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Zach Cooks and San Antonio Brinson propel NJIT to second win in a row

Fresh off a victory at North Florida that snapped a three-game losing skid, the NJIT Highlanders returned back home to the Wellness & Events Center taking on Lipscomb (7-11, 2-3 ASUN) in an early tip-off with a noon time start. Head Coach Brian Kennedy on the season up to this point, “It’s all about the peaks and valleys of the season, trials and tribulations. The kids have all stuck together really hard and just have to keep playing.”

A close game early on in the first half, the Highlanders managed to take control due to sizzling shooting from field while knocking down three trifecta’s. Distributing the ball effectively led to all five starters getting on to the score sheet by the eight-minute mark and 31-21 advantage.

Held in single digits in scoring the last three games, Zach Cooks quickly turned that around pouring in 15 of his game high 24 points. Meanwhile San Antonio Brinson, named the ASUN Player of the Week after a spectacular performance against North Florida tallying not only a career high but program record 37 points tallied 14 of his 17 points on the day as NJIT held a commanding 47-31 advantage at halftime. The Highlanders shot a blistering 66 percent from the perimeter while holding an advantage in points in the paint 22to 16 and fast break points 10-3.

“I have been struggling the past couple of games, trying to find my shot again and Coach (Brian Kennedy) said it I have been in the gym trying to get my form back and getting shots up and it paid today,” said Zach Cooks. “I’m taking what the defense gives me and got a couple of steals that led to transition points.”

San Antonio Brinson on his offensive performance, “My biggest thing is being consistent and what my coaches and teammates have been telling me to stop thinking and play ball. I’m just trying to stay focused and consistent and feel the team plays better when I’m doing that. When we lost Abdul (Lewis) someone had to step up and take an inside presence and a grind all pre-season to get me to play that way and transferring my game from the perimeter to down low and going it hard at it every day.”

Just when NJIT appeared it was ready to pull away for good, the Bisons narrowed the gap with a 7-0 run within the first 1:10 of the second half. The Highlanders righted the ship and were firmly in control with a 13-3 spurt that boosted the margin to 60-41 and eventually coasting to the 75-57 victory. Reilly Walsh chipped in 11 points as NJIT ended up shooting 58 percent from the field.

“I know that a lot of people are going to look at the offense but what’s given us the spark is the defense and propelled us and we have been doing a really good job,” said Brian Kennedy. “San Antonio’s game at UNF (North Florida) was fabulous, Zach was in here for hours last couple of weeks getting some extra shots up and his shot was there tonight. Shyquan (Gibbs) and Reilly have really stepped up as well. Hats off to the kids, they worked really hard. You knew they were going to have a run, didn’t want it in the first two minutes so I called timeout and tried to settle the guys down.”

“Winning is always fun, two in a row and we’re finally starting to jell together and keep it going on Saturday with the same mentality, unselfishness and play defense,” said Cooks. “A lot of unselfishness and we preach every day to get your buddies a shot and with me, Zach, Shyquan and Reilly being the upper classmen we’re passing the ball to the freshman and sophomores and ups their confidence and willing to share the ball.”

Next up for the Highlanders (5-12, 2-2 ASUN) is a match-up against Kennesaw State (1-16, 0-4 ASUN) on Saturday afternoon at the Wellness & Events Center with tip-off scheduled for 4:00 p.m.

“Every game in the ASUN is a grind, this Kennesaw (State) team is very athletic and a lot of talent on that team,” Kennedy said. “WE have to enjoy the rest of this day, get back at it tomorrow and a quick turnaround on Saturday. We will watch tape, game plan and go from there.”

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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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