Red Hawks, Montclair State

Montclair Hangs On for Victory Over Kean Cougars

The Montclair State Red Hawks (20-4) defeated the Kean Cougars (17-7) by a score of 82-81, Saturday afternoon at the Panzer Athletic Center. 


The game opened up with both teams scoring subtly and it was a defensive slug fest to say the least. Montclair couldn't buy a bucket, and neither could Kean but, the Cougars were capitalizing on a strategy they had coming into the game. After playing Montclair a month ago, they knew that they were going to implement their full court press. Thus, they responded to this game with quick and deep outlet passes to break Montclair’s press and cash in on easy layups. 


Aside from the easy buckets Kean was getting from breaking the press, they were struggling too, the only thing is Montclair struggled even more. After an almost seven-minute stretch of only three points for the Red Hawks, a small spark was generated by Greg Eck who drove to the basket hard and cashed in on foul shots and then hit a three in transition on the following possession, evening the game at 26 all nearing the half. 


Defensively, the Red Hawks made up for their lack of offense, contesting every shot and being extremely physical with the Cougars top scorer, big man Griffin Barker. Barker was trying to out-muscle the defense with his 6’6, 215 lb. frame and expose Montclair for having no true big man center on the floor. Unfortunately for Barker, his ankle or foot was stepped on during a possession near the half. Then, when he tried to run on it during halftime warm-ups, it was a struggle, and he was out for the rest of the game.


After a poor first half, Kean still had a slim 37-33 lead. Montclair totaled 4-17 from three-point range, and both teams had a combined 22 turnovers. 


Montclair entered the second half with immediate adjustments to the lob passes that were beating their full court press. Instead of getting right up on the inbound man, they had two men back deep instead of one, acting as safeties in football. They still sent two men to the ball and when Kean tried to lob it over the press three consecutive times, all three resulted in interceptions. Montclair got their chance to even up for all those layups allowed in the first half, and a 9-0 run came off those mishaps. This left Kean slightly frazzled, and they started to think more and hold the ball while trying to break the press. This led to an additional couple turnovers that added to the run. 


What was a 37-33 lead for the Cougars turned into a 20-10 run in the first 5 minutes of the second half, resulting in a Montclair 53-47 lead. The game then slowly reverted to the first half script of elongated passing and chucking up threes by both squads. Kean was able to regain their traction and Letrell West eventually hit a three to go up two, and then Red Hawks sharpshooter Mike Jackson came out of his shell and hit a Curry-range deep three to regain the lead at 63-62. 


The score stayed very tight and narrow for much of the second half. Kean was able to put a couple of nice sequences on both ends, together, to regain a two-possession lead with about three minutes left. Meanwhile on the other end the Red Hawks responded. Keyon Price hit a corner three and then on a fast break turnover Steve Breeman threw down a wide-open jam that had the gym in a frenzy. Kean took a timeout only down one at 72-71 to quiet the crowd, but with Breeman’s confidence soaring after that play he took over the game, only being the right theme considering it was Senior Night for him. 


After a missed shot, Breeman ended up just pulling up for a three at the top of the key with 20 seconds left on the shot clock and sinking it, giving the Red Hawks a two-possession lead. Kean responded with a bucket of their own, but another possession of Montclair working the ball around the perimeter ended up in Breeman's hands, and he sank another three, giving the Red Hawks a 78-73 lead with one minute left.


Kean responded with two points of their own off a Montclair foul, but it took 30 seconds to do, which left the Cougars in a must-foul scenario with the game clock almost equaling the shot clock at 39 seconds. After free throws were exchanged by both teams, Montclair led 82-78 with ten seconds left. JD Daniels made it interesting, hitting a deep prayer three to cut the lead to one, but with only a second remaining, the Red Hawks threw a deep inbound pass and let the clock expire to hold on 82-81.  


The Kean Cougars (17-7) will be in for a battle on Wednesday when they head to Union to take on top dogs, Stockton University, who have a 21-3 record. The Montclair State Red Hawks (20-4) will head over to Glassboro to take on second place Rowan University (20-4) in the regular season finale.