William Paterson’s Cinderella Story Falls Just Short, Lose to Ramapo 67-59

The glass slipper didn’t fit the foot of the Pioneers, ending their NCAA Championship bid in its tracks.

Ryan Doyle, Editor-In-Chief

William Paterson’s 67-59 loss to Ramapo College in the NJAC Championship game ended a memorable Cinderella run.

The Pioneers clawed their way to a three-point deficit with 1:41 left, but the Roadrunners had a 62-59 lead and shut down William Paterson in the final minutes.

“Even though right now we are disappointed,” said head coach Brian Chapman. “I just told them I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

The Pioneers were down for the majority of the ball game. A spark lit midway through the second half and WP went on a 17-7 run. Senior forward Richy Espinal completed an and-one play and sophomore forward Sean Smith drained a deep three-pointer to cut the lead to one with 6:02 left.

That run brought life into the contingent of Pioneer faithful at Bill Bradley Sports and Recreation Center. It  still wasn’t enough as Ramapo would make nearly all of their free throws and seal their second-straight title.

William Paterson needed a victory to clinch a berth to the NCAA Division III tournament. With the tourney out of the picture, the defeat was palpable for the Pioneers coaches, players and fans.

“No one believed in us, no one. Except those 16 guys in the [locker room],” Espinal said.

After a slow start, Espinal turned on the jets in the second half igniting the Pioneers offense. The All-NJAC forward’s 18 points were a team-high and were key to multiple second-half runs.

Throughout the NJAC tournament, Espinal averaged 24 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game. Despite the impressive numbers, Espinal’s goal was to win this tournament.

“We knew we belonged and we know we still belong,” Espinal said. “We still belong in the NCAA tournament.”

Despite the noise from raucous Roadrunners crowd, the youth on the Pioneers roster shined bright. Freshman guard Domenic Mignone played key minutes late in the second half. He hit a pair of three-pointers and was trusted with plenty of looks later in the game.

Another top performance came from sophomore Sean Smith. The sharpshooting forward wasn’t his usual self from behind the arc, but the threat to shoot alone created great spacing for Espinal and others to score on the interior. Smith dropped 12 points in the contest.

The future appears bright for the Pioneers. Even with a class that will see key seniors including Espinal, guards George Sapp and Dapo Badmos exiting, playoff experience will litter the roster.

“This atmosphere is new to them,” said Chapman. “It was just more of a settle down thing, do what we do don’t get caught up in the moment. That was the message.”

The issue for the Pioneers was their offense. William Paterson shot just 33.3 percent from the field and 20.7 percent from behind the arc.

“We shot poorly today,” said Chapman. “We took mostly good shots, shots that we want to take, we just didn’t make enough of them.”

Despite the issues on offense, the Pioneers kept the defensive intensity dialed up. The Roadrunners turned the ball over 21 times as the William Paterson defense stifled one of the NJAC’s premiere offenses.

Even so, Ramapo worked hard for rebound position and would add 15 second chance points. The extra possessions were too much for the Pioneers.

The rebounding battle was the most lopsided state of the day, Ramapo dominated the glass, snagging 50 boards on the day. The Pioneers only mustered 27.

Led by senior and All-NJAC forward Thomas Bonacum, Ramapo won their second-straight NJAC Championship. Bonacum dropped 19 points, 13 rebounds and three assists.

William Paterson now awaits their ECAC tournament opponent, which will be released on Monday, Feb. 26.