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Fresh off a dramatic buzzer-beater win over New Jersey City University in the NJAC Tournament Championship Game, the No. 5 ranked Ramapo College Roadrunners switch their focus to an even bigger goal, winning the NCAA Division III Championship. With tip-off at 7:30 tonight at the Bradley Center, the Roadrunners begin that mission when they face off against Misericordia University.

The last time Ramapo qualified for the NCAA Tournament was back in 2013 when the Roadrunners went 23-5 and won both the NJAC Regular Season and Tournament Championships. This season Ramapo is 25-2 and undefeated at home (12-0).

The Cougars hail from the MAC (Middle Athletic Conference) and sport a record of 20-7. Four players average double figures led by sophomore guard Jason Kenny (20.8 points per game), freshman Tony Hardin (14.7 pts and 7 rebounds), junior Tre Fields (14 pts) and senior Griffin Sponaugle (11.9 pts). Scoring is not an issue for Misericordia, averaging 86 points a game while shooting close to 37 percent from three-point range.

Ramapo head coach Chuck McBreen on the match-up vs. Misericordia, “Based on what we have seen, they are a very good team that shoots the ball very well. They have three guys that average 130 to 180 three-pointers and four guys shooting 42, 41, 38 and 37 percent. If we can’t come out and guard the three-point line we’re going to be in trouble.”

“They play four guys 30-plus minutes and use a smaller rotation than we do so a big part is to wear them down and get into their bench,” McBreen continued. “If they only play seven or eight, we’re going to play 12 and make them play a full 40 minutes.”

McBreen on hosting NCAA tournament home games at the Bradley Center, “It’s huge and what we worked for all year and built our résumé to host an NCAA first round game. You have to win on Friday in order to play on Saturday, so can’t look no further than Friday. We have been successful at home and up to us to do our part and job.”

“Some of these kids being so young have never experienced this before and sometimes when they win that pinnacle game of the conference championship they become content and lose their hunger and focus on what the prize is on and at end of the day coaches try to guard against that.”

“It happened back in 2013 and I think our guys were very content with the NJAC Championship,” coach continued. “When you’re 25-2 and ranked fifth in the country, that is not okay. This is one and done, go home, survive and advance. Our message to the seniors is this could be the last time they play organized college basketball ever and last time this group of 20 guys is assembled so we don’t want it to end.”

Keene State (19-9) vs. Amherst (17-7) – In the first game Friday night, Keene State and Amherst will square off. This game features plenty of experience on Amherst’s side led by Head Coach David Hixon in his 40th season on the sidelines and having won two NCAA National Championships with the last one occurring back in 2013. Last year the Purple & White reached the National Semifinals. Amherst is out of the NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference)

Meanwhile, Keene State is appearing in their 4th NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16 last season. The Owls are coached by Ryan Cain and are 19-9 this year. In the Little East Conference Championship Game, Keene lost to East Connecticut State 72-70.

Both teams’ have no problems putting the ball in the basket with Keene State averaging 82.5 points per game and Amherst 79.9. The Purple & White rely on their three-point game hoisting up 26 3’s a game. Keene State has 5 players that average double figures led by sophomore Ty Nicols at 18 points per game and senior Matt Ozzella at 14.9. On the flipside Amherst is led by junior Jade Dawson at 19.1 and junior Johnny McCarthy 14.5.

Keene State Head Coach Ryan Cain on the game vs. Amherst, “We return a pretty good group of guys and last year lost many seniors but our goal was to return to the NCAA Tournament. I think we wanted to win an automatic instead of at large but happy to have the opportunity to play some more basketball.”

“Ty Nichols is a pretty dynamic player that can score a number of different ways and developed as a player. Not a selfish guy and shares the ball, our primary option and keeps it simple. Matt Ozzella is a senior power forward that is a dynamic and strong player and scores it several different ways whether in the post, making some shots and putting it on the floor and leading rebounder on the team.”

“Amherst is very familiar with being in this tournament and they have as much talent player for player and individually in the country. They have guys who can really shoot the ball and biggest strength is 3-point shot. They cut and move hard, shoot it well and run it in transition and put the ball in the basket.”

“A challenge is to stop them from making ones, rebound the ball and limit them to one shot. They have tradition and familiar playing in these games but we don’t need to be intimidated by it and just another basketball game against a really good team and if see if we can make more plays than they do.”

Amherst Head Coach David Hixon on the game, “They do two things well on the offensive side is pushing the ball 40 percent off the time off transition and most importantly they are very tenacious and physical. We’re going to have to take care off the basketball and make good passes.”

“Johnny and Jade are pretty important players and very good at getting people the ball and we have Jeff Racy who is going to key as well and Michael Riopel who is a good handler and shooter. Jacob Nabatoff is a good 3-point shooter and spots up well.”

“If you are not looking at one game you are not going to have another game and we have to put all our energy both mental and physical into Friday night’s game if we want to move on to Saturday.”

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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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