POMONA, N.J. (2/26/14) – Senior Mike Burton had 24 as the Kean University men's basketball team was one point from a huge upset in the NJAC semifinals against Richard Stockton College on Wednesday. The Cougars were 10 seconds away from knocking off the top-seeded Ospreys in the 64-63 matchup.
Working in a noisy and hostile atmosphere, the Cougars made their first four field goals and jumped out to a 10-6 lead. Tom Soulias and Burton swished tough shots from behind the arc in the opening minutes as Kean expanded its lead to 18-10. The Cougars shot 80 percent from the floor and 5-of-6 from three-point range in the first eight minutes.
Burton and Soulias already had 20 combined points by the time the teams reached the halfway mark of the first period. Both players were 3-for-4 from downtown as the Cougars' hot shooting staked them to a 10-point lead.
With five minutes to go in the first, J.J. Hladik knocked down back-to-back three pointers from the left wing, forcing Stockton to call timeout as the league leaders had fallen behind by 16 points. At that time, the Cougars were shooting 73 percent and holding Stockton 8-for-26 from the floor.
The timeout had the desired effect for the Ospreys; Kean cooled off and Josh Blamon made two-straight long-range treys to trim Kean's halftime lead to 38-30. The Cougars' Mike Summerer had a block at the buzzer to keep the cushion at eight.
Burton and Blamon dueled over the first half as the two guards combined for 30 points, while Soulias scored nine points in just nine minutes of first-half work.
Stockton came out hot as the second half began; Blamon and Rich Suhr hit the first two shots to bring the Ospreys within three points for the first time since the opening minute. Burton fired back with a trey of his own, and Ali Mix (pictured left) and Xavier Fuller scored the next four as the Cougars ratcheted the lead back up to 10.
Another run by Stockton – capped by two James Williams threes – brought the Ospreys within one possession with 10 minutes to go in the game. Kevin Johnson followed with another three to put Stockton ahead for the first time all night.
Both teams were scoreless for the next three minutes, with the two sides unwilling to concede any easy baskets. The capacity crowd erupted and groaned with each foul call and change of possession, while the stakes increased with each tick of the clock.
After falling behind by three, Burton hit from the wing to tie it up with six minutes to go. But Suhr answered on the next trip down to put Stockton back ahead.
Soulias hit a transition layup to cut the lead to one, and Kyle Latorre made two free throws to keep the Cougars at the same level. With the clock nearing one minute on the next trip down the floor, Latorre saved the ball out of bounds and got it to Burton on the baseline. Burton earned his 23rd and 24th points of the night with a jumper that gave the Cougars a one-point lead with less than a minute to go.
The Kean defense forced a miss, but Johnson came down on the next trip to hit what turned into the game-winning layup with nine seconds to go. Kean had a pair of looks in the final seconds but could not get the go-ahead shot to fall before the floor was swallowed up by jubilant and relieved Stockton supporters.
Kean is now 14-13, while the Ospreys moved to 22-4 on the year.
Kean will await word of an ECAC bid; that news will come next week.