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Sharks in Jacksonville: NJIT Downs Dolphins to Earn Win No. 20

JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – The NJIT Highlanders (20-9, 8-6 ASUN) defeated the Jacksonville Dolphins (12-17, 5-9 ASUN) at Swisher Gymnasium on Saturday, 77-73. Sophomore Zach Cooks earned his first career double-double notching 24 points and 13 rebounds. Senior Diandre Wilson added 20 points. NJIT's 20th win of the season, already a regular season record, puts the program one victory shy of tying its all-time wins record set in 2014-15 (21), which was achieved after three postseason wins. The victory was also NJIT's 10th road win of the season, which is tied for the third-highest away wins total in the nation. "Jacksonville plays really well at home…to play the way that we did tonight was really gratifying" head coach Brian Kennedy said. "We grinded out another victory. To get 10 road wins in today and age in college basketball is just huge." NJIT started slow, allowing Jacksonville to open up a nine-point run at the nine minute mark to open up an 11-point lead. However, NJIT countered with three consecutive baskets from Cooks who would finish with a monster 16-point first half. The Dolphins led the entirety of the half until the 2:20 mark when Shawndale Jones' layup pulled NJIT ahead. NJIT caught fire closing the half on a 14-5 run to take a five-point lead into the break, 37-32. Jacksonville hit the ground running in the second half, starting a 9-0 run to start, which was ended by a Cook three pointer three minutes into the half. Wilson came alive midway through the second half, scoring 10 of NJIT's next 18 points to give the Highlanders the lead. Mohamed Bendary, who finished with eight points and six rebounds, pitched in with a bucket and a steal to help turn the tides off the bench. "The contribution Mohamed Bendary gave us today…he was +16 on the Plus/Minus," Kennedy said. "The character that he has in him, that reflects on the team as a whole being one of our senior leaders." The Dolphins and Highlanders continued exchanging blows, but NJIT found themselves trailing by four points with three minutes remaining. Shyquan Gibbs drained a three pointer, which was immediately followed by a Cooks steal and layup to flip the script and put NJIT back in front. Following a defensive stop, Cooks hit a three pointer to extend the lead to four points with 90 seconds to go. Jacksonville threw down a dunk in transition with 40 seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game. As NJIT pushed for a field goal to push the game out of reach, a scramble under the rim for a loose ball resulted in a foul called on Abdul Lewis to send the Dolphins to the line shooting two with five seconds remaining. Jacksonville missed the first free throw and purposely missed the second, hoping for the rebound, but it was collected by Bendary, who was immediately fouled. The senior knocked down both of his free throws with 3.5 seconds remaining to extend the lead to four points and seal the win for NJIT. "What this year's team has done – it's the best year in the history of NJIT and we still have a lot of basketball left," Kennedy said. "It's a testament to the players...I'm just so proud of the guys." NJIT heads to Nashville, Tenn., where they will take on the ASUN's second ranked team, Lipscomb, on Monday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. ET. (TV: ESPN+) The Highlanders then return home for Senior Day on Friday, March 1, and will host ASUN leaders Liberty in their final regular season game at 7 p.m. ET.

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