well, you know.
Would a win over St. John's get them enough publicity to get someone to take a look?
The lead didn't last, as you probably know. It never does, does it? Well, rarely, and seemingly never when I'm in attendance.
There was an interesting moment in the first half when St. John's star guard D'Angelo Harrison
was clearly frustrated and going through the motions. Harrison missed a couple of shots and pouted a bit as NJIT grabbed the lead, leading normally mild-mannered coach Steve Lavin - especially since Lavin started battling cancer
, he missed a large portion of last season - to take him out. Harrison is currently the leading scorer in the Big East, and was the second leading returning scorer in the conference.
Lavin began by clapping his hands in encouragement, but he quickly became annoyed by the speed and demeanor of Harrison's exit from the game. By the time, Harrison got to the bench and there was no contrition, Lavin was angry, grabbing him by the shirt and telling him to sit down. Harrison threw on his warm-up shirt and sulked a little more.
I contrasted a guy like Terrence Smith with Harrison. Smith worked his butt off and did everything he could, but - to be blunt - he doesn't have the talent Harrison does. The coach inside me wanted to see Lavin keep Harrison on the bench, but it doesn't work that way (and I wasn't close enough to the bench or the situation to know what was truly going on). After a few minutes out and NJIT's lead increasing, Harrison was back in.
I'm sure some of the attitude goes back to their high school days. Harrison was a top recruit of Texas, and probably had everything that comes along with it, including every coach telling him he's the perfect player for their school (and who knows what else off-the-record). Smith, meanwhile, went largely unnoticed in Florida, unless of course they stumbled upon him looking for someone else. But his effort (and he ended with 10 points and 10 rebounds) earned my respect.
Alas, Harrison - coupled with JaKarr Sampson's 15 points and 17 rebounds - was the biggest reason why the Red Storm dominated the second half. NJIT was still within 50-49 with 3:30 left, but they wouldn't score, or really get another great look, again. St. John's got a few huge offensive rebounds and had a hard-fought 57-49 win that their talent won for them.
We don't like to talk about, but talent does unfortunately win most games, as it did in Queens Saturday afternoon. Sometimes it sucks, but that's life.
We'll see what the future holds for New Jersey Tech. Sadly, Division I isn't for everybody, but if freaking Grand Canyon can do it, there probably should be a place for a school their size that sits near downtown Newark. Should we care that they have virtually no chance to play in the NCAA Tournament? Does that not make them a "real" Division I team? I guess we'll save that argument for another day.
For some reason, the New York City subway system doesn't run within a mile of the St. John's campus, so I got a nice walk through Queens to and from 179th Street going to the game. Most was nice, working-class neighborhoods with a surprising amount of hilly terrain which my legs didn't appreciate (there were still a few pieces of trees hanging around from Sandy, but no other real signs that there was a major disaster there a month ago).
I thought about the fact that St. John's plays all of its big games in Manhattan at Madison Square Garden, and how much of a pain in the ass that must be for the students (or anyone that lives near the campus) to get there. What if they were a team below the Red Line and could play all their games on campus in front of what would surely be a louder and more intimate crowd?
Then I thought about Harrison (and I don't want to be too hard on the kid, but still) and the not-so-nice experience I've had at St. John's twice in a week, and the fact that the above the Red Line mentality has been there for the last three decades, so there's probably no going back. I guess you can keep them, above the Red Line folk.
The last thing I saw on the way out of the arena was a red t-shirt that said: "Highlander Pride" on the back.
Ah, New Jersey Tech Highlanders. That was it.at SAINT JOHN`S 57, NEW JERSEY TECH 49
NEW JERSEY TECH 4-3 (0-0) -- R. Woods 6-14 0-0 16; C. Flores 3-10 2-4 10; T. Smith 5-11 0-2 10; P. Miller 2-11 0-0 4; K. Howard 2-5 0-0 4; Q. Bastian 0-1 0-0 0; S. McCarthy 0-3 0-0 0; O. Nweke 1-2 0-0 3; D. Holiday 0-0 0-0 0; N. Syndor 0-2 2-4 2. Totals 19-59 4-10 49.
SAINT JOHN`S 6-2 (0-0) -- J. Sampson 6-14 3-7 15; D. Harrison 7-17 5-9 21; S. Pointer 2-4 0-1 4; A. Garrett 2-7 0-8 4; C. Obekpa 4-5 0-0 8; P. Greene 0-4 0-0 0; F. Balamou 1-7 3-4 5; M. Bourqault 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-60 11-29 57.
Three-point goals: NJIT 7-19 (C. Flores 2-7; P. Miller 0-1; R. Woods 4-9; O. Nweke 1-1; N. Syndor 0-1), STJ 2-10 (P. Greene 0-2; D. Harrison 2-7; M. Bourqault 0-1); Rebounds: NJIT 39 (T. Smith 10), STJ 43 (J. Sampson 17); Assists: NJIT 12 (C. Flores 6), STJ 11 (A. Garrett 3); Total Fouls -- NJIT 24, STJ 12; Fouled Out: NJIT-None; STJ-None.