On the first Saturday of 2015, the NEC kicked off its conference season with five games. Let’s dive right into it by breaking down the action from all five.
St. Francis Brooklyn 73, Sacred Heart 71
In the matchup of the day, St. Francis Brooklyn used their experience and guile to squeak past the Pioneers in Fairfield. It was the seventh victory in their last nine games. After Sacred Heart put on a clinic shooting the basketball (63% FG) and raced out to a 18-point advantage deep into the first half, the Terriers slowly chipped away, starting with a timely 8-0 run to close out the first half. This kept the Terriers within striking distance and allowed them to move ahead late in the second half after two Tyreek Jewell (15 points, five rebounds) free throws. A back and forth battle ensued, but an acrobatic Brent Jones (13 points, seven assists) lay-up in traffic with 35 seconds left was the difference in St. Francis winning their fourth straight against Sacred Heart. 14 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points for St. Francis inevitably doomed the Pioneers. Jalen Cannon, who came into yesterday’s contest averaging 16.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game in his past five contests, posted his sixth consecutive double-double in a row with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Evan Kelley, who was clearly Anthony Latina’s go-to half-court option with the game in the balance, did his best to push the Pioneers over the top, but his 18 points and eight rebounds weren’t enough. The Pioneers are now 3-24 in conference play since January of 2013, but this latest setback illustrates why Latina’s group should be in the middle of the NEC race.
For Ray Curren’s thoughts regarding this game, go here.
Saint Francis U 85, Wagner 68
The Red Flash began the quest to post their first winning record in regular season conference play since the 2004-05 season, as they took care of business against the inexperienced Seahawks to earn the victory. SFU dropped 1.29 ppp on Wagner, who currently has the worst defensive efficiency in the NEC, according to KenPom. Overall, it was a crisp offensive effort for Rob Krimmel’s squad (more on that later) as they posted 18 assists on 28 made buckets, while turning it over on 18% of their possessions. Wagner has struggled to defend the perimeter this season and Saturday was no different with the Red Flash draining 13 of their 26 three-pointer attempts. Earl Brown continued his scorching hot run with 20 points, while forward Ollie Jackson contributed with 19. Freshman Corey Henson was a perfect 6 for 6 from the floor off the bench for the Seahawks. Wagner shot a respectable 48%, but it was all for naught given their defensive woes. The Seahawks are now 2-10 for the first time since the 2009-10 campaign.
Robert Morris 70, Mount St. Mary’s 45
In this rematch of last season’s NEC title game, Robert Morris avenged their loss with an absolute thrashing over the defending league champions at The Chuck. The Colonials jumped out to a 18-3 advantage and never looked back, closing the first stanza with a 20 lead. Lucky Jones was solid, scoring a game high 17 points (thanks to ten free throw attempts) with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals. Sophomore Kavon Stewart was terrific running the point for Andy Toole’s squad, dishing out seven assists (against two turnovers) and grabbing four rebounds. The Colonials’ offense attack wasn’t terrific at 1.00 ppp and 19 turnovers (27% turnover rate), but they scorched the Mount’s interior defense by making 59% of their twos. Speaking of the Mount’s interior length, the frontcourt of Taylor Danaher, Kristijan Krajina and freshman Mawdo Sallah combined to secure just six rebounds and score seven points on 13 shots. Gregory Graves led the Mount with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to offset another putrid offensive effort. The Mount has scored 0.62 ppp in their past two contests even with the insertion of Andrew Smeathers (14 points, four rebounds, two assists) into the rotation.
Bryant 67, LIU Brooklyn 63
Dyami Starks poured in 19 second half points and 25 for the game to push Bryant past a game LIU Brooklyn squad in New York City. The Bulldogs came into today’s contest having cracked the 70-point threshold just twice this season (compared to nine games at this point last season) and struggled once again from the start, scoring a mere 22 points after 20 minutes of play. But a frantic 45-point second stanza was enough to offset a poor shooting day from behind the arc (3-17). Joe O’Shea easily posted the best game of his senior season, registering 18 points and nine rebounds. For LIU, Gerrell Martin scored a game high 27 points in the defeat while freshman Martin Hermannsson contributed with 14 points. The other Icelandic freshman, Elvar Fridriksson, had an off-night (two points on nine shots, three assists, three turnovers) as did the rest of the Blackbird players, sans Martin. The team shot 30% from the field and finished with 0.92 ppp. Only twice this season have the young Blackbirds scored 1.00 ppp or more.
Fairleigh Dickinson 75, Central Connecticut 65
Despite trailing for a majority of the contest, Greg Herenda’s group fought back to win their third straight NEC opener, even though they came into New Britain as a one point underdog, according to KenPom. Mostafaa Jones had 17 points on 13 shots, logging his 11th game of the season in which he finished with double-digit points. Freshman Marques Townes also was pivotal in the Knights victory with 16 points – nine in the second half – off the bench. Collectively as a team, nine FDU players made a field goal as Herenda wisely utilized a deep rotation against a banged up Central Connecticut club that was missing Khalen Cumberlander and Malcolm McMillan due to injury. The Knights forced 17 turnovers and only sent the Blue Devils to the line 15 times. Matt Mobley, who came as the second highest scorer in the conference, continued his feverish pace by leading the Blue Devils with 26 points on 20 shots. The threesome of Mobley, Faronte Drakeford and Brandon Peel did their best to attack the rim by combining for 57 of CCSU’s 65 points, but the rest of Howie Dickenman’s players scored a grand total of three field goals. FDU is 6-6 for the first since the 2006-07 season, when Tom Green coached those Knights to a 14-16 finish.
NEC Player of the Day
Jalen Cannon – With all due respect to Earl Brown, Dyami Starks and Gerrell Martin, Cannon gets the nod here due to his heroics in a tightly contested game. Along with Brent Jones, Cannon willed the Terriers to the victory late, using his added range to bury three triples – two in the second half – to bury the Pioneers. The terrific overall effort gave Cannon a splendid efficiency rating of 22 for the contest.
NEC Performance of the Day
Saint Francis University – Facing off against a Wagner team they should handle, the Red Flash did just that, cruising to a 17-point victory. It was a well-balanced effort on the offensive end, as Krimmel’s group made 15 twos, 13 threes and 16 free throws. Seven regulars logged at least 20 minutes and six of those posted an efficiency rating in the double-digits. It was a nice start for the perceived NEC contender.
1) Saint Francis U, 1-0
2) Fairleigh Dickinson, 1-0
3) Bryant, 1-0
4) Robert Morris, 1-0
5) St. Francis Brooklyn, 1-0
6) Sacred Heart, 0-1
7) LIU Brooklyn, 0-1
8) Mount St. Mary’s, 0-1
9) Wagner, 0-1
10) Central Connecticut, 0-1
Next Up on the NEC Schedule
Bryant at St. Francis Brooklyn, 4 PM
Mount St. Mary’s at Wagner, 7 PM
Robert Morris at Saint Francis U, 7 PM
Central Connecticut at Sacred Heart, 7:30 PM
Fairleigh Dickinson at LIU Brooklyn, 7:30 PM
*All games are on Monday, January 5