Leadership bringing intangibles to the party, but just what are intangibles? And what exactly is leadership?
Alas, even KenPom can’t help us there, but St. Francis Brooklyn gave us a pretty good idea Saturday afternoon in its NEC opener. The Terriers, picked to win the NEC for the first time (they’ve never won, either, obviously), found themselves down 18 late in the first half at upstart Sacred Heart, who was looking to get the last vestiges of a 2-14 NEC (and 5-26 overall) campaign out of their mouths.
(KenPom does measure experience, by the way, and St. Francis Brooklyn is 33rd nationally, for what that’s worth.)
Slowly they climbed out of the big hole, and then turned to their senior leaders, Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, both veterans of NEC play over the years, to push them over the top. Cannon hit a massive three-pointer with 2:34 left, Jones somehow made a wild running layup with just 28 seconds to go, and St. Francis Brooklyn held off two chances to win the game at the other end and held on for a hard-fought 73-71 road win at the Pitt Center to raise the curtain on the NEC campaign.
Cannon finished with his sixth-straight double-double (21 pts., 13 rebs.), as he closes in on both 1,000 career rebounds (now at 930) and the NEC record (1,032 by Quinnipiac’s Justin Rutty). Jones’ stats weren’t as flashy, but he managed 13 points and seven assists, and of course the winning bucket, as the Terriers won their fourth straight overall, playing without Kevin Douglas, who is still out injured.
“They’ve been through the wars. They’ve been in these situations,” St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said. “You know the other guys are still learning as we go, but those guys (Cannon and Jones) have been through it. When they were freshmen and sophomores, they struggled with it. But now that they’re seniors, it’s still hard to win a game, people have no idea how hard it is to win a game. But they’ve been through the wars, so you want guys like that, as many as you can have.”
Here are my thoughts from the Pitt Center, where both these teams will get another chance in just 48 hours:
1. Jalen Cannon can hit 3s? Good luck guarding him – In truth, Cannon was only 6-of-24 from behind the arc coming in and hadn’t hit more than one in any game this season, but when Sacred Heart played off him, Cannon stepped up and shot. He finished 3-of-6 from out there, and took one ill-advised three-pointer in transition, but with his team down 67-65 and 2:45 left, Tevin Falzon (as he was told to do by Anthony Latina, reasoning at least it kept him off the offensive glass) played off him and Cannon drilled the biggest shot of the game. Braica cautioned that the three-pointer shouldn’t be his bread and butter, but stretching the defense at times is not a bad thing, and creates matchup nightmares for NEC opponents. St. Francis is still 328th nationally in three-point shooting (27.5%) and 313th in eFG% (43.3), so every bit helps.
“I just take what the defense gives me,” Cannon said. “Coach said to attack the rim when I can, but if they’re playing too far off, just shoot it.”
2. Sacred Heart had a chance to finish the game in the first half possibly – Among the many things the young Pioneers will have to learn is how to bury an opponent, something they didn’t have much experience with last season. Up 42-24 with 2:30 left in the first half and scoring at about a 1.30 points per possession clip (at one point Sacred Heart was shooting 15-for-21 from the field, and had four three-pointers for an 81.0 eFG%). But St. Francis finished on an 8-0 run, including a defensive lapse right at the end. Inbounding under their own basket with 0.4 seconds on the clock, Amdy Fall somehow got free off a backscreen for a tip-in to give the Terriers plenty of momentum heading into the locker room.
St. Francis clamped down on defense the rest of the way, as Sacred Heart finished with what looks like a solid 1.08 ppp against a 143rd ranked defense, but it wasn’t quite enough.
“The one part we don’t want to overlook is the end of the first half,” Latina said. “You’re up 18 and you have your foot on their throat. You have to go into the locker room up 16 or 18 at worst. At best, 22 or 24, then it’s a long road back for them. But it ends up 10, and they’re really in striking distance. We won that half by more than 10 points in terms of play. I’m sure that they went in and said, ‘We got thoroughly outplayed and we’re still in the game.’ And give them credit.“
3. You need a little luck – All credit to Brent Jones for what turned out to be the winning shot, but it was an incredibly difficult one, in fact he probably deserves plaudits for not traveling more than anything. Then at the other end, Evan Kelley and Tevin Falzon both had decent looks to win, neither one falls, and St. Francis Brooklyn is 1-0 and Sacred Heart is 0-1. (I wrote at length about this one at the Mid-Majority last year while covering Dayton’s run in the NCAA Tournament.)
“Our guys hung in there and they just kept fighting,” Braica said. “It could have went either way. Heck, that last shot could have went in. Who knows? But that’s how these games are sometimes, and you have to try to give yourself a chance, at least.”
Bonus. Sacred Heart’s rebounding problem continues, at one end – This was a great game to accompany the article I wrote on rebounding margin this weekend. The Terriers finished with a 39-35 edge, but that tells virtually none of the story there. The Pioneers did fine on offense, rebounding 13 of their 31 misses (41.9%). In fact, it raised Sacred Heart to 31.3% for the season in that category, which happens to be exactly the national average.
But at the other end, Sacred Heart rebounded only 17 of St. Francis’ 34 misses (Cannon had six offensive boards), which raised their season mark to 35.6%, 306th nationally and dropping.
Latina, to his credit, is aware of the differences and the problem, but the reason why he gets paid the big NEC bucks is the next question: How do you fix it without changing the roster you’ve had for half a season already? Maybe some intangibles and leadership?
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on