Lions Overcome Tough Start With 23-7 First Half Surge to Defeat Highlanders
|East Brunswick’s Rob Ukawuba defends for NJIT against Columbia’s Alex Rosenberg in the first half of action in the 2016 CIT Semifinals at Levien Gymnasium on Sunday evening. Ukawuba collected 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes of action as NJIT lost, 80-65.|
NEW YORK, NY–For a while in the first half, things looked good for NJIT In its 2016 CIT Semifinal match-up against Columbia University. The Highlanders were able to take an early lead thanks to three point shooting from Hillside’s Damon Lynn and East Brunswick’s Rob Ukawuba while Columbia began the game by missing its first six shots, and going 2 of 11 from the floor at one point in the first half. The game would turn though as the Lions put together a 23-7 surge over the last 8 minutes of the half including 12 straight points that turned a 15-10 deficit into a 22-15 lead.
Trailing 33-22 at the intermission, NJIT started the second half by scoring 13 of the first 20 points to draw within five at 40-35 with 15:47 to play. Unfortunately, the Highlanders were unable to get any closer than four as Columbia answered with a 13-4 spurt for a 55-42 lead, and didn’t let the Highlanders closer than 9 points the rest of the way en route to an 80-65 victory. According to NJIT’s Athletics web site, Columbia made 27 of 56 shots, or 48 percent including 10 of 27 from three point range. The Lions were also 16 of 20 from the foul line, and outrebounded NJIT by a margin of 39-29. NJIT managed to hang around for as long as it could thanks to the three point shot.
Similar to its victory against, UT-Arlington in the CIT Quarterfinals on Thursday night, the Highlanders had an edge from beyond the arc. Led by Lynn, who scored all 18 of his points on three pointers, NJIT outscored Columbia by a 36-30 margin from beyond the arc. However, the Lions had a 16-5 advantage in points scored from the charity stripe, and a 34-24 edge in points scored from within the arc. Columbia had a 32-20 advantage in points scored in the paint, but NJIT had a 12-11 edge in points scored off turnovers, and a 16-12 edge in bench scoring. The Lions played better in transition though with a 14-5 edge in fast break points, and added to their dominance on the glass with an 8-1 advantage in blocked shots.
Both teams struggled offensively early, but NJIT played slightly better as it scored the first five points of the game including a trey from Lynn. Columbia didn’t get on the board until the 15:33 mark on a layup from the left side. The Lions continued to struggle from the floor while Lynn added another three to keep NJIT in front, 8-6 with 11:54 to go in the first half. The Highlanders then scored 7 of the next 11 points including a three by Ukawuba, and a fadeaway jumper by Tim Coleman for a 15-10 lead. Columbia then got itself going with a bucket before the television timeout at the 7:46 mark, and the scored 10 more points over a 4:03 span including a three from the right side at the 3:43 mark to take a 22-15 lead.
Columbia continued to surge with 8 of the next 13 points to go up by ten before Ukawuba flipped in a shot off the glass as he fell to the floor to close the gap to 30-22 with 23.8 seconds remaining in the first half. The Lions would have the last word on the first half scoring as Grant Mullins sank a three pointer from the right wing with time running out for a 33-22 lead at the intermission. The start of the second half saw NJIT attempt to climb back into the contest by scoring 13 of the first 20 points to narrow the deficit to 40-35. Highlighting the NJIT run was a Ky Howard layup at the 19:19 mark, threes by Coleman at the 19:04 and 18:31 marks, and another Howard layup with 17:15 to go in the game. Columbia wouldn’t let the Highlanders get any closer than 42-38 after a three by Chris Jenkins.
The Lions went on a 13-4 tear over a span of 4:06 to take a 55-42 lead nearly midway through the second half. Maodo Lo, who led all scorers with a game high of 29 points, sparked the run with a trey at the 14:03 mark. Mullins then followed up with a layup at the 13:38 mark, and then after a Coleman jumper pulled NJIT within eight again, Luke Petrasek sank a three at the 12:31 mark for a 51-40 lead. After Ukawuba got his final points of the game on a layup in the paint with 11:29 to play, Columbia scored the next four points on a layup by Petrasek and a layup by Lo for the baker’s dozen point lead. NJIT rallied again with an 11-7 run that included two threes by Lynn, a trey by Chris Jenkins, and a layup by Howard to pull within single digits again at 62-53 with 6:18 remaining.
NJIT couldn’t get over the hump though as Columbia finished the game by scoring 18 of the last 30 points including a three by Alex Rosenberg, a layup by Lo, a three from the right corner by Mullins, and a dunk by Petrasek. A couple key sequences that helped Columbia put the game away was an offensive sequence that included four offensive rebounds, and cashed in on a three pointer by Rosenberg at the 5:12 mark and another series of offensive rebounds that was converted into a score on a tip-in by Petrasek with 2:05 to play. The Highlanders managed to pull within 11 after a three by Lynn at the 3:43 mark, and a layup by Howard with 3:16 to play, but couldn’t sustain the run. With the win, Columbia improved to 24-10 overall on the season, and advances to the CIT Championship to play, UC Irvine on Tuesday night.
NJIT concludes its season at 20-15. For the second straight year, the Highlanders season ended in the CIT Semifinals. Last year, NJIT lost to Northern Arizona in the CIT Final Four. This was the second time NJIT played Columbia this year. Back on December 12th, the Lions downed the Highlanders, 65-56. Five different players scored in double figures for Columbia during Sunday’s CIT semifinal including Lo (29 points), Rosenberg (16 points), Mullins (12 points), Petrasek (11 points), and Lukas Meisner (11 points and 10 rebounds). Lynn led NJIT with 18 points while Howard added 14 points and 6 assists, and Coleman chipped in with 11 points and 14 rebounds. EB’s Ukawuba finished his junior campaign with 7 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 17 minutes of action off the bench.
GMC NOTES: Ukawuba scored his 7 points on 3 of 6 from the floor including one of two from three point range. In the four games of the CIT, Ukawuba made 17 of 27 FGs including 6 of 10 from three point range, and made 4 of 7 from the line to tally a scoring average of 11 points per game. For the season, Ukawuba played in 32 of NJIT’s 35 games including one start. In those 32 contests, Ukawuba made 88 of 199 shots for 44.2 percent including 23 of 70 from three point range for just under 33 percent. Ukawuba also made 62 of 89 from the foul line for 69.7 percent, and averaged 21.9 minutes, 8.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 0.6 steals per game while compiling a 1.7 assists to turnover ratio. The junior from East Brunswick ranked fourth on the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and minutes played while ranking fifth in blocked shots.