The NEC postseason is almost here! After tonight’s action, just one regular season game remains for each team before the conference tournament begins next Thursday. Let’s break down all of the action as the top eight teams (well not the top seeded St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers) continue to jockey for position.
Sacred Heart 93, Fairleigh Dickinson 85
The Pioneers posted one of their best offensive efforts of the season, as they outlasted the defensively deficient Knights in their final regular season road game. With the game in the balance late, Sacred Heart was able to close on a 10-3 run to earn their eighth NEC victory. The victors shot a blistering 61% (36-59) from the field and collected 48 rebounds. Their dominance on the glass over FDU (48 to 22, no that isn’t a typo) led to 16 second chance points. The trio of Evan Kelley (27 points, 11-14 shooting, six assists), Tevin Falzon (17 points, 19 rebounds) and Cane Broome (23 points, seven rebounds) led the charge for Anthony Latina’s group that scored 1.27 ppp, their second highest output of the season.
Freshman Darian Anderson was brilliant in defeat, registering 27 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals. His game efficiency rating of 35 was the highest individual mark for any NEC rookie this season. Unfortunately for FDU, losers now of their last 15 contests, the rest of the roster shot just 44% from the field. The Knights’ bench was outscored by the Pioneers’ reserves, 35-9.
Bryant 77, Central Connecticut 69
Despite leading for the majority of the contest, the shorthanded Blue Devils tired down the stretch, failing to hold off Bryant late the second half. The victory assures the Bulldogs of at least one home game in the NEC tournament and marks three straight seasons of finishing the conference’s top four. Bryant’s starting five rested for a grand total of 20 minutes, yet they were wonderfully effective versus CCSU’s porous defense by dishing out 19 assists (Shane McLaughlin owned 12 of those) on 26 made baskets. All five starters posted double-digit efficiency ratings while four of them — led by the newest NEC scoring leader Dyami Starks’ and his 24 points — scored at least 15 points. Dan Garvin was particularly impressive with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
For the fourth time this season, CCSU’s Matt Mobley dropped at least 30 points on the competition, but his 10 of 20 shooting performance wasn’t enough to hold back a Bryant offense that scored 1.23 ppp. Tonight was the 19th occurrence of CCSU allowing an opponent to post more than 1.00 ppp this season and when that happen the Blue Devils are winless at 0-19. irregardless, the soon-to-be-playoff-less Blue Devils put forth a valiant effort in defeat.
Saint Francis U 63, Mount St. Mary’s 60
On the heels of a three-game losing streak, SFU responded with a badly needed home victory over Mount St. Mary’s. The Red Flash were in control for much of the game, but needed to make some free throws late to desperately hold on. Earl Brown scored a game high 16 points and Greg Brown, who’s four free throw late sealed the deal, chipped in with 11 points. The Red Flash were out-rebounded by five caroms and coughed up the ball 13 times, but their defense was able to hold the Mount to 34% shooting and 38% (13-34) from inside the arc.
Byron Ashe (15 points) led the Mount in scoring for the fourth straight game, but this was his least efficient effort of the four with 15 shots taken. He didn’t get much help, however, as teammates such as Andrew Smeathers (3-14 shooting), Greg Graves (2-9 shooting) and Will Miller (1-6 shooting) were all off the mark tonight. Kristijan Krajina grabbed a season high 10 rebounds. Despite the setback, the Mount have clinched a first round home victory no matter what happens for their last home game versus Wagner.
Robert Morris 91, Wagner 59
Robert Morris’ big three of Rodney Pryor, Marcquise Reed and Lucky Jones combined to outscore Wagner 60-59, as the Colonials blew out the visiting Seahawks to secure no worse than a #3 seed in this year’s NEC tournament. Pryor led the way with 25 points on a measly 10 shot attempts, while impressively collecting six assists and five rebounds. In his last four games, in fact, Pryor has scored 95 points on 55 shots to go along with 26 rebounds. A splendid 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio was the best mark posted by Andy Toole’s team this season.
Wagner, on the other hand, saw their positive momentum halted suddenly as they committed 19 turnovers and shot a paltry 31% against Robert Morris’ 2-3 zone. After sitting as the #5 seed prior to tonight (thanks to favorable tiebreakers), the Seahawks are now in danger of having to play St. Francis Brooklyn in the NEC tournament first round. A Sacred Heart victory and a Wagner loss on Saturday would guarantee that.
St. Francis Brooklyn 74, LIU Brooklyn 69
Down three with 39 seconds it looked like St. Francis Brooklyn was beat. The Terriers are locked into the No. 1 seed in the NEC and LIU Brooklyn desperately needed a win.
Then SFC inbounded the ball and Amdy Fall scored on a quick layup. A steal and layup by Yunus Hopkinson gave them a 1-point advantage. Then an offensive foul on Joel Hernandez and two free throws by Brent Jones pushed the lead to three with 18 seconds remaining. Twenty-one seconds was all it took for Glenn Braica’s team to turn what looked like a loss into a prime situation for a win. And even though LIU managed to force overtime thanks to three Martin Hermannsson free throws, SFC pulled out the victory in overtime.
“It’s a typical LIU-St. Francis game. When you come to these games anything can happen,” Braica said about the end of regulation.
St. Francis shot just 27% in the win, including a dismal 2-23 (9%) from three. There were 66 fouls committed and the teams combined to shoot 97 free throws. At this point though, that’s how Braica likes it.
“We’ve been doing this all year. The games have been kind of crazy. We’re not a pretty team. We’re an ugly team. We just grind it out. These guys have found a way. We just gotta keep finding ways,” Braica said.
LIU committed 27 turnovers against a frantic SFC press. Elvar Fridriksson gave the ball away eight times and Hermannsson five. The effort was much better than last Saturday’s loss at Wagner, but the result was the same and the Blackbirds are now faced with the possibility of dropping down to the eighth seed — and having to play St. Francis a third time — if they lose at Sacred Heart in the regular season finale on Saturday.
“They came out and our guys did a really good job competing,” LIU head coach Jack Perri said about his young team. “Out-rebounding that team by 10 is a difficult task. But the reality is we fouled too much and turned the ball over against the press.”
Even hampered by a balky left wrist, Jalen Cannon led the way for St. Francis. He scored 26 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. Those points helped him pass Ricky Cadell to become the all-time leading scorer in St. Francis Brooklyn history. It’s a milestone his coach has been tracking for a while now.
“I’ve had the amount of points he needs in my phone for a month and a half now,” Braica said.
Now that Cannon has gotten the milestone, he and the Terriers will concentrate an even bigger goal, the team’s first ever NCAA tournament appearance. To that end Glenn Sanabria sat out the contest to rest his injured left knee. Braica said afterward that he hopes to get the freshman guard some minutes in the regular season finale at Bryant if possible, but it’ll depend on how the knee responds the next few days.
St. Francis could’ve certainly used Sanabria on the court against LIU. The Blackbirds dared Hopkinson and Tyreek Jewell to beat them, and for most of the contest neither could. The two Terriers guards shot a combined 3-23 from the field. Brent Jones scored 12 points with his backcourt mates bottled up, but it took him 12 shots and eight free throws to do so. Lowell Ulmer though pitched in with 11 points on 4-5 shooting and Fall had eight points, including an alley-oop finish in overtime, to go along with six blocks. In the end, 20 offensive rebounds and shooting 38-54 from the free throw line was enough to see SFC through.
“These games are great. They’re not pretty, but they’re great,” Braica said.
That and a St. Francis win is good enough for him. —JT
NEC Players of the Night
Evan Kelley, Sacred Heart and Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris – Two NEC players earned tonight’s nod (Jalen Cannon can’t win them all, OK!), as Kelley and Pryor were essential cogs to offenses that put up an incredible 1.27 ppp and 1.32 ppp, respectively. In particular, Kelley is playing the best basketball of his career, with eight of his last nine games finishing with an efficiency rating in double digits.
NEC Performance of the Night
Robert Morris – For the eighth straight season, the Colonials have won at least 11 NEC games in the regular season, marking an incredible run of consistent basketball. Tonight’s victory was never in doubt, as Robert Morris raced out to a 40-22 advantage in the first half and never looked back.
1) St. Francis Brooklyn, 15-2^
2) Robert Morris, 11-6*
3) Bryant, 11-6
4) Mount St. Mary’s, 10-7
5) Saint Francis U, 9-8
6) Wagner, 8-9**
7) LIU Brooklyn, 8-9
8) Sacred Heart, 8-9
9) Central Connecticut, 3-14
10) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-15
^Clinched regular season title and NEC tournament #1 seed
*Robert Morris earns tiebreaker on Bryant based on record vs SFC (1-1 vs 0-1)
**Wagner earns tiebreakers on LIU and SHU based on head-to-head-to-head records (3-1 vs. 1-2 vs. 1-2). LIU earns tiebreaker on SHU based on head-to-head record (1-0)
Up Next on the NEC Schedule
Saint Francis U at Robert Morris
LIU Brooklyn at Sacred Heart
Wagner at Mount St. Mary’s
St. Francis Brooklyn at Bryant
Central Connecticut at Fairleigh Dickinson
*All games are on Saturday, February 28