An Evening at NJIT…Posted by rtmsf on February 4th, 2009
Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences. When he’s not officiating, he’s canvassing the northeastern basketball circuit for good games and stories.
NEWARK, NJ – The evening actually began in Jersey City. The other part of my basketball life as an official saw a JV Girls assignment at Lincoln High School. Pictured is the pre-game captains meeting which is great because the kids on that level soak in your every word. For the record Saint Dominic Academy edged Lincoln in a close one.
Off to the Prudential Center, a quick nine mile journey for Maryland Eastern Shore vs. NJIT. The Highlanders dropped a 4 point decision at UMES in early December so hopes were high for a second win in two weeks. It was not to be on this night. UMES took a few eight point leads but NJIT would battle back. The Highlanders even took the lead with eleven minutes to go but UMES answered with a three point field goal followed by a conventional three point play to regain an edge not to be lost. NJIT battled gamely and had it to a two possession contest before UMES hit four free throws the final 30 seconds for the 73-67 win.
In the end it was pace, a bit faster than NIT coach Jim Engles wanted and UMES’ inside game that did the damage. There was encouragement in the willingness and heart to battle back and NJIT’s freshman Isaiah Wilkerson with a game high 24 points.
On the way to post game interviews we go through the NJIT locker room. It is silent. The record is now 1-20 and the players are not used to nor do they entertain losing. In the coaches room we speak with Engles.
Engles remains optimistic. He spoke of building every aspect of the program. Summer work, recruiting, academics , expectations etc. He also mentioned with pride that the first semester team GPA was 3.2 with two players getting a 4.0. “As expectations change,” Engles said, “attitudes change.”
Engles was an assistant 18 years before heading to NJIT. His most recent stop was Columbia. Though the Ivy League school has been at the Division I a great deal longer than NJIT, Engles said the rebuilding was the same. “We had to build everything from the ground up, infrastructure, everything,” he said. After years of futility, Columbia with Joe Jones at the helm got back on track. To this day, Jones credits Engles with playing a major part in the program’s restoration. And to this day Engles stays in touch with his former boss. “He (Jones) texted me after we defeated Bryant,” Engles said. “And he was the first one I called.”
Engles spoke about the attention of the Bryant game. “I must have been on the phone or interviewing literally 24 hours,” he said. He spoke of the deserved recognition the players got but emphasized that chapter (the streak) ended now its time to move on.
Next season NJIT joins the Great West. “A conference is important for us,” Engles said. “Look, if you are in the MAAC or Big East you have your regular conference schedule year to year to look to. Not being in a conference gives you a schedule without a lot of direction.” Engles also noted that if NJIT does well, opportunities will arise. “We would like to be in an Eastern conference,” he said. “Hopefully we can get to the day where we present ourselves as an attractive addition.”
Engles, ever energetic and optimistic doesn’t speak of ‘if we build it’ but rather when. “It waill be nice to look back knowing we put the work in and built the program the way we wanted,” he said.
Over 800 came out on this miserable night weather wise, easily double the attendance at last year’s ‘Rock’ contests. Clearly this is a team endearing itself to its loyal following. And a following that is starting to increase.