GAME HIGHLIGHTS (VIDEO)
NEWARK, N.J. – Junior guard Shyquan Gibbs posted game-highs in points (15) and assists (4) to lead NJIT past Kean University, 73-40, on Wednesday at the Wellness and Events Center. With the win, the Highlanders have started a season 4-0 for the first time since they competing at the Division-III level in 1996-97.
Additionally, the four-game winning streak is the program's longest since a five-gamer from Jan. 30 to Feb. 13, 2016. NJIT and Samford (4-0) are now the only two NCAA Division-I teams in the nation undefeated with at least four wins -- three against D-I opponents.
Gibbs also stuffed the stat sheet with four rebounds and three steals, while his fellow starting guard, sophomore Zach Cooks, finished with 14 points, three assists, a game-high-tying five rebounds and a game-high four steals.
The duo helped charge the Highlanders, who got off to a sluggish start on Wednesday.
"I turn to my backcourt in Zach Cooks and Shyquan Gibbs – they are always ready for whatever," said third-year coach Brian Kennedy. "They were very focused at halftime and I let them speak to the team, as a whole, about stepping their game up in the second half. I have the luxury of having those two guys. They're both leaders on the court an off the court."
NJIT immediately put the game out of reach following the break – beginning with a 9-0 run over nearly the first three minutes of the second session. From there, the Highlanders gradually extended the lead until it reached its apex at 34 within the final two minutes of regulation.
A positive trend that continued for the undefeated Highlanders was the play of defense. NJIT held Kean to just 15-for-43 shooting (34.9%) while forcing 21 Cougars' turnovers. For the season, the Highlanders have now held opponents to just 65.0 points per game on a combined 38.6-percent shooting (64-for-166).
"Last year, we had a lot of close games and we didn't necessarily win all of them." Gibbs said. "This year, we've picked that up instantly. We've had a close game with Colgate, close game with Brown; and we were able to finish. But it didn't come from our offense; it came from our defense."
Meanwhile, NJIT shot 49.1-percent (26-for-53) for the game and finished with nine scorers – five in double figures. The starting guards were joined by sophomore San Antonio Brinson (12), senior Mohamed Bendary (11) and sophomore Shawndale Jones (11). Freshman Diego Willis joined Cooks with a share of the game's rebounding lead while chipping in three points of his own. Freshman Souleymane Diakite had a game-high three blocks.
Jones was again a spark of the bench, helping to ignite a first-half surge. With the Highlanders down 10-7, he buried a triple at 13:45 to start a 17-0 run. He also added another three-point play in a span during which the NJIT defense hold Kean scoreless for 6:58.
The drought was eventually broken on a three-pointer by promising Kean freshman Jared Latane – the same guy who snapped NJIT's run to start the second half on another bomb from deep.
Latane finished with a team-high nine points.
Of note, NJIT sophomore Patrick Jamison (3 points) and freshman Kjell deGraaf (2 points) recorded their first field goals as NCAA players in the victory.
In addition, the Highlanders played without four of their five seniors, a group consisting of three starters in Abdul Lewis, Reilly Walsh and Diandre Wilson and one key reserve in Donovan Greer.
NJIT is now 22-0 all-time against D-III foes and 29-0 vs. non D-I opponents -- with an average margin of victory of 38.6 points. The Highlanders now play D-I games from here on out.
In fact, they will return to action against Cornell University on Alumni Day this Saturday at the WEC. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
With a win, the Highlanders will start a season 5-0 for the first time since a 28-2 campaign in 1995-96 in which NJIT advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight (D-III) under then head coach Jim Catalano.
Gibbs & Cooks Push Highlanders to 4-0 with 33-Point Home Victory
GAME HIGHLIGHTS (VIDEO)