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Zach Cooks career-high 35 points not enough as NJIT falls to Binghamton 77-75

Fresh off an impressive home opener win last Saturday where five players scored in double figures, led by junior guard Zach Cooks pouring in a game-high 21 and named ASUN (Atlantic Sun Conference) Co-Player of the Week, the NJIT Highlanders returned to action on Wednesday night against Binghamton.

Early on it was junior forward San Antonio that got NJIT off to a great start, tallying the first six points of the contest as the Highlanders jumped out to a 14-2 advantage at the four-minute mark. However, the Bearcats managed to trim away at the deficit, cutting the lead to 19-16 with about 10 minutes remaining. Cooks heated up from the field, registering 11 points with less than nine minutes left as NJIT bumped the lead back up to double digits at 30-16.

Once again Binghamton responded with a 9-0 run slicing the margin down to two points with four and half minutes to go. Leading by just a single point with two minutes on the clock, the Highlanders ended the half on a 9-2 run taking a 43-35 lead at intermission and the duo of Cooks (18 points) and Brinson (16 points) tallying a combined 34 points. NJIT shot 50 percent from the field.

“I thought the team played well defensively in the first half,” said NJIT Head Coach Brian Kennedy. “That was San Antonio’s best half of basketball for sure since he stepped on to campus. I have been after him about just not settling for jump shots, getting inside and using his strength and athletic ability.”

Coming out of the locker room, Cooks caught fire from beyond the arc burying four trifecta’s that enabled the Highlanders to build a 55-41 lead. Stretching the advantage to 16 points by the 12-minute mark it appeared that NJIT was going to pull away but a five-minute scoring drought combined with Binghamton ripping off a 12-0 run shaved the margin down to 66-65 at the six and half minute mark.

A lay-up with just about four-minute left turned out to be a milestone for Cooks netting a career-high 35 points and four points away from 1000 career points as the Highlanders held a slim 71-67 lead. Limited to nine points in the first half, Bearcats sophomore guard Sam Sessoms lit up the score sheet in the second half chalking up 24 points including knocking down 5 out of 10 from downtown. Sessoms canned a triple putting Binghamton for the first time in the game at the two-minute stage 74-73.

“Zach has really come in focused and done a great job so far for us this year,” said Kennedy. “He has taken on more of a scoring role on his shoulders and done a fantastic job with it. You saw two of the better mid-major guards in the country going head to head and you step back and applaud both players on a tremendous effort. Zach has had a phenomenal start, he has been everything and more we thought this year and really excited and proud of the way he has been able to step up his game to the level from where he was last year.”

“Zach had a great freshman year, All-Rookie in the ASUN averaging 20 minutes and 10 points a game, a big jump freshman to sophomore year and again this year and has put in a lot of hard work in the gym and great to see the results. Zach is just a basketball player, he is the best when scoring in the flow of the game and really stepped up his game in his junior year.”

Down 75-73 with a minute in change left, NJIT senior guard tied the contest up with a jumper. With time winding down late, it was Sessoms that would be the hero for the Bearcats driving hard towards the basket and flipping in a left-handed lay-up with 2.2 seconds remaining. One last opportunity for the Highlanders to tie the game up and either win it or sent it to over time ended up in futility as the ball went out of bounds thus ending the game. Overall NJIT shot 44 percent from the field and dominated the points in the paint 32-16, points off turnovers 18-9 and second chance points 19-9.

Kennedy on the defeat, “In the second half when a player like Sessoms gets on a role like that it’s tough to stop. What we tried to do we couldn’t stop him and just had a special evening scoring wise but had 12 rebounds and 5 assists. His second half one of the better halves of basketball I have seen in a long while.”

“The other thing that hurt us we got the lead up to 12 and they cut it and we got the lead back up and they cut it back. We didn’t protect the lead, turned the ball over, took quick shots which we didn’t make and they came back down and were able to drain their shots. We have to do a better job when we have the lead and use the clock as our friend. You don’t want to take your foot off the gas pedal.”

The Highlanders (2-3) hit the road for four games starting Saturday at Brown (3-1) with tip-off scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The last time both teams’ met NJIT narrowly won at home 63-60. Kennedy on the upcoming match-up, “We have had some great games with Brown the last few years and last four games decided won by three points or less. It’s going to be another battle and Mike Martin the coach up there does an excellent job and his kids will be ready to play at home.”

“That’s the way it works sometimes for mid-majors, last year we were able to get home games, now we return games and have a lot of games on the road. While it’s disappointing we didn’t get the win, we went up against a super player that had the game of this career, the guys hung around there and fought to the end.”

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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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