NJIT Knocks off Vermont in a Wild Double-OT Affair
What. A. Game. We got another double-overtime instant classic at Patrick Gym, as NJIT escaped with a win off one of the most chaotic finishes this season has offered. San Antonio Brinson (awesome name) tipped in the would-be airball attempt from Diego Willis with 0.1 seconds remaining to upset the Cats in Burlington, 81-80.
Ok, where do we begin with this one? Well for starters, NJIT played much better after their Sunday afternoon blowout. That was to be expected. The Highlanders played with more poise, as Vermont just couldn’t shake NJIT. Vermont wasn’t shooting the lights out this time round, but still controlled the game for most of the afternoon.
The Catamounts led by 10 with 15 minutes left and it looked like they were going to ride that lead to the finish line, but NJIT had other plans. Not even four minutes later the Highlanders used a 12-0 run to take the lead and all of sudden we had a wire-to-wire game. During those final 11 minutes and all through extra-time, neither team never led by more than four.
Before we breakdown some of the key stats, I want to say that while I believe NJIT is a good team, they did not deserve to win this game. As a Vermont fan is that biased to say? Absolutely and I give NJIT credit for pulling off the upset, but so many of their offensive possessions were pure chaos. It was seemingly broken play after broken play for the Highlanders, yet somehow the ball found the back of the net. As the old saying goes, “fall in a pile of sh*t, but come up smelling like roses.”
The last play of the game perfectly sums NJIT’s win. Dylan O’Hearn drives baseline, stumbles to the floor yet somehow doesn’t travel and manages to throw the ball back behind him with one hand from the floor. The loose ball ends up in Diego Willis hands along the perimeter. Willis chucks a prayer with both Ryan Davis and Stef Smith in his face. The shot is well short, but San Antonio Brinson, who was being boxed out by Justin Mazzulla slips past him just enough to tip the shot up and in with literally 0.1 seconds left as the ball leaves his hands.
Telling Stats & Notes – Vermont Catamounts
Ryan Davis – 27 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 11-14 FG, 1-2 3PT
Ben Shungu – 16 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 turnovers, 5-9 FG, 0-3 3PT
Team – 80 points, 31-66 FG, 5-21 3PT, 39 rebounds, 19 assists, 11 turnovers
Kind of a strange game. Looking back it’s almost a combination of the first NJIT game and the UMass-Lowell games. At times the Cats looked great (10 point 2nd half lead), yet at other times they looked awful (multiple point-blank misses). Will the real Vermont Catamounts please stand up?
Without any sort of preseason or non-conference schedule to iron out the kinks, this is likely what to expect from this Catamount team for the time being. Great one moment, lost the other. In a typical season, the Cats have used the non-conference portion of their schedule to figure out line-ups and get the team to gel as a complete unit. Come conference play time, the Cats would be rolling, but now without those extra games Vermont is forced to learn on the fly and we’ve now seen the growing pains that come with that.
Back to the game at hand. Welcome back Ryan Davis. Granted, his 27 point outing and new career high would look a lot better with a win attached, but it is so good to have Davis back in the Cats line-up. The big man was incredibly efficient and didn’t miss his first shot till late in the 2nd half. His passing was on point as well, something we haven’t seen from Davis previously. What’s crazy is that as good as Davis has looked in these past two games, he still doesn’t look to 100%. Imagine what he can do at strength.
Shungu quietly had his best game of the season as well, as he made an impact all over the floor, from scoring, making the right pass, controlling the glass and of course defensive tenacity. Again, it’s a shame the Cats couldn’t attach a win to this performance. Elsewhere, Smith had a relatively quiet game finishing with 11 points, though he never quite found his rhythm and shot only 4-11 from the field.
The biggest early season surprise has got to be the play of Nick Fiorillo. The walk-on forward from Maine routinely continues to impress and seemingly gets better by the day. He finished the day with 9 points in 14 minutes. Ironically, the 6’9” Fiorillo plays more like a true shooting guard than anything else. He has one of the better looking shots on the team and while he only shot 1-6 from deep on the day, he showed the confidence to keep shooting which is a great sign for his development.
Telling Stats & Notes – NJIT Higherlanders
Dylan O’Hearn – 26 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 11-16 FG, 3-5 3PT
Souleymane Diakite – 20 points, 12 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 turnovers, 8-10 FG
Team – 81 points, 34-66 FG, 6-18 3PT, 34 rebounds, 9 assists, 12 turnovers
Ryan Davis have a day? How bout Souleymane Diakite have a day! For as good as Davis was, Diakite was right there with him all game. Neither could find a way to stop the other, but it was Diakite who absolutely owned the match-up on the glass, as he hauled in 8 more boards than Davis and came up with game high 4 steals.
Both big men set new career highs in scoring, but it’ll be Diakite who remembers this game more fondly, as NJIT escaped with the win in the end. This was exactly the type of performance NJIT was looking for from their team, as four players would reach at least 14 points in the game.
Dylan O’Hearn really took over the game for the Highlanders when they made their run the second half. The JUCO transfer hit two huge threes in the first overtime as well after Vermont had taken a four-point lead. Vermont has had trouble with teams “second fiddle” as it was Ron Mitchell for UMass-Lowell who torched the Cats in their other loss of the season. When facing the likes of Zach Cooks and Obadiah Noel the goal is to force them to pass the ball and let their supporting cast try to beat you. Unfortunately for Vermont that’s exactly what happened – twice.
The aforementioned Cooks had a relatively quiet game by his standards. 16 points and 4 rebounds in 50 minutes of action should be considered a win for the likes of Shungu and the Cats defense, but the Highlanders were able to find production elsewhere on the day.
Again, credit to NJIT for pulling out this win. The Cats reverted to cruise control too early, essentially letting NJIT jump back into the game. This was such a weird and wild game. Everytime the Cats started to regain some of the momentum, something weird would happen and go in the Highlanders favor. In the ladder minutes of the second overtime period, NJIT would miss a three-pointer and with three Catamounts ready to grab the board the ball somehow goes off their hands and lands in a NJIT player’s hands for an easy shot to re-tie the game.
I respect NJIT and won’t harp on the sheer dumb luck of the Highlanders, as it is what it is at this point. In the words of Kurtis Blow, “these are the breaks”. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, as NJIT rode all the luck in the world to their first ever America East conference win.