NJIT Flexes Defensive Muscle in 53-50 Win at Fordham; Moves to 10-2

NJIT Flexes Defensive Muscle in 53-50 Win at Fordham; Moves to 10-2

BRONX, N.Y. – The Highlanders held the Rams to two points over the final 5:55 to squeak out a 53-50 win in a defensive battle at Fordham on Tuesday.

NJIT (10-2) has now posted 10 wins faster than in any other season in its 97-year history (at all levels of competition) and is one of just five teams in Division-I to have reached double figures in victories. As of time of publishing, the Highlanders are also one of just three teams in the nation with at least five road victories.
Meanwhile, Fordham (7-3) lost for the first time in seven tries at Rose Hill Gym this season.
Sophomore Zach Cooks led the Highlanders with a game-high 16 points while adding five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Senior Abdul Lewis was NJIT's only other double-digit scorer posting 11 points with a team-high seven rebounds.
Senior Donovan Greer provided a spark off the bench with eight points and junior Shyquan Gibbs handed out a game-high five assists.

Fordham freshman Nick Honor produced 13 points to lead the home team in its losing effort. Junior Antwon Portley was the Rams' only other double-digit scorer with a dozen.

In a continuing theme for NJIT in 2018-19, this win was all about defense – as well as persevering in tight games.
Down the stretch, the game literally hung in the balance for over two minutes tied, 48-48. After being fouled on a baseline drive to the basket, Lewis converted on one of two free-throws – the first point for either team since the 5:55 mark – to give the Highlanders a 49-48 lead it would not relinquish with 3:46 left to play.
Then, the teams went scoreless for another 3:08 until another Lewis free throw with 38 seconds left on the clock.
Although the Highlanders failed to convert a field goal in the final 7:06, they would seal the win with two more free throws made (two by Cooks and one apiece from senior Diandre Wilson and Greer)... and their stiffing defensive performance.
By the time the Fordham received a layup by Antwon Portley with 11 seconds to go, the team had gone 5:44 seconds without scoring.

The Highlanders held the Rams to 25.3 points below their scoring average coming into the affair. Fordham shot just 36.8-percent (21-for-57) from the floor and 28.0-percent (7-for-25) from downtown.  NJIT failed to shoot much more effectively, finishing at 38.1-percent (16-for-42). Yet, despite being tied in turnovers and outrebounded by two, the Highlanders got out in transition effectively -- outscoring the Rams, 23-10, in fast-break points.

NJIT entered the contest ranked second in the ASUN in scoring defense (67.6 ppg) and field-goal-percentage defense (40.3%). In their 10 victories this season, they have now allowed just 61.4 ppg on 36.9-percent shooting.

In terms of perseverance, the Highlanders now sport a 4-0 record in one-possession games this season -- which started with an 81-78 overtime win over Colgate in the season-opener.

Back to the action from Tuesday night, Fordham held a slight edge of 29-27 at the end of a lack-luster first half.

Trailing 31-27 less than one minute into the second half, the Highlanders went on a major run that appeared to swing the balance of the game. Lewis started the spree when he scored on a jumper at 18:49 – which ignited a 15-2 run over the next six minutes. The Highlanders' lead grew to a game-high nine points at 42-33 after a three-pointer by Cooks in transition.  

Just when it looked like NJIT would pull away, Fordham responded with a 15-6 run that drew the teams even until the aforementioned scoring drought at 48-48.

In very consistent fashion, the Highlanders now have identical records both at home (5-1) and away (5-1).

They also finished with a sweep of their four meetings with New York City teams this season, having previously notched wins at Wagner College (71-60 on Nov. 20), at LIU Brooklyn (77-70 on Nov. 24) and against St. Francis Brooklyn (82-60 on Dec. 8).

NJIT next plays the second leg of a four-game road trip at Fairleigh Dickinson University (3-4) on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Rothman Center.
The Highlanders lead the all-time series with the Knights, 5-0 – and 4-0 in Division-I competition. The teams met in Newark last season for the first time since 2012-13 and NJIT won, 71-68, on Dec. 16.

The Highlanders has won its first three meetings with Northeast Conference teams this season and holds an 18-12 advantage against teams from the NEC all-time.