Another Career Night for DJ Evans Leads Men’s Basketball Over NJIT 71-65
ALBANY, N.Y. – Senior point guard DJ Evans notched a career-high 20 points to lead all scorers in a 71-65 win over NJIT (0-2) in UAlbany’s home opener on Tuesday night.
“I just do what I can to help this team. If I score five points, 10 points or 20 points I just do whatever we need to be successful as a team,” said Evans. “I try to play my game, be aggressive and do whatever I can to help my teammates.”
Evans got out to a hot start in the first half. He picked up right where he left off against Siena, opening the game with a three-pointer. The senior was also the first Great Dane to score in last Friday’s 74-62 win over Siena.
NJIT was in a 2-3 zone out of the gate, but that didn’t stop Evans early on. At the 11:20 mark in the first half, Evans had already beaten his career high in points, tallying 13 on 5-of-6 shooting and 3-for-4 from three-point range. The senior’s 13 points was more than double what the rest of the team had scored mid-way through the first half.
The game was close through the first half. UAlbany’s largest lead was seven in the first 20 minutes, but the Purple & Gold suffered a nearly eight-minute stretch without a field goal. David Wiegmann hit a three with less than three minutes to go to give UAlbany its first field goal since the 10:02 mark. The scoring drought combined with a late 10-0 scoring run by NJIT put the Great Danes down 33-29 going into the locker room.
Will Brown’s squad proved its could come back from a halftime deficit once again versus the Highlanders. Evans started the half off on the right foot, hitting an elbow jumper to cut the lead to two.
After going stone-cold from the field in the first half, sophomore guard Peter Hooley came alive for 13 points in the second half on 3-for-6 shooting from behind the arch. Hooley also went 4-for-6 from the line. The sophomore hit his first three on a pass from Gary Johnson two minutes into the first half to give UAlbany a one-point lead.
After two threes from the Highlanders, John Puk came back down the floor for a lay-up, on one of few looks down low UAlbany got all night with NJIT’s 2-3 zone.
NJIT extended its lead to as many as nine points with less than 10 minutes to play. After two baskets from Sam Rowley and two big defensive rebounds by Puk, UAlbany was within four with seven minutes left.
Johnson scored two quick baskets tie up the game with five minutes left, but the Great Danes couldn’t quite pull away. Anthony Odunsi and Puk both went two-for-two to put UAlbany within one.
After Puk hit two from the line, a block from the senior center set up a Hooley three-pointer on the other end to tie the game at 62. Two free throws from Johnson gave UAlbany its first lead (64-62), since the 18:19 mark in the second half with one minute and 39 seconds remaining.
A steal and two free throws from Hooley with one minute and 15 seconds left gave UAlbany a four-point lead. NJIT scored on the ensuing possession to make the score 66-64.
Johnson came up with a big offensive rebound on a missed free throw by Evans with 50 seconds left. Evans found Rowley with the shot clock winding down at the left elbow. Rowley’s final two points of the game gave the Purple & Gold a five-point lead, and ultimately proved enough to emerge with a victory.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Rowley. “But it’s better to learn from a win than a loss, and we were very lucky.”
UAlbany shot better than 75 percent from the charity stripe for the second-straight game. The Great Danes shot 35.7 percent from the first in the first half, and 53.8 percent in the second.
“There was a sense of urgency and the light went on with about eight minutes left,” said head coach Will Brown. “We did what we needed to do to win. [DJ] was terrific and he’s good. I couldn’t pump him up before the season started because his sample size was so small, but he’s going to definitely come through for us this year.”
The Purple & Gold hit the road this Saturday for a 2 p.m., tip at Quinnipiac.