Men’s Basketball Upsets First-Place No. 22 William Paterson in One-Point Thriller

UNION, N.J. (2/11/15) – The Kean University men's basketball team led wire-to-wire in an upset 66-65 victory over NJAC-leading No. 22 William Paterson University on Wednesday night. Senior guard J.J. Hladik set a new Kean single-season three-point record during the game and finished with 15 points. He now has 79 three's this year to top the old record of 77 shared by Ralph Lora and Alfonzo ThomasTommy Soulias paced the team with 18 points on Wednesday.

The Cougars must have been unimpressed with Paterson's gaudy 19-3 record coming in and scored 13 of the game's first 15 points to set the tone for the night.

Mike Diamond led the way early on with four points and two rebounds during that run, and Emmanuel Omowole, Soulais and Hladik also all scored for the Cougars in their balanced attack.

Kean kept up with the Pioneers for the next 10 minutes as well. Hladik earned the record with his fourth three-pointer of the night at 6:32 of the first half. He finished the opening period with a game-leading 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting from behind the three-point line.

Tim Steward (pictured left) was also among the first-half leaders for Kean. The senior forward had a team-high four rebounds and two blocks with five points on the offensive side. Soulias – who missed about 10 minutes with a bloody gash on his forehead – still poured in 10 first-half points on 3-4 shooting. Omowole had four assists for the Cougars by the break.

But Paterson was playing well, too. The Pioneers were shooting 50 percent from the floor – including five treys - and neither team missed a free throw in the well-played first half. The Cougars were up at the break 41-35.

In the second half, Kean kept WPU at arm's length. The Pioneers once closed to within one, but the Cougars scored on the next possession; Steward fed Soulias for a back-door layup.

With 11 minutes to go, Lincoln Holley hit a trey from the top of the key to extend the Cougar lead back up to seven. Three minutes later, Soulias bounded down the line – dodging three different defenders – for a reverse lay-in that pumped the Kean advantage up to nine with eight minutes to go.

Paterson kept coming and chopped the lead to four, but a Steward three got it back to seven. Paterson made two more field goals, but Diamond caught a 90-foot inbound pass from Hladik for an easy layup, then knocked down a long three-pointer to ratchet the lead back to seven again.

Kean did a great job of bleeding the clock late in the game. A big steal by Steward helped Kean keep the lead with less than three minutes remaining. With 90 seconds to go, the Cougars led by four. But James McLane's three pointer on the next possession got WPU back to within a point as the clock slipped under a minute.

Kean took four shots on its next trip down the floor, but could not get one to fall. Paterson got it back with the chance for its first lead in the final minute.

Holley blocked Paterson's first shot on the final possession, but after a tie-up on the rebound the arrow pointed to the Pioneers. Kean forced another miss and Steward grabbed the loose ball with 1.6 seconds remaining to seal the upset victory.

Steward was a force all over the court. The senior finished with a team-high seven rebounds, three steals, two blocks, two assists and eight points. He made 2-of-3 from behind the arc and 3-of-4 overall. But he also kept mistakes to a minimum: no turnovers, just one foul and the one missed field goal.

The entire team was well-disciplined. The Cougars committed only six turnovers, allowed just two William Paterson free throws and did not let up a single fast break.

Kean improved to 6-17 on the year and 4-12 in the NJAC. William Paterson is now 19-4, 13-3 in the league and holds on to the top spot with two games left.

The Cougars will play their final home game – Senior Day - on Saturday against Richard Stockton College at 1 p.m.