The NJIT Highlanders had a home in the Atlantic Sun for the 2015-16 season after spending last season as the NCAA’s lone independent institution. They wasted little time making a name for themselves in the conference, and were looking to translate their regular season success into a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
NJIT finished the regular season in a three-way tie for 2nd in the conference with an 8-6 record, but were awarded the 2-seed based on the tie-breakers. In the Atlantic Sun quarter-final, they played host to the Stetson Hatters. Despite Stetson being the 7-seed, the Hatters are coming off an upset win over the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to close out the regular season, and had momentum in their corner.
Playing on their home floor was supposed to give the Highlanders an advantage, but nobody told the Hatters that they were double-digit underdogs in the game. They came out of the gates hot, and never let the Highlanders take a lead of their own after the 16:12 mark of the first half.
Stetson led for all but four and a half minutes of the game, cruising to the 82-67 upset win over the NJIT Highlanders.
A jumper from Damon Lynn at the 17:26 mark of the first half gave the Highlanders an 8-4 lead. Stetson would respond with a mini 7-0 run to put themselves ahead 11-8, capped off with a three pointer from Leo Goodman, and NJIT would never lead the rest of the way.
Later on in the first half, with the score 13-12, Angel Rivera hit a jumper that started a 13-1 run that broke the game wide open in the first half. Derick Newton hit a jumper to push the lead to 26-13, and that was the start of things to come.
The hosts would try to cut into the lead, cutting the deficit down to single digits on several occasions in the half, but Stetson always had an answer. Divine Myles sent the Hatters into the break with a 13-point lead on a jumper with 11 seconds left on the clock.
In the second half, the Hatters had a firm grip on their lead. Stetson would push their lead to 18 just over 2 minutes into the half on a Newton three-pointer, and the Highlanders struggled to muster up any sort of comeback effort.
Mohamed Bendary hit on one-of-two free throws to cut the deficit down to 12 with 16:27 to play, but Stetson rebounded and pushed the lead up to as many as 22 points just minutes later. Myles hit one-of-two from the line, and Newton hit a jumper to push the lead to 62-40 with 10:11 to play.
From then on out, Stetson was as steady as they come. They never let NJIT get within striking distance, maintaining a double-digit lead the rest of the way. When the final buzzer went off, the 7th-seed Stetson Hatters upset the 2nd-seed NJIT Highlanders to the tune of 82-67.
The win was the Hatters’ first win in the conference tournament since they beat the East Tennessee State Buccaneers back in 2013.
Freshman forward Derick Newton led the way for the visitors, putting up a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds in his first post-season game in the NCAA.
If you think Derick is the top mid-major freshman in the country, vote for him in the CCR Mid-Major Freshman of the Year Fan Vote!
Divine Myles chipped in with 21 points and 7 rebounds in the win, while Brian Pegg added 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
For the NJIT Highlanders, what was supposed to be a deep run in the conference tournament ended prematurely. The Highlanders were considered a serious threat to be representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament, but now they await their fate for another post-season event.
Damon Lynn scored a team-high 24 points, while Ky Howard chipped in with 13 points and 7 rebounds in the loss.
Rob Ukawuba came off the bench to record 11 points and 4 rebounds on the night.
With the win, the Stetson Hatters (11-21, 4-10) keep their season alive for another day. They are banned from post-season play due to low APR scores, but are playing in the conference tournament to make an even field. They take on the Lipscomb Bisons in the semi-finals, who upset the Jacksonville Dolphins in their quarter-final contest.
The loss ended a promising season for the NJIT Highlanders (17-14, 8-6). What was an NCAA-calibre team will wait for other post-seaosn events to come calling to determine when they will play their next game in 2015-16.