NJIT Hangs On at Drexel for Fourth Road Win; Lewis Records Double-Double

NJIT Hangs On at Drexel for Fourth Road Win; Lewis Records Double-Double

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Senior Abdul Lewis posted team-highs in points (17) and rebounds (10) as NJIT held off Drexel University, 70-67, on Wednesday at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The Highlanders have now started 4-0 on the road for the first time in 30 years -- since a 7-0 road mark to open 1988-89.
 
In a game NJIT controlled for a majority of the time (33:19), the outcome was not determined until the final buzzer.
 
Leading, 70-67, the Highlanders defense made its most important stop of the evening. Drexel gained possession of the basketball with seven seconds remaining. NJIT clamped down, not allowing the Dragons to fire-up a game-tying, three-point attempt until a force by a fading Zach Walter with one second on the clock. The shot was well off the mark and an NJIT celebration ensued.
 
The Highlanders have now opened 7-1 for the first time since 1994-95. At publishing time, they are just one of 10 teams in the nation to have reached seven wins and one of two squads with four road victories. The Highlanders' four-game road winning streak is also their longest since a six-gamer in 2001-02.
 
"We have a team of real competitors and they grind games out," NJIT Head Coach Brian Kennedy said. "For our program to be seven and one at this point in time is a credit to my kids and how hard they play. This is just a tough group of kids. They come out no matter who we face and give it their best effort."
 
Lewis' double-double was the first by an NJIT player this season and the 14th of his Highlanders career.
 
Sophomore Zach Cooks finished with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists. Senior Mohamed Bendary registered 12 points and junior Shyquan Gibbs tallied 11 points while tying his career-high with a game-high seven assists.
 
Drexel junior Alihan Demir notched game-highs in points (18) and rebounds (14) in the losing effort.
 
Despite the fact NJIT grew its lead up to 12 points at 58-46 lead with 13:37 remaining, the Dragons were not going down without a fight.
 
In fact, after Cooks later put the Highlanders up, 64-54, on a layup with 8:21 to go, Drexel held NJIT scoreless for the next 6:34 – during which time the Highlanders missed all nine shot attempts.
 
With the lead trimmed to just two points, Lewis had a huge offensive rebound and follow to put NJIT up, 66-62, with 1:47 left. The lead proved to be insurmountable; but not without effort on the defensive side.
 
Safe to say, the biggest storyline of the game for NJIT was again its defense. The Highlanders held Drexel to just 38.2-percent shooting for the game – but a more impressive 26.5-percent (9-for-34) in the second half. It also held a team that came in leading the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) at 82.0 points per game to 15 points below its average.
 
The Highlanders entered the contest ranked second in the ASUN and 57th in the nation in scoring defense (64.4 ppg) and second in the conference and 96th in D-I in field-goal percentage defense (.405).
 
The Highlanders initially spotted the Dragons a 7-0 lead before a flurry of offensive energy. NJIT went on a 24-8 run fueled by 10 points from Gibbs. Six of the junior's points came on three-point plays the old-fashioned way. Lewis also heated up by adding five points in the span – including the first of his two three-point field goals.
 
The Highlanders continued to grow their lead before the break, going up by 12 on a three-pointer by Cooks with 1:30 left in the first stanza.
 
NJIT took a 45-36 lead into the half, shooting 58.6-percent on sizzling 17-for-29 shooting. NJIT was also 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.
 
Senior Diandre Wilson started attacking the rim early in the second half – draining three driving layups within the first 6:23 of the period. His third gave NJIT back its aforementioned 58-46 lead with 13:37 remaining before the offense cold.
 
The Highlanders have now won meetings in back-to-back seasons with Drexel to improve to 2-3 all-time against CAA opponents.
 
NJIT next finishes a four-game road swing on Saturday, when it takes on UMass Lowell University (4-5) at the Tsongas Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
 
The Highlanders lead the all-time series with the River Hawks, 4-3, after a 78-65 home victory in Newark last season on Dec. 2, 2017. In fact, the Highlanders have won the last three meetings -- including a 75-74 victory last time there were in Lowell on Dec. 3, 2016, at the Tsongas Center.
 
The series started with two games in 2013-14. Interestingly, the Highlanders have gone 1-0 at the Tsongas Center and 0-2 at the Costello Athletic Center on campus in the meeting history.

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