UNION, N.J. (2/22/14) – The Kean University men's basketball team won a heart-stopping overtime battle with New Jersey City University 79-78 on Saturday evening. Senior Mike Burton scored 21, while Ali Mix and Tom Soulias each had 17 in the game.
Soulias kept up his hot shooting from the end of the regular season; he made three shots from downtown in the first half and helped give Kean (14-12) the lead in the early going.
With two minutes to go in the half, Jahmil Jenkins stole the ball for the Gothic Knights (14-12) and took it in for a layup. That tied the game up for the first time. Burton answered with one of his five treys, but Justin Harte came back to drain a long-range jumper with 58 seconds to go in the period to send the teams to the locker rooms tied at 29.
Xavier Fuller knocked down a jumper to snap the tie early in the second half, and Kean was able to stay ahead for the next four minutes until Khalid Muhammad scored to tie it at 36 with 16 minutes to go. The sophomore would finish with a game-high 32 points.
Mix then went on a tear; he scored five-straight points as the Cougars jumped ahead by six at the 12:30 mark and the Harwood crowd roared to life. Once again Kean stayed ahead for a long stretch, helped by Burton's three at 6:40.
Walik Albright started the Knights on their comeback run – he was able to grab the rebound after missing a free throw and put it back to cut Kean's lead down to two. Then at the four-minute mark Muhammed hit a three-pointer to put the Knights up for the first time in nearly 10 minutes of game time.
Still trailing by two at 1:42, J.J. Hladik went to the line for Kean and swished a pair of free throws to tie the game for the sixth time. Albright came down and drained a three, but Burton responded with his own three to tie it up again at 1:10.
With 38 ticks left, Justin Harte made a layup for Jersey City, putting the Cougars' season on the line. NJCU missed the front end of a one-and-one, and with just five seconds to go, Mix knifed down the lane and got a tough layup to fall for the game-tying points.
The Knights had one last chance to win in regulation, but Kyle Latorre's block preserved the tie and sent the game to overtime.
As the extra time wound down, Kean was trailing by one with less than a minute left. Latorre had a huge offensive rebound and put-back to flip the advantage and give Kean the one-point lead.
On the next NJCU possession, the Knights missed their initial shot. Soulias came up with a sprawling rebound in the corner and was able to signal for timeout to keep the ball with the Cougars.
Still clinging to a one-point lead and without the ball for the final 17 seconds of the game, the Kean defense did not allow a single good look to the Knights and held on to win the exceedingly tight game by a single point. The contest was tied at both at halftime and, obviously, at the end of regulation.
Kean once again leaned heavily on its starting five; who played all but 14 of the possible 100 second half minutes and every moment of the extra session.
The Cougars shot 13-of-16 from the free-throw line. NJCU led points in the paint 42-18, but Kean's 82 percent success rate at the free throw line proved to be the difference as the Knights shot just 5-of-12 from the line.
Kean will advance to the semifinals of the NJAC Tournament. The Cougars will take on top seed Richard Stockton College at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Pomona.