On an afternoon when New Jersey Institute of Technology raised its first banner as a Division I team, the Highlanders survived a wild, see-saw game to beat the Lafayette Leopards in overtime 91-88 Saturday.
NJIT sophomore forward Terrence Smith scored a career-high 24 points and guard Damon Lynn hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 65 seconds left in the extra period.
In its home opener, NJIT (4-2) survived a see-saw game full of emotional swings. The Highlanders rallied after surrendering the first 10 points of the game, then squandered a 12-point lead in the second half as Lafayette guard Bryce Scott tied it with a 3-pointer with seven seconds to go in regulation.
Lynn missed 14 of his first 18 shots, but came up big at the end. In addition to his 3-pointer, the freshman made 4 of 4 free throws in the final 17 seconds and came down with a key defensive rebound of a 3-point miss by Lafayette's Seth Hinrichs. Lynn finished with 21 points and five boards.
Lafayette (0-4), which had stormed back from a 12-point deficit in the final 13 minutes of regulation, was led by Scott, a sophomore who scored 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. Forward Dan Trist had 21 points and seven rebounds while Hinrichs added 20. The last time the Leopards started with four losses was the 2002-03 season, when it opened 0-5.
NJIT took its biggest lead, 55-43, on a layup by forward Daquan Holiday, who finished with six points and a game-high 11 rebounds. But Lafayette responded with a 10-point run as Hinrichs scored seven straight and Joey Ptasinski added a 3-pointer.
At the end of the exhausting affair, the pregame celebration was forgotten as the school toasted NJIT on winning the 2012-13 Great West Conference regular-season title. After going 1-59 in its first two seasons in Division I (2007-2009), the Highlanders are on the rise under fourth-year coach Jim Engles, playing this year as an Independent after the Great West was disbanded.