Rowan University eliminated the men’s basketball team in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association by a score of 96-79.
After a promising first half, the Profs erupted early in the second half to take control of the game and secure a commanding victory over the Lions.
Lions head coach Bill Curley said in a post-game conference that the team started well but lost control of the game after halftime.
“I thought we came out with good energy. We had a good game plan, and we knew what they were capable of doing,” Curley said. “They got that run in the middle of the second half and they hit those threes, the crowd got into it and knocked the wind out of our sails a bit.”
Senior guard Geoff Gray led the Lions with 22 points and a career-high 18 rebounds in his final game in an Emerson uniform. Freshman guard Zach Waterhouse added 21 points with four three-pointers.
Gray commended the freshmen for developing quickly and helping the team reach the tournament.
“I saw [the freshmen] coming in the summer and they were willing to work out whenever I asked them. In the fall, their development happened really quick and that was huge for our team,” Gray said in the post-game conference. “There was definitely some early pains in the first semester, but they started to figure it out when [conference] play started. I can’t say enough about how good they are and how hard they work and we wouldn’t have been here without them.”
Rowan’s senior guards dominated the entirety of the game. DaRon Curry led the team with 25 points, Nick DePersia scored 24, and his twin brother Rob DePersia added 17 points. The three players shot 8-16 from behind the arc. Nick DePersia now sits fourth in points scored in Rowan basketball history with 1451. Rob DePersia also had a game-high seven steals in the contest.
Curley said Curry’s performance shifted the momentum in favor of the Profs.
“Curry got to us a little bit, hit a couple of threes we got a little lazy and backed up and he had some nice drives going to the basket,” Curley said. “I thought it was 25 [points] there that just changed the whole tempo of the game.”
The Lions stuck with the Profs throughout the first half by out-rebounding them 30-20, and capitalizing on eight offensive rebounds. Senior guard DaRon Curry scored 14 points for the Profs in the first half alone, but the Lions limited the DePersia brothers to 14 points.
Rowan gained momentum with the start of the second half. The Profs nailed 13 shots ten minutes in—the total amount of baskets they made in the first half—while shooting 54.8 percent. The DePersia brothers bounced back to score a combined 27 points in the second half. The Profs poured in 62 points, compared to the 34 points they scored in the first half.
Curley praised Rowan for the team’s effective offensive style that led to their second half surge.
“We knew going into the game that they score a lot of baskets. They try to get the game going up and down a little bit and force the tempo, and they have some really good shooters spreading the court,” Curley said. “They played hard all season to get their home court and they know their rims and they know their background. It’s why you play the game and that’s why you play hard all season so you could get into these opportunities.”
Freshman center Jarred Houston shined for the Lions early in the second half with 12 points. After making a layup, Houston flexed in the direction of the Rowan crowd and drew attention from the fans. The Lions missed Houston’s strong presence in the paint after foul trouble restricted him to only 17 minutes on the floor. The Profs outscored the Lions 50-34 in the paint.
The Lions committed 11 turnovers in the second half alone—the same amount Rowan committed in the entire game. Rowan scored 28 points off of Emerson turnovers throughout the game.
Junior guard Jack O’Connor fouled out of the game on his fifth personal foul with four and a half minutes remaining. O’Connor finished the game with seven points, tying his season low, after scoring a career-high 33 points in the Lions’ previous game against Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The Lions finished the season with a 16-12 record and a first-ever New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference title. Gray and senior center Mac Sashin played their last career games with the Lions.
Rowan will host Nichols College in the second round of the tournament on Saturday at 7 p.m.
This article was updated to reflect the post-game conference.