By Faraz T. Toor
Published: February 26, 2015
Egzon Gjonbalaj scored 26 points to lead the Brooklyn College Men’s Basketball team past Baruch College, 75-68, last Tuesday at the West Quad Center.
In a clash of the teams with the best records in the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC), ranked third (Baruch) and fourth (Brooklyn) in the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Atlantic Region, the home side held on late.
With 6 1/2 minutes remaining and up by only a point, Gjonbalaj, recently named a CUNYAC first-team All-Star, drove into the paint and scored a layup. Less than thirty seconds later, Enees Nikovic stole the ball from Baruch’s (18-6) Brian McMahon and passed it to Gjonbalaj. Gjonbalaj sent it to Steven Diaz, and Diaz nailed the three-pointer to make it 64-57.
Two minutes later, after Ryan Markoe missed a three-pointer, Brooklyn’s (20-5) Jamel Gist grabbed the rebound and dished it to Jai Kellman in the paint to convert a layup. Less than a minute later, Kellman scored another layup in the paint to bring Brooklyn up 68-58 with less than three minutes in regulation.
The Baruch College Bearcats, however, scared the home team late. Up 71-61 with 66 seconds to go, Baruch’s Edward Roscigno and Gittens Granville scored layups in the paint within ten seconds of each other to improve to 65-72.
Ten seconds later, Markoe stole the ball from Lorenzo Williams’s hands and passed to Chimaechi Ekekugbor, who knocked down a layup in the paint to make it a four-point game.
Baruch had to foul Williams, however, so that the Bulldogs wouldn’t dribble out the clock, and the CUNYAC first-team All-Star hit both free throws to make it 74-68.
After Roscigno missed a perimeter shot a few seconds later and fouled Williams, the Bulldog knocked down one last free throw to ice the game.
Brooklyn and Baruch went back and forth in the first 11 minutes of the second half. Up one point to start the second half, Kellman knocked down a jumper 32 seconds into the second period of play. One minute later, Gist converted a three-point attempt to give his team a 39-33 lead, and, after a McMahon layup, Gjonbalaj knocked down his triple to make it a 42-35.
The Bearcats immediately responded with a 15-3 run, scoring all their points on three-pointers.
Down 50-45, the Bulldogs went on another run of their own (8-2) on a few layups, free throws, and three-pointers.
Brooklyn College cruised in the first half and never trailed. Valon Djombalic and Gjonbalaj pounded their way into the paint as part of a 7-0 run to open the game.
About halfway into the first half, after pulling closer, Markoe hit a three-pointer to make it 18-17, Brooklyn.
In the final 6 1/2 minutes, after Brooklyn rebuilt their lead, Baruch College fired on a 14-4 run, sparked by Ekekugbor scoring ten points off the bench.
Down three with a little more than 90 seconds left in the first half, Baruch’s Raymond De La Cruz hit a jump shot to make it 34-33 in favor of the home team, a score that would hold through halftime.
Gjonbalaj grabbed eight rebounds to go with his 26 points, and Kellman scored 13 points. Gist had 11 points, six rebounds, five assists, and two steals; Djombalic recorded ten points and seven boards; and Williams had seven points and 10 rebounds.
For Baruch, Ekekugbor scored 22 points on a 9-15 shooting performance, De La Cruz recorded 14 points, and Gittens had 12 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks.
The Bulldogs outrebounded Baruch, 46-24, but committed 20 turnovers compared to the Bearcats’ eight.
With the win, the Bulldogs finished the season 11-0 at the West Quad Center, their most home victories since the 2011-2012 season.
The Bearcats defeated Brooklyn College, 85-74, when the teams last met in early January at Baruch.
The 20 Bulldog wins are the most the Men’s team has posted since the 2009-2010 season, when they finished 22-7 en route to winning the CUNYAC Championships.
With the win, the Bulldogs secured the number two seed for the CUNYAC Championships. They finished 12-4 in the conference and won the tiebreaker over Lehman College; Baruch ended their conference season 14-2.
Before the game, as part of Senior Night, Brooklyn College honored seniors Kellman, Djombalic, and Diaz.