He Da Mon: HoopsHD interviews draft prospect Damon Lynn

9 years ago NJIT went 0-29 but only 5 years later they were winning a regular season title…in the Great West Conference.  Now they have a 2000-PT scorer who could be only weeks away from realizing his dream of making it to the NBA.  Damon Lynn proved that he can play with the big boys after leading his team to a 2-PT road upset of Michigan in December of 2014.  His college career came to a sudden end due to an Achilles injury in January of 2017, but not before the 5’11” PG had become 1 of the best 3-PT shooters in NCAA history.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Damon about being an All-American and breaking his school’s scoring record.

You are 5’11”: do you see your height as an advantage or disadvantage on the court? I feel that height is not in direct correlation with your basketball skills.  After all, 5’11” is an average height on the street.

You led NJIT with 17.2 PPG as a freshman: how were you able to come in and contribute right from the start? My coaching staff told me that the only difference between high school and college basketball was the speed. They always pressed me to stay confident and play my game.

In December of 2014 you scored 20 PTS including 6 3PM in an upset at Michigan: where does that rank among the biggest wins in your career/school history? It is probably #1 in school history. Michigan was my favorite team growing up: I remember them making it to the NCAA title game in 2013 before losing to Louisville. It was a lot of fun to play on that big stage in Ann Arbor: we put our school on the map.

In the 2015 CIT semifinals you had 16 PTS/4 STL in a 7-PT loss at NAU: how close did you come to making the title game? That was heartbreaking to get all the way to the semifinals and then lose. It was a challenge to play on the road at 7000’ elevation, but we proved a lot to ourselves and had a great season with some great memories.

You finished your sophomore season by being named AP honorable mention All-American: what did it mean to you to receive such an outstanding honor? It means a lot to be recognized because I was under-recruited coming out of high school. It is still motivation for me at the end of the day.

The following season you switched from an Independent to the Atlantic Sun Conference: what was the best part of joining a conference, and what was the worst part? The worst part was that we did not know how things would work during our 1st year. When you face an opponent 2-3 times you have to use your game plan to a T because each team knows what their opponent will be doing. The best part was taking a lot of trips to Florida, which helped bring us together.

On January 21st you tore your Achilles in a game at Florida Gulf Coast: did you think that your college career was over, and how is your health these days? My mind was racing 1000 miles/hour but I eventually told myself that I would be able to come back. I tried to keep a positive mindset and hope for the best. I just started jogging recently and expect to be 100% by August.

Despite your injury you still broke the school record by scoring 2153 PTS: what is the key to being a great scorer, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? It is a little cliché but the key is just having a short-term memory and keeping an even keel. You need to have a lot of heart because when you are a scorer the defense will throw everything at you. You also need to be a good teammate otherwise your own teammates will not put you in a position to be great. I would love to see someone light it up and break my record someday, but it is hard to do in college.

Your 434 career 3PM is #5 in NCAA history: what is your secret for making shots from behind the arc? Repetition: you have to practice because it makes everything better. I had to play PG as a smaller guy and learn how to get my shot off faster, and I just excelled at it.

What is the next step in your journey, and what do you hope to do in the future? The next step is to find an agent: I have spoken to a few guys and hope to make a decision next week. My goal is to play in the NBA and now I have to plan the route to get there. I have dreamed about it my entire life so I want to chase that dream.

Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun

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ATLANTIC SUN

The Stetson Hatters were not supposed to make any noise at all last season.  The team was on a postseason ban due to their APR score and finished tied for last place in the regular season standings at 4-10.  The conference did allow the Hatters to play in the conference tournament, where they were expected to lose easily to #2 seed NJIT and begin their offseason.  Instead, it was the Hatters that beat NJIT by 15 points, and then knocked off #6 seed Lipscomb by 21 points to advance to the finals against Florida Gulf Coast.  The Hatters forced FGCU to overtime before finally falling, 80-78, to end their season and amazing conference tournament run.   The Eagles got the automatic bid, defeated Fairleigh Dickinson in a First Four game and fell to #1 seed North Carolina in the Round of 64. North Florida, the conference’s regular season champion, got an NIT bid while NJIT played in the CIT for the second straight season and, also for the second straight season, advanced all the way to the semifinals before falling.

Stetson brings almost their entire roster back from last season and the Hatters have a chance to contend in an A-Sun conference that could feature a ton of parity this year.  North Florida and NJIT both lost key players in the offseason, meaning both teams will struggle to match last year’s success.  Stetson joins Jacksonville and Lipscomb as teams bringing back some key talent, and all three teams have a good chance to rise in the standings.  However, everyone will likely be chasing Florida Gulf Coast, as the defending conference tournament champions return all of their key players and add in a couple new pieces that will just make them that much deeper and tougher to beat.

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Florida Gulf Coast – The Eagles return virtually all of their key players led by Marc-Eddy Norelia.  UCF transfer Brandon Goodwin could be a major addition as well as Dunk City looks to return to the Big Dance for the second straight season.

2. NJIT – Ky Howard and Winfield Willis may be gone, but Damon Lynn, Tim Coleman and Rob Ukawuba are all back.  New head coach Brian Kennedy should have this team in contention for top of the league.

3. North Florida – Without Beau Beech and Trent Mackey, the entire offense looks like it will have to run through Dallas Moore.  Moore may arguably be the best player in the entire conference, but the Ospreys will need to find him some help if they want to contend again.

4. Stetson – The Hatters return their top seven scorers from last season’s team that got hot late.  A lack of size down low will be an issue, but don’t be surprised if they are in contention all season long.

5. Jacksonville – The Dolphins will be without the services of Kori Babineaux this season, but they still have Marcel White and add in East Tennessee State transfer Devin Harris.  Head coach Tony Jasick has been doing a great job revitalizing this program and they should remain tough to defeat this season.

6. Lipscomb – The Bisons should be improved this year with several of their key players back and Josh Williams healthy in the backcourt.  He is joined back there by Nathan Moran, giving the team scoring options.

7. Kennesaw State – Kendrick Ray (18.7 points per game) and Yonel Brown (18.6 points per game) were a dynamic backcourt last season. Brown is gone however, and someone else will need to step up to help Ray if the Owls want to succeed.

8. South Carolina Upstate – The good news in Spartanburg is that the team’s best player, Deion Holmes, is only a sophomore.  The bad news is that the Spartans lost 20 games last season and may not be much better than that this one.

Throwback Thursday: The 2011 Great West Tournament

Click here for Championship Week News and Notes/Podcast; click here for regular-season News and Notes and here for the up-to-date Survival Board (307* teams and counting)

Click here for Chad Sherwood’s Under-The-Radar Game of the Day between Arkansas-Little Rock and Appalachian State

Finally, click here for the first wave of Jon Teitel’s All-Conference Awards and click here for Joby Fortson’s updated Nitty Gritty Rankings

Our season finale of Throwback Thursday goes into the not-so-distant past of the 2011 season; what was then the Great West Conference consisted of North Dakota, South Dakota, UT-Pan American (now UT-Rio Grande Valley), Utah Valley State, Chicago State, Houston Baptist and NJIT. The tournament was played in Orem, Utah on the campus of Utah Valley State. We highlight this year not just because we at HoopsHD follow all Under-The-Radar programs, but that all 6 games were decided by a grand total of 11 points (including a double-overtime championship game). Utah Valley was the top seed in the Great West and would get the first-round bye. The first two rounds were broadcast on UVU-TV; the championship was aired on Fox College Sports.

The first matchup featured the second-seeded NJIT Highlanders and the seventh-seeded Houston Baptist Huskies. Undaunted by a 4-25 (2-10 Great West) record, the Huskies would trade leads with NJIT 12 different times during the course of the game. The game was tied 69-69 with under a minute to play; Michael Moss (who had a game-high 26 points) hit the go-ahead layup plus the and-1 to give Houston Baptist a 3-point lead with 2 seconds left to play. They immediately fouled NJIT before the Highlanders could attempt a game-tying 3; NJIT hit the first free throw before intentionally missing the 2nd shot. Jheryl Wilson got the rebound for NJIT but was unable to hit the shot that would have sent the game to overtime. Wilson led the Highlanders with 18 points; the Huskies would advance to play the North Dakota/UT-Pan American winner.

In the 3-6 matchup, #3 North Dakota would take on #6 UT-Pan American. North Dakota was able to overcome a 2nd half deficit of 7 points and took the lead for good after a basket by Troy Huff with 2:42 to play in the game. The Fighting Sioux (as UND was called back then) would extend the lead to 7 points with 1:10 to play, but a pair of late 3s by the Broncs whittled the lead down to 1 point with 7 seconds remaining in the game. After a pair of missed free throws by UND, the Broncs were unable to get off a shot on their final possession and UND would escape with a 71-70 victory. Patrick Mitchell and Troy Huff led the Fighting Sioux with 12 points apiece; Aaron Urbanus led the Broncs with 18 points in a losing effort. This set up a semifinal with North Dakota and Houston Baptist on the bottom half of the Great West bracket.

In the 4-5 nightcap, #4 South Dakota would face off against #5 Chicago State. Despite outrebounding South Dakota 52-35 and getting a 20/20 game (27 points, 21 rebounds) from senior Carl Montgomery, the Cougars were unable to pull off the upset and would lose 73-70 in overtime. Jake Thomas led the Coyotes with 20 points and 8 rebounds, and their reward was a semifinal matchup with the hometown UVU Wolverines the following day.

The first semifinal pitted North Dakota against Houston Baptist. The Huskies started off hot with a 17-6 lead, but the Fighting Sioux were able to slowly chip away en route to a 1-point deficit at halftime. Troy Huff looked like he had given North Dakota a cushion after hitting a pair of free throws to give UND a 3-point lead with 21 seconds remaining in regulation. However, Michael Moss would foul the Huskies’ Anthony Gonzalez while attempting a 3-point shot with 5 seconds to play. Gonzalez calmly hit all 3 free throws to tie the game. However, Lamar Thomas would commit a foul for Houston Baptist with under 2 seconds remaining on the clock; this time it was Patrick Mitchell’s turn to hit a pair of freebies to wrap up the game and give North Dakota a berth into the championship game. Huff led UND with 16 points and 5 rebounds; Andrew Gonzalez had 24 points to lead the Huskies.

In the second semifinal, the top-seeded Utah Valley Wolverines would face the South Dakota Coyotes. This was another back-and-forth game that was tied at 69-69 with 1:10 remaining in the 2nd half; Mitchell Bouie would hit a layup to put the Coyotes up for good. The Wolverines would cut the lead to 1 with a free throw; after a miss by the Coyotes’ Louie Krogman with 13 seconds remaining, Utah Valley was unable to get off a shot before committing a critical turnover with 5 seconds left in the game. South Dakota hit one more free throw to ice the game and set up a championship game with their neighbor North Dakota. Jake Thomas led the Coyotes with 21 points and 7 rebounds; Ben Aird had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolverines.

However, since the Great West Conference had not yet qualified for an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, both North Dakota and South Dakota were playing for a berth in the CIT Tournament on the Fox College Sports network. South Dakota led by as many as 10 points in the 1st half, but North Dakota would go on a run of their own and take a 48-42 lead following a Patrick Mitchell 3-pointer with 1:45 left in regulation. Undaunted, South Dakota would chip the lead down to 2 and hit what could have been an and-1 with 35 seconds remaining. Kendall Cutler was unable to hit the go-ahead free throw for the Coyotes and the game went into overtime. North Dakota had control for much of the first overtime (and led by as many as 8 points), but the Coyotes’ Louie Krogman hit a game-tying 3 at the buzzer that bounced multiple times before falling in and sent the game to a second overtime. This time, South Dakota was able to get a 4-pt lead with 15 seconds remaining in the 2nd OT. After a layup by Jamal Webb and a turnover by the Coyotes, Jake Thomas would hit a game-winning 3 to give North Dakota the title and a berth into the 2011 CIT that season. You can click here for highlights of the championship game.

However, the Great West was ultimately doomed to failure without the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. South Dakota would move to the Summit League for the 2011-12 season and North Dakota defected to the Big Sky for the 2012-13 season. Chicago State won the last-ever Great West Championship in 2013; Houston Baptist would join the Southland and UT-Pan American, Utah Valley and Chicago State all joined the WAC for the following year. NJIT would remain independent for 2 seasons before joining the Atlantic Sun in the 2015-16 season.

Championship Week Video Notebook: Tuesday, March 1st

Chad, David, and John look at the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Sun, and the opening round of the Patriot League.  It’s just Day 1 of Championship Week, and we’ve already seen two upsets with Lipscomb knocking off Jacksonville and Stetson taking down NJIT, who many of us thought would win the league.  They talk about that, look ahead to the OVC, NEC, and America East games on Wednesday

 

And for all you radio lovers, there is an mp3 version of the show at the bottom of the page…

 

WEDNESDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK ACTION

AMERICA EAST
Quarterfinals
7:00 PM – (8) UMBC at (1) Stony Brook, espn3
7:00 PM – (7) Hartford at (2) Albany, espn3
7:30 PM – (6) Maine at (3) Vermont, espn3
7:30 PM – (5) Binghamton at (4) New Hampshire, espn3

NORTHEAST
Quarterfinals
7:00 PM – (8) Robert Morris at (1) Wagner, necfrontrow.com
7:00 PM – (7) St. Francis-PA at (2) Fairleigh Dickinson, necfrontrow.com
7:00 PM – (6) Long Island University at (3) Sacred Heart, Local TV/Fox College Sports Atlantic/necfrontrow.com
9:00 PM – (5) Mount St. Mary’s at (4) St. Francis-Brooklyn, Local TV/Fox College Sports Atlantic/necfrontrow.com

OHIO VALLEY
 First Round
7:00 PM – (5) Tennessee Tech vs (8) Austin Peay, ovcsports.com – (winner gets Tennessee State)
9:30 PM – (6) Murray State vs (7) Eastern Illinois, ovcsports.com – (winner gets Morehead State)

Under the Radar Game of the Day – Thursday, February 18: NJIT at North Florida

Under the Radar Game of the Day: NJIT at North Florida, 7:00 PM Eastern, espn3

For our latest Under the Radar video podcast, featuring our very own FLOOR CAM, CLICK HERE.

Tonight is one of those nights when selecting the UTR Game of the Day was not easy, with key matchups in several conferences on the slate.  However, when our adopted “Team of the People” from last season here at HOOPS HD, the NJIT Highlanders, are scheduled to play arguably the most important regular season game in school history, the choice ended up being an obvious one.  Tonight in Jacksonville, Florida, NJIT will be taking their shot at moving towards the Atlantic Sun regular season championship and the #1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

NJIT enters play tonight with a record of 7-4 in conference play and 16-11 overall.  They are currently sitting in a three-way tie for first place with North Florida and Jacksonville.  After we had spent the non-conference portion of the season discussing how we believed this league would be a battle between NJIT and UNF this season, the Highlanders got out to a rough 2-4 start to league play, including home losses to South Carolina Upstate, Lipscomb and North Florida.  Things have been a lot different since the end of January though as Damon Lyn, Tim Coleman, Ky Howard and company have won five straight games, including a solid win this past weekend at home over Florida Gulf Coast, to move into a first place tie.  The Highlanders play at UNF tonight and at Jacksonville on Saturday.  If they can find a way to sweep these two tough road contests, then only a game next week at Upstate will stand between them and the outright regular season title.

North Florida’s story this season has been almost the exact opposite of NJIT’s.  The Ospreys started out Atlantic Sun play looking like the dominant team in the league, winning their first 7 games and doing so by fairly comfortable score margins.  Then came February 1.  In what we thought at the time was just one of the crazy inexplicable losses that teams sometimes suffer, the Ospreys fell at home to Stetson.  The only problem was they have yet to recover from that loss, dropping their next three since then and not even looking good in any of those losses.  UNF now sits at 7-4 in conference play and 18-10 overall.  The only good news is that they certainly have time to right the ship, with NJIT coming in tonight and a game at Jacksonville next week to end the regular season.  However, if they continue to play the same way they have played these past four games, Dallas Moore, Beau Beech, Chris Davenport and their teammates may not even end up with a quarterfinal-round home game in the conference tournament.

Under the Radar Game of the Day – Wednesday, January 6: NJIT at Yale

Under the Radar Game of the Day: NJIT at Yale, 7:00 PM Eastern

On January 9, 2015, the NJIT Highlanders defeated the Yale Bulldogs in Newark by a score of 78-71 behind 23 points from Damon Lynn and 22 from Tim Coleman.  They also got help from the fact that Yale’s top player, Justin Sears, was knocked out of the game early in the first half (thanks to his tooth being knocked out of his mouth during a collision).  Tonight, Yale has revenge on its mind, both for last season’s loss and for Sears’ tooth.  The Bulldogs will be hosting NJIT in New Haven in the Under the Radar Game of the Day.

NJIT enters play with a record of 9-6.  Tonight’s game is the last non-conference game for the Highlanders.  For the first time in school history, NJIT will begin play in a D1 conference with an automatic bid when they begin Atlantic Sun play on Saturday.  The Highlanders continue to be led be the threesome of Damon Lynn, Ky Howard and Tim Coleman.  However, they have also benefited from strong play by Terrence Smith and a breakout season by junior Rob Ukawuba.  The depth and experience on this team will make them a contender in their first A-Sun season.  But before Atlantic Sun play begins, NJIT will try to pick up one more road win tonight.

Defeating Yale will not be an easy task at all for NJIT.  Yale enters play tonight with a record of only 7-5, but also the top KenPom rating (73) of all Ivy League schools.  Although defeating NJIT tonight may qualify as the Bulldogs’ best win on the season to date, none of their five losses were in any way bad (at Duke, at USC, at Illinois, at SMU and at Albany).  Justin Sears continues to lead the way for Yale and, despite Maodo Lo from Columbia winning Mid-Season Ivy League Player of the Year from our colleague Jon Teitel, Sears should be a serious contender for the conference POY at the end of the season.  Sears scored 24 points last time out against Hartford.  He also has some strong help, including Makai Mason (double digits all but one game this season) and Jack Montague, a three point specialist who has made more 3-pointers this year (30) than he has attempted 2-point shots (21).  With only one more game left in the non-conference schedule for Yale after this one, tonight’s game could be the springboard they need as they head into conference play beginning next weekend.