In only its third year at the Division I level, the NJIT men’s basketball team had already exceeded its all-time win total with two victories heading into its match up with Seton Hall.
40 minutes of basketball later, that remained the same.
Seton Hall defeated the Highlanders 93-53 at the Prudential Center on Monday night.
The win against NJIT capped off a 2-0 week for the Pirates with both wins coming at home.
Sophomore forward Herb Pope led the way for the Pirates with his fourth straight double-double, notching 22 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Jeremy Hazell added 21 points, while junior guard Jamel Jackson went 5-12 from beyond the arc to finish with 15 points of his own.
Isaiah Wilkerson paced the Highlanders with 14 points while Chris Flores also added 10 points.
The Highlanders kept the game close initially before being outscored 23-10 from the 11:20 mark, giving the Hall a 43-27 lead to close out the half.
“We let them get off early-on,” Pope said. “Coach called a time out, woke us up and we did a great job. We locked-in and turned the page.”
Despite shooting 61.5 percent from the field, head coach Bobby Gonzalez was unhappy with the first-half effort.
“My thing is that with our team, we’re a Big East team and we have to play that way,” Gonzalez said. “We were not winning the way we’re supposed to be winning the game if we’re going to be a very good team. We have to challenge ourselves to play a certain level of play.”
The Pirates opened up the second half with a 20-4 run that put the game well out of reach. Seton Hall led by as many as 48 points in the second half before winning their fifth straight.
Senior guard Eugene Harvey started the game, but was benched by Gonzalez for sophomore guard Jordan Theodore after the first five minutes and did not return until the second half.
“Eugene’s funny,” Gonzalez said of his starting point guard. “I got a little upset with him and we had a little exchange, so he sat the rest of the half because I didn’t think he ran the offense as well as he did last game.”
Harvey finished the game with ten points and four steals, all of which came in 13 second-half minutes. Theodore meanwhile recorded nine points, five boards, three assists and three steals.
“Eugene’s the kind of guy that when you play top teams he gives you everything but when you play lesser teams he really needs help being motivated,” Hazell said. “He did that in the second half.”
He certainly had motivation Saturday night as he played his best game of the season recording 18 points, eight assists, and seven steals in a 95-66 win over Long Island University.
Four other Pirates reached double-figures including Pope, who continued his double-double barrage against the Hall’s non-conference opponents with 19 points and 10 rebounds. As a team the Pirates forced 21 Blackbird turnovers and held their season leading scorer Jaytornah Wisseh to only 10 points.
The games were the first two in what will be nine straight games at the Prudential Center for the Hall. Next up will be a Thursday night match-up with Hartford University. The Hawks have five players averaging double-figures, led by the play of Joe Zeglinski.
In Hartford, the Pirates play yet another team below .500 in the standings, and do not sport a win against a team who currently owns a winning record. Gonzalez, however, is unconcerned with the strength of schedule, focusing instead on using each game to prepare his team for the rigors of the Big East ahead.
“Winning games is winning games,” Gonzalez said. “You can play really hard games or you can play easy games, because when you get into the Big East you’re going to play tough games no matter what your record.”
Zachary Cziryak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Jongsma can be reached at email@example.com.