Roland Nyama, perhaps Stony Brook’s best defender, walked through the bowels of Island Federal Credit Union Arena after Wednesday night’s game where he ran into NJIT’s Damon Lynn. Nyama had spent the better part of 40 minutes trying to chase Lynn all over the court earlier, but could do nothing but flash a big smile afterward while shaking Lynn’s hand.
“They told me to chase you off the three-point line, but man, you’re tough,” Nyama said.
Nyama actually did a good job keeping Lynn from hurting Stony Brook from outside the arc Wednesday, as he hit just a pair three-pointers (both in a 90-second span late in the first half) in 11 attempts. But by night’s end, the final stats showed Lynn with 26 hard-earned points, and NJIT with its seventh win of the season, 64-61.
“I think I’m more conscious about my shot attempts now,” Lynn said. “Now that I’m a senior, I don’t want to force the issue as much, so if I’m not having a good shooting game, I want to get my teammates involved more, get to the rim and draw some fouls, although I don’t get many fouls because they say I flop a lot.”
Lynn’s second three-pointer passed someone named Stephen Curry (“Really? He’s the GOAT”, Lynn said when he heard the news after the game) for eighth in NCAA Division I history (415). He needs 90 more to break Travis Bader’s record, but should reach second, currently belonging to Duke’s J.J. Redick (457).
His 2,056 career points is tops actively in Division I, and his consistency while under opponents’ pressure is also astounding, Lynn has scored in double figures in 29 straight games and 56 of 58 (ironically, one he didn’t was a loss to Stony Brook last season).
“He’s one of those kids that’s a born scorer,” NJIT coach Brian Kennedy said. “He’ll have games where he doesn’t play well and then you get the boxscore like today and he’s got 26 points. He just finds ways to score. He’s just that competitive.”
Detractors will point to his volume of shots (Lynn has never shot 40% from the field for a season), but nights like Wednesday showed what Lynn has brought to NJIT in his four years in Newark. Lynn never left the floor, and was hounded on every Highlander possession by Nyama and several of his teammates. At 5’11”, it’s not always easy to create his own shot, but – even with a defense designed to stop him – he found a way, getting to the basket and the free throw line, where he was 10-of-13.
“Ask Matt Painter (Purdue) about him, top 20 team in the country, he’ll tell you how good Damon is,” Kennedy said. “Obviously, I’m going to be biased, but you can ask Coach (John) Beilein from Michigan what kind of player he is, and that’s the highest level. If you think about what he shoulders for us, his shooting percentages may not be that good because he’s our point guard. He brings the ball up and still has to find his shot, and he’s been keyed on every game since he was a freshman.”
We could keep going with the numbers (Lynn is 11th nationally at 22.4 points per game), but let’s look back at where Lynn came from: not recruited at all by Division I teams out of Union Catholic, he landed just a few miles from his home in Hillside, committing to an NJIT team that was still in the Great West (remember it?) Conference. He spent the end of his freshman year playing in complete anonymity against Division II and III teams because the Highlanders were the lone independent in the country.
Despite that, he hit 6 three-pointers in an upset of Michigan, got to play on national television in the CIT, and saw his school find a conference home in the Atlantic Sun. Now, he will finish his remarkable, if somewhat underappreciated, career with a full conference campaign, and one last shot to do what would have been unthinkable as every Division I team passed him by just four years ago: a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“My first two years, three-pointers were just fun, that’s all I was really interested in,” Lynn said. “But now, I’m starting to incorporate all three levels with mid-range and getting to the rim. It’s a challenge and I like challenges. I try not to get frustrated, even though sometimes I do. I try to keep an even keel throughout the game no matter how things are going.”
For now, though, Lynn will do was all great players do, continue to try to improve. Among his other accolades, Lynn is 61 assists away (355) and 31 steals (179) from becoming NJIT’s all-time leader, and the first number he wanted to see on the postgame boxscore was turnovers (he had just 1).
“I put a lot of pressure on myself being that I’m a captain,” Lynn said. “I don’t want to go out with anything less than a championship ring.”
What else did we learn Wednesday in NJIT’s first ever win over Wolfie and Stony Brook?:
- Stony Brook has a shooting problem
Somehow the Seawolves (4-8) shot 15-24 in the first half, but just 8-31 in the second (despite that they won the second half 27-26 thanks to some dreadful shooting at the other end). Alas, most of 2016-17 has been closer to the second half for Stony Brook, just 319th in eFG% (44.2%), meaning they are just 239th nationally in offensive efficiency despite ranking 6th in turnover rate (14.5%).
Stony Brook obviously lost plenty, but both Bryan Sekunda and Lucas Woodhouse’s percentages are down from a season ago (they combined to go 2-11 from behind the arc Wednesday). Does that come with more attention from other teams and a lack of an inside presence? Tyrell Sturdivant has done a good job on the glass (team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game), but is shooting just 38% from the field.
Alas, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy for Stony Brook this season.
“We have a lot of people that haven’t played Division I basketball before this season,” Nyama said. “It’s a grind. It wears on you emotionally and physically. We’re a dangerous team once everyone starts clicking at the same time, but that hasn’t happened yet.”
2) Games can be strange
The two teams combined to shoot 30-51 (58.8%) in the first half, making 9-17 three-pointers (52.9%). In the second half, it was just 16-56 (28.6%) and an astounding 0-22 from behind the arc. Somehow Damon Lynn, an 87% free throw shooter missed a pair with NJIT clinging to a 64-61 lead and 4.5 seconds left, and Woodhouse got really close on a 25-footer at the buzzer, but consistent with the evening, it rimmed out at the buzzer.
3) Abdul Lewis may hold key for NJIT
Lewis is a Newark native, who transferred back after a 2014-15 season at South Alabama where he played significant minutes, including 33 (with 11 rebounds) in a Sun Belt Tournament win over Little Rock, who did some decent things last year.
At 6’10”, he is the legitimate post player Jim Engles could never get without a conference, and appears to be settling in just in time for Atlantic Sun competition to begin.