A couple of days before the 2020-21 season opener at Temple. NJIT Highlanders men’s basketball head coach Brian Kennedy eluded to the fact of the strict protocols the city of Philadelphia had imposed when it came to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Kennedy described some of the measures that were in effect the day of the game.
“We had to test the day of the game. We had to get down there early and get a Covid test and then wait for our results,” said Brian Kennedy. “There was some downtime and waiting for our results and while you are sitting in the locker room and just a different experience. Everybody’s going through it and Temple had to go through the same procedures. When you are coaching it’s just putting aside all the stuff out there and have your coaching blinders on. And focused on the game and how your team is playing.”
Once the game got underway, the Highlanders fell behind by double digits not even five minutes into the first half. Temple absolutely smoking from the perimeter, knocking down jump shots and three-pointers. NJIT managed to slow down the Owls potent offense with a 10-3 run that cut the margin to single digits at 19-10 with 11 minutes left. Living off the free-throw line, Temple sank 13 out of 18 free throws.
Shooting 58 percent from the field while outrebounding the Highlanders 21-11 the Owls held a 42-26 advantage at halftime. The main source of NJIT’s offense coming from senior Zach Cooks tallying 10 of his game-high 18 points.
“Our game plan going into the game was first and foremost was rebounding,” Head Coach Brian Kennedy explained. “Our top three keys, rebounding, pacing the game, and trying to be physically tough during the game.” I think during the first 10 minutes weren’t any of those but I think we picked it up once we got into the flow of the game but we got totally outrebounded in the first half and that was really the point of the emphasis. I was concerned that we were settling for jump shots.”
Seven minutes into the second half seemed to mirror the first half. With Temple widening the margin to 19 points at 55-36. The Owls utilizing their size and length to crash the glass and create second-chance opportunities. However, the Highlanders mounted a furious challenge. Lasting from the 12 and half minute mark to seven and a half minutes remaining. NJIT went on an 11-0 run. Spearheaded by junior transfer guard Dylan O’Hearn accounting for nine of his 11 points on the day including a trifecta that trimmed the deficit to single digits at 58-50.
“At halftime as far as making adjustments it was all about being tougher, guarding the ball, and rebounding,” Head Coach Brian Kennedy described. “Once we got going, I thought we got good shots and when we got down a little bit, I thought our shots were much better because we were attacking the basket and playing inside out.” When we went on the run, we did a good job defensively and I think it started with Antwuan Butler (7 points, 5 rebounds) on the basketball and he did a good job of pressuring the ball and not letting some of their sets.”
“I was very happy with some of the contributions, we have many newcomers and some without any scrimmages but Miles Coleman and Dylan O’Hearn really stepped up and showed they’re capable players and look forward to continuing to get them into the mix offensively and defensively.”
Just when it appeared the Highlanders were primed for a major comeback, Temple shut that door due to back-to-back-to-back treys from J.P. Moorman III along with the Owls sinking four free throws to seal a 72-60 victory at The Liacouras Center.
“That’s the game of basketball, it’s worth 40 minutes and not 30 minutes,” Head Coach Brian Kennedy noted. “I was happy overall with the second half of our performance, not happy with the way we started and there’s no excuse.” We were tentative, settling for outside shots and we can’t do that against a team like Temple. We have to get on offense, paint touches and get the ball moving, and playing inside out. I felt we were settling for long threes and two’s.”
“As I mentioned I’m taking more of a macro view this year, it was their first game as well as ours, we haven’t had any officials, scrimmages and the break-up of practices, and so forth with Covid.” “My hats off to Coach(Aaron)McKie, he’s got a nice program and their great athletic director Fran Dunphy.”
After three days off NJIT(0-1) returns to the hardwood court on Wednesday, December 23rd at Rider University(1-5) with tip-off set for 2 p.m;
“We watched a lot of film and got back at it on the court today,” Head Coach Brian Kennedy mentioned. “We’re trying to prepare for a very talented Rider team with a bunch of newcomers.” It’s a great challenge for us with these four games, playing Temple then a MAAC team(Rider University) on the road and playing arguably the team that’s had the most success in the last five-year period in Vermont in the America East and traveling up to Vermont is no easy task and we have a tough stretch ahead of us. It’s just going to be the same thing to get better and better and by the end of the year we will be hopefully clicking on all cylinders.”