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Ramapo College assistant coach Stephen Sheppard said outside the locker room after practice the coaches get to see guys get a chance to make half court shots. Junior forward/captain Tommy Bonacum has mad a million shots, even off a chair, out of bounds and other trick shots.

“I said if anybody had the ball in your hands with a half court at the buzzer it would be Tommy and fate it was he had the ball in his hands,” Sheppard said Friday night.

“He has been fabulous for us and my motto has been big time players make big time plays and at the end of the day he made the play that mattered the most,” Head Coach Chuck McBreen said.

After NJCU’s Chinwe Wosu sank one of two free throws with 3.1 seconds remaining, Bonacum tossed the ball to junior guard Josh Ford who nearly fell out of bounds before throwing the ball back to Bonacum. Bonacum, who scored a game high 20 points, heaved a spectacular high arching half court three-point bank shot, lifting the Roadrunners (25-2) to a thrilling 67-64 victory over the Gothic Knights (21-7) in the NJAC Tournament Championship Game.

The standing room only crowd of 1,458 at the Bradley Center was sent into a frenzy, spilling out on to the court.

This is Ramapo’s fourth NJAC Tournament win in school history, first since 2013. With the win the Roadrunners have earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We drew it up in the huddle,” said McBreen. “A Villanova play. We worked on this in practice and wanted to get closer like they did in the Villanova game and pitch it back to Tommy. He ended up getting it from half court, took the ball out and trailed the play.”

“I knew if I was going to get a decent look, I had a shot and wanted to be the one to take it,” said Bonacum. “I said to coach, give it to me and reminded me of Villanova. Give me a pitch and let me put it up if it’s going to be anyone let it be me and a little higher than I thought it would be and put it up and banked it up.”

“People think Chris (Moseley) and I joke around at the end of practices and get mad when people are still shooting free throws and we’re putting it up but honestly it pays off on how you have to put it up,” he continued. “The ball could have gone left or right but it’s the exact pace you have to put on it and luckily turned and banked in.”

Facing a 50-37 deficit with 18:36 remaining, Ramapo kept its composure and began to rally by clamping down defensively to trim the deficit to 50-43. The Roadrunners kept on inching closer by getting to the free throw line. Two free throws by freshman guard Patrick Peterson cut the margin down to 55-54 with 7:45 on the clock. Junior guard Jimbo Long (nine points) would give Ramapo its first lead at 60-58 since 6:06 left in the first half, draining back to back treys.

“We were down 50-37 and said in the locker room at halftime if we are going to win we have to defend, and we held them to five points, a good portion and allowed only 18 in the entire half after they scored 46 in the first half,” McBreen explained. “We broke practice Wednesday and I said if we want to win a championship we have to defend and rebound and able to do that. At halftime we talked about playing in front of the home crowd and bringing the energy and not disappointing them.”

“We came into halftime down 11 and brought everybody into the huddle before we started and talked to coach,” said Bonacum. “I said we worked too hard for this to get to this point not to put up a good fight for all these fans here and fought all the time.”

A seesaw battle would ensue down the stretch with the lead changing a couple times. After two free throws by Jalen Harris (11 points) gave NJCU the lead 63-62 with 55 seconds remaining, Bonacum came up the steal at midcourt and fed a pass to a streaking senior Sultan Aminu (12 points) attempting to go in for the layup but ended up getting intentionally fouled. With Aminu injured on the play, junior forward Nick Stanek stepped up to the line and sank two free throws, putting the Roadrunners ahead 64-63 with 21 seconds to go.

McBreen on having home court advantage and the upcoming NCAA tournament, “Having home court advantage, the crowd was the difference maker. Hopefully we host in the NCAA’s and have this crowd back. A special group as we are so deep, at 25-2 we are going to break the school record for least losses in a season.”

“I told them not to be content because the 2012-13 team got the ring, won a chip and was content so you have to be humble and hungry and preached all year long after we beat Salisbury, stay humble but hungry like caged lions.”

“We have had bigger goals from the beginning and lucky to get two, eyeing an even bigger prize and keep going one at a time like we always said,” Bonacum said.

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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