ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Not even NJIT’s coach expected his team to win at Michigan. Just ask him.
“Honestly, this wasn’t in my game plan,” Jim Engles said. “Coming into the season, I sort of penciled this one in as an ‘L.’ I have to readjust my whole process here, as to, ‘We just beat Michigan. I don’t know, maybe we should be in the Top 25.’
“I don’t really know what to say.”
How about this: The team that played for the national title less than two years ago just lost to a commuter school whose “arena” doubles as a campus fitness center.
Damon Lynn made a critical 3-pointer with less than three minutes to go and finished with 20 points to help New Jersey Institute of Technology stun the 17th-ranked Wolverines 72-70 Saturday.
Engles, now in his seventh year at NJIT, has been through a lot. He inherited a program that went 0-29 the year before his arrival, eventually snapping a 51-game losing streak after losing his first 18 contests.
He and the Newark, New Jersey, school with roughly 10,000 students were perhaps the biggest losers of the last bout of conference realignment, when the majority of the Great West Conference folded into the Western Athletic Conference, leaving NJIT as the only independent basketball program in Division I.
Among other consequences, that means NJIT, whose list of famous athletic alumni is more just “Who?” than “a Who’s Who” would need to do well enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament because it can’t receive an automatic one for winning a conference.
“I may appreciate winning more than anyone in the country,” Engles said. “When I go into a season – and I hate to say it this way – it’s hard to win.”
NJIT is left hoping that someone, perhaps in the America East or the Northeast Conference, will take notice of the team whose gym boasts a capacity of 1,500 — along with two weight rooms, a jogging track and a sauna.
Michigan recently installed an indoor waterfall in its home arena as part of a $52-million renovation that also added new scoreboards and luxury boxes.
“We’re doing everything we need to do to get in a league,” Engles said. “I would like to be in a conference. My kids deserve it. We shouldn’t be the only independent in the country. We’re not Notre Dame football.
“I don’t understand why someone in the NCAA – or someone – hasn’t taken more of an active role in this. We have Division I athletes. We’ve gone through the reclassification process. We’ve done everything the NCAA has asked us. . We need to be involved with everyone else.”
Caris LeVert scored 32 points for Michigan but the Wolverines (6-2) as a team only shot 42 percent from the field.
NJIT held the Wolverines’ comeback efforts at bay, sealing the win when Daquan Holiday corralled the ball with 4.3 seconds remaining and made two free throws.
The Highlanders (3-5) made 11 of 17 3 pointers and got 17 points each from Willis Winfield and Ky Howard.
Derrick Walton added 16 points for Michigan. He was the only other Wolverines player in double digits.
The two teams traded buckets down the stretch, until Lynn’s 3 gave the Highlanders a four-point lead they held onto down the stretch. LeVert’s last-second prayer missed wide — and the Highlanders’ bench poured onto the court in celebration in front of shocked fans.
Wolverines: Derrick Walton played despite recovering from a sprained toe. . Mark Donnal knocked down his first-career 3-point shot in the first half. . The Wolverines have shot better than 40 percent from the floor in all but one game this year (38.5 percent vs. Syracuse).
Highlanders: The only independent team in Division I basketball. . In the midst of a brutal road trip. From Nov. 24 to a Dec. 23 game at Villanova, nine of NJIT’s 10 games are away from home. . This game was the first time the NJIT program has ever played a ranked foe, since transitioning to Division I for the 2007 season. . This was the first meeting between the two teams.
Wolverines: Derrick Walton played despite a sprained toe. … Mark Donnal knocked down his first-career 3-point shot in the first half. . The Wolverines have shot better than 40 percent from the floor in all but one game this year (38.5 percent vs. Syracuse).
Highlanders: In the midst of a brutal road trip. From Nov. 24 to a Dec. 23 game at Villanova, nine of NJIT’s 10 games are away from home. . This game was the first time the NJIT program has ever played a ranked foe, since transitioning to Division I for the 2007 season. . This was the first meeting between the two teams.
HIGHLANDERS NOT AT FULL STRENGTH
NJIT pulled off its upset over Michigan without perhaps its best player, Terrence Smith, who is recovering from an undisclosed injury that has held him out thus far this season.
Smith shot a school record 62.9 percent from the field last year, fourth in the nation.
RELYING ON LYNN
Lynn is the Highlanders’ leading scorer, putting up 18.6 points per game. Although he’s just a sophomore, Lynn was the team’s go-to scorer down the stretch, and he led the way once again in Ann Arbor.
“He’s ridiculous,” Engles said. “I was just trying to get as many opportunities for him to touch the ball.”
Michigan: Hosts Eastern Michigan on Tuesday.
NJIT: Hosts St. Francis Brooklyn on Tuesday.
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