NASHVILLE, TN – NJIT junior Abdul Lewis scored a career-high 27 points, leading the Highlanders to an 81-77, come-from-behind victory over Lipscomb at Allen Arena on Saturday.
Despite the 27 points and his game-highs in rebounds (13) and assists (5), it was the last of his game-high four blocks that saved the day for the Highlanders.
NJIT (12-12, 5-4) had trailed by 10 at 77-67 with just 3:35 remaining. The Bisons (15-9, 5-4) never scored again and the Highlanders finished on a 14-0 run to secure a huge road victory.
NJIT took its first lead of the second half with 51 second to go on a three-pointer by sophomore Anthony Tarke, who also scored 27 points to tie his career-high. His triple put the Highlanders up, 78-77. Tarke later hit one-of-two free throws to give NJIT a two-point lead with 19 seconds remaining.
Moments later, Lewis completed his masterpiece.
Bisons point guard Kenny Cooper shook free into the paint for a game-tying field-goal attempt. Although his initial shot was no good, he grabbed the offensive rebound for another chance. Only his second shot would never get to the rim, as Lewis swatted it away and into the hands of freshman Zach Cooks.
Cooks was fouled and managed to hit both free throws with seven seconds left to seal the improbable come-from-behind victory.
Not only did Lewis stuff the stat sheet, he held junior Rob Marberry to just 10 points on 5-for-15 shooting. Marberry entered the game having scored at least 20 points in each of his last four affairs – averaging an incredible 27.7 ppg on 71.6-percent shooting over the span.
For the Highlanders, it was an appropriate payback from last Saturday — when the Bisons erased a 21-point deficit for an 86-79 overtime victory in Newark.
The two teams spilt the regular-series and are now tied for third place in ASUN standings. Remember, the Highlanders had been predicted to finish last in both the conference’s coaches poll and media poll.
Lewis and Tarke were joined by Cooks (12) in double-figures, while junior Garrison Mathews finished with a game-high 28 points before fouling out with 1:06 to go. LU had three other scorers in double-digits in Cooper (13), Buckland (11) and Marberry (10).
The Highlanders shooting helped to offset a 45-31 rebounding deficit, as NJIT drained at a 49.1-percent (28-for-57) clip from the floor and at 52.6-percent (10-for-19) from beyond the arc. LU finished at 42.4-percent (28-for-66) overall and 35.3-percent (6-for-17) from deep.
It looked as though the Bisons had all but wrapped up the season sweep when their lead bulged to 10 points late. Mathews handled a significant portion of the heavy lifting, scoring 20 of his 28 points in the second half.
Mathews, who entered the night as the ASUN’s leading scorer (22.1), enabled the Bisons to seize initial control of the game coming out of the locker room.
Whereas the Highlanders had tied the game, 37-37, at the break by scoring the final nine points, the Bisons started the second half with an 11-2 run. Nine of the points were scored by Mathews – including eight straight from 19:23 to 17:36.
Two of Mathew’s points in the span resulted from an offensive board. Offensive rebounding accounted for a significant difference for most of the game.
Entering the contest, NJIT led the ASUN in offensive rebounding (11.04) – but by just percentage points over Lipscomb (10.96). The Bisons finished with a 17-7 edge on the offensive glass that led to a 21-11 advantage in second-chance points.
As mentioned earlier, NJIT made strong run at the end of the first session to send the game to break tied, 37-37. Down, 37-28, with 2:16 to go, the Highlanders went on 9-0 run fueled by five points from Tarke – including a step-back three-pointer with four seconds left to give NJIT its first tie since 19-19.
The teams played evenly for the first 10 minutes, but it was the home squad that featured the first run of the game.
With the scored tied 19-19, Eli Pepper hit a free throw that kick-started a 9-0 spurt. The next eight points belonged to sophomore Michael Buckland – who canned an elbow jumper and a pair of three-pointers to extend the LU lead to 28-19 with 8:17 remaining in the half. His eight points in less than two minutes exceeded his season average of 7.8 ppg entering the affair.
Lewis led all scorers with 14 points at the half, while Buckland’s eight paced the Bisons. Lewis also grabbed a game-high six rebounds through the first 20 minutes of play.
Lewis has tallied at least 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season and for the fourth time in his career. The Newark native is now averaging 17.0 ppg in his last five games on 67.4-percent (31-for-47) shooting. His previous career high was 24 points at Florida Gulf Coast on Jan. 21, 2017.
Lewis also tied his career single-game high with two treys and has now buried four triples over his last three games – all coming against the Bisons.
Tarke has now scored in double figures in each his last six contests, averaging 18.7 ppg during the stretch. He set his career high when he poured in 27 points in NJIT’s last road game – a 66-60 win over Kennesaw State on Jan. 24.
NJIT has won back-to-back bouts away from Newark after snapping a 16-game, road losing streak that dated back to the 2016-17 season.
The Highlanders next return home for a showdown against first-place Florida Gulf Coast (18-8, 9-0) on Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Wellness and Events Center (WEC) in Newark.
The Eagles took the first meeting of the season against the Highlanders with a 68-54 victory on Jan. 13 at Alico Arena in Fort Myers.