The men’s basketball team (7-3) scored a 71-55 victory over scrappy in-state foe NJIT Tuesday night at the Prudential Center.
NJIT (6-5) lead for a majority of the first half, starting the game on an 11-4 run in the first 2:05 of the game, forcing head coach Kevin Willard to call a timeout.
“They’re a very tough team to prepare for in one day,” Willard said. “We were coming off a really emotional win on Sunday (against Rutgers), so I was hoping we’d get off to a better start, but we didn’t.”
Out of the timeout, freshman guard Jaren Sina knocked down a 3-pointer and sophomore Sterling Gibbs rattled in a jumper to pull to within two of the Highlanders.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from NJIT’s Nigel Sydnor pushed the lead to 17-9 with 11:20 remaining in the half.
As the teams continued to battle, the Hall’s junior forward rattle off seven-straight points to tie the game at 23. The Pirates went into the break holding a 31-28 lead.
The Hall began the second half on a 12-2 run, sparked by a Sina 3-pointer. The Highlanders stayed in the game, cutting the lead to five with 5:15 remaining. A 12-3 run over the next three minutes put the game on ice for the Pirates.
In the absence of forward Patrik Auda and co-captain Fuquan Edwin, center Eugene Teague has shouldered the load for the Hall, using his 6-foot-9-inch, 270 pound frame in the paint. Teague recorded his third-straight double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
“I’m just focusing more on rebounding,” Teague said. “I know that’s what we need. I’m doing my part, trying to help the team win.”
Teague scored seven points in the first half, but was held to just four points in the second, with the Highlanders keying in on him.
“Eugene carried us in that first half,” Willard said. “He gave us a little confidence and a little spark.”
With the Highlanders focused on Teague, it allowed Mobley, Gibbs and Sina to take advantage. Mobley scored 11 points in the second half, and led all scorers with 18.
Gibbs struggled from the floor, shooting 4-11, but was able to make up for it at the line where he shot 8-9 for the night. Gibbs is second in the country in free-throw attempts with 103 in the team’s 10 games. He finished with 16 points.
“These types of games are difficult, because we were coming off a high,” Gibbs said. “We were coming off the big Rutgers win.”
Sina had a career-high 17 points on 5-6 shooting, including 3-4 from beyond the arc. Sina also had a game-high four assists, with only one turnover.
“I think he’s progressing terrifically,” Willard said. “I’d like to see him be a little bit more aggressive at times. There are still times where he can create. That’s our next step with him. He’s surpassed my expectations by far.”
Sina also said that he’s starting to recognize his role in the offense with each game.
“I thought I was in a good rhythm,” Sina said. “Being a freshman, every game I feel more and more comfortable.”
The Hall is now 4-0 with Sina in the starting lineup.
The Pirates will be back in action at noon on Saturday as they take on Saint Peter’s at the Prudential Center.
T.J. Brennan can be reached at email@example.com.