The NEC has to be thrilled with how both games were showcased this afternoon on Fox College Sports and MSG+. Both semifinal matchups went right down to the wire, but in the end there will be a rematch of the 2009 NEC championship game between Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris. To the recaps…
Mount St. Mary’s 77, Wagner 72
For the second straight season, Jamion Christian has guided his Mountaineers to the NEC title game after they upset the moderately favored Wagner Seahawks. Rashad Whack was sensational for the Mount, scoring a team high 21 points on 12 shots to go along with five rebounds and two steals. The big there of Whack, Julian Norfleet and Sam Prescott played well, combining for 53 points on 19 of 39 shooting. In addition, Gregory Graves was critical in keeping the Mount respectable on the glass versus Wagner’s athletic bigs. Graves grabbed seven rebounds, four of those on the offensive backboards. As a team, the Mount shot 50% from the floor and scored an impressive 1.20 ppp. It was the first time since late January that a Wagner opponent was able to score more than 1.00 ppp.
Mount St. Mary’s held a four point lead – buoyed by a closing 8-0 run – at the half despite the fact that Norfleet and freshman Khalid Nwandu were saddled with three first half fouls. A frenetic tempo at times and the senior duo of Whack and Prescott kept the Mount afloat through 20 minutes.
For the second stanza, however, the Mount held the lead throughout despite the efforts of three-time NEC DPOY Kenneth Ortiz. The senior point guard, who scored a game high 26 points and play inspired defense, did everything he could to push Wagner to their first NEC title game since the 2004-05 season. Unfortunately for Ortiz, he received little help from senior Latif Rivers, who chipped in with just seven points on 14 shots. Today was the third straight time the Seahawks have lost in the NEC semifinals while hosting at the Spiro Center. John has even more on this game.
Robert Morris 60, Saint Francis (PA) 57
After being shutout in the first half thanks to the stellar defensive effort by sophomore Greg Brown, Karvel Anderson exploded for 21 points on just six shots to will his Colonials to their fifth NEC title game in six seasons. Anderson’s renewed effort to attack the tin and earn some freebies at the charity stripe opened up Robert Morris’ offense, the same offense that registered a paltry 0.57 ppp through one half.
Saint Francis (PA) wasn’t much better offensively after 20 minutes (0.71 ppp) and therefore only held a five-point advantage, even though they seemed to dominate play throughout. The momentum quickly shifted coming out for the second half, with Andy Toole’s club embarking on a 15-2 run to build a 30-22 lead. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Despite the sudden change of fortune, however, the Red Flash refused to quit, even after the Colonials extended their second half advantage to 11 points with just 5:54 remaining. Two Malik Harmon three-pointers from the corner got Saint Francis back in contention, but the effort inevitably fell short. Harmon’s last two three-point attempts, one with the Red Flash down by a single point under a minute and one in desperation at the buzzer, both hit nothing but iron. After making nearly 69% of their twos in two regular season games versus Robert Morris, the Red Flash only made 9 of 21 from inside the arc (42.9%) and were even worse from three-point range, connecting on just 8 of 27 attempts.
Besides Anderson’s second half surge, Lucky Jones and David Appolon were the two other major contributors for the Colonials. Jones filled up the stat sheet with 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Appolon sank three critical free throws down the stretch, giving Robert Morris enough cushion to earn the hard-fought victory. It was the Colonials 14th straight win over Saint Francis, although the last three games this season were decided by a total of 14 points.
NEC Semifinals Player of the Day – Rashad Whack, Mount St. Mary’s
Whack’s contributions on both ends of the floor was once again exceptional. He scored 21 tough points – much of it derived from the mid-range game – while doing his part to limit Latif Rivers and Marcus Burton from scoring the basketball. Lock him up as a NEC all-tourney team selection right now!
Honorable Mention: Karvel Anderson was terrific in the second half for Robert Morris and Kenneth Ortiz did everything he possibly could to get Wagner to the title game.