NEC Tournament Recap – The First Round

Well, that was fun, but only if you’re a Bryant fan! For the first round of the NEC tournament, there was plenty of exciting action and great performances to sift through.

So without further ado…

St. Francis Brooklyn 79, LIU Brooklyn 70

LIU Brooklyn hang tough in a very difficult environment at the Pope Center, but it wasn’t enough as the more talented Terriers held on to earn their first NEC playoff victory in ten tries. After trailing 10-2 in the early going, a 27-8 SFC run to close out the first half gave the Terriers an advantage they would not relinquish. To Jack Perri’s credit, though, his young Blackbirds hung around by closing the gap to two points at 44-42 before succumbing to a fine SFC offensive output of 1.19 points per possession (ppp).

Jalen Cannon earned his 19th double double of the season with 15 points and 15 rebounds, while Brent Jones poured in a career high 31 points. 20 of those points came in the second stanza with the game hanging in the balance. Yunus Hopkinson chipped in with 11 points.

Landon Atterbury finished his LIU career with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting. No other Blackbird reached double figures.

Robert Morris 91, Wagner 68

In the biggest blowout of the evening, Robert Morris continued their postseason dominance over Wagner, knocking the visiting Seahawks out of the NEC tournament after leading start to finish. Wagner has now lost 11 straight games at Robert Morris with their last victory coming in NEC tournament back in 2005.

Lucky Jones was fantastic, scoring 27 points on just 12 shots. The senior wasn’t the only one giving Wagner a hard time, however, as four other Colonials scored at least seven points, leading Robert Morris to their third best offensive performance of the season at 1.28 ppp. Freshman Marcquise Reed played a big part in that, pouring in 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. His aggression early on set the tone.

For Wagner, Bashir Mason’s group concludes the season dropping seven of their last nine games. Marcus Burton and Mike Aaman did their best to keep the fledging Seahawks in the game with a combined 38 points, but their teammates collectively shot 11 of 27 from the floor (41%). If it wasn’t for making 17 of 19 from the charity stripe, this game could have been even more lopsided.

Bryant 91, Sacred Heart 85, 2 OT

A miraculous Joe O’Shea three-pointer sent the game into overtime and from there, Bryant survived the battle of attrition to earn the first ever NEC tournament victory in program history. Meanwhile, Anthony Latina’s first ever NEC playoff game as Sacred Heart’s head coach ends in excruciating fashion as his Pioneers ran out of bodies and gas near the end of an exhausting effort. In all, there were 15 ties and seven lead changes during the 50 minutes of play.

With Dyami Starks being ineffective for a majority of the night (22 points on 25 shots), O’Shea carried the torch with a team high 23 points including eight in the two overtime frames. He also secured six of Bryant’s 43 rebounds which spurred a +11 advantage on the glass thanks to Sacred Heart’s bigs being plagued with foul trouble (Falzon and Barnett fouled out) all night. Shane McLaughlin was excellent running the point for the Bulldogs, netting a career high 18 points to go along with a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Speaking of point guard play, Sacred Heart’s senior floor general Phil Gaetano ended his career with 10 points, nine assists (with 0 turnovers) and five rebounds. Along with 23 points from all-rookie team recipient Cane Broome, who finished his season with 100 points in his last five contests, it was almost enough to will the Pioneers to their first NEC postseason victory since the 2008-09 season. But a poor rebounding effort and an inability to keep the Bulldogs off the line (23-29 from the charity stripe) ultimately did Sacred Heart in and led to O’Shea’s heroics. Evan Kelley finished his career with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Saint Francis U 73, Mount St. Mary’s 58

For the first time in his young coaching career, Jamion Christian will not compete in the NEC semifinals, as Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash impressively dominated their opponents from start to finish to earn a showdown with St. Francis Brooklyn. The Mount was 5-1 and a perfect 2-0 at Knott Arena in the past two postseasons, but Earl Brown had something to say about that. The senior registered 23 points, 14 rebounds and two assists in one of his best performances (from an efficiency rating standpoint) of the season. His dominance, along with SFU’s ability to sink 57% of their twos and out rebound the Mount by a staggering +18, was enough to quiet the near sold out crowd in Emmitsburg. Greg Brown scored a career high 24 points and made 11 free throws.

The Mount did force 19 turnovers but did little else on the defensive end to begin their comeback. They sank just 30% (7-23) of their long-range attempts and ultimately struggled to move the ball, dishing out seven assists on 23 made field goals. Fresh off a deserving all-conference third team selection, Byron Ashe had his worst game in nearly two months. Still, his 11 points (on 14 shots) was second behind only Will Miller’s 14 points. The Mount end their season with as many wins as losses (15). With only Kristijan Krajina graduating, the Mount returns everyone else of significance and will likely be viewed as a top 2 or 3 NEC squad come next October.

NEC Player of the NEC Quarterfinals
Earl Brown, Saint Francis U – The 6’6″ senior was awesome in his second NEC tournament, dominating the bigger Mountaineers and controlling the paint with his 12th double double of the season. He made all 10 of his free throw attempts while shooting a perfect 5 of 5 from inside the arc. That is a heck of a way to start the NEC tournament.

NEC Player of the NEC Quarterfinals in a Losing Effort
Phil Gaetano, Sacred Heart – The throwback, pass-first point guard ended his career on a high note, albeit in a losing effort. He finishes with 719 career assists, good enough for third place all-time in the NEC. Not bad for a player who was once considered a Division II only prospect.

NEC Performance of the NEC Quarterfinals
Saint Francis U – This was the upset of the night according to KenPom, who gave SFU a 29% shot at upending the defending champs on the road. The Red Flash did more than that, soundly outplaying their rivals from start to finish. The Mount’s length really did nothing to disturb the 8th smallest roster in Division I basketball.

NEC Moment of the NEC Quarterfinals
No words are needed for this future SportsCenter Top 10 moment. Just check out Tim O’Shea’s reaction after the shot – I’ve never seen him so excited on the sidelines!


Next Up in NEC Semifinals
#3 Bryant at #2 Robert Morris, Noon
#5 Saint Francis U at #1 St. Francis Brooklyn, 2:30 PM
*Both games on Saturday, March 6

11 thoughts on “NEC Tournament Recap – The First Round

  1. Love how you added a category for player of the night in a losing effort so you could give an award to a Sacred player. That being said Gaetano didn’t have nearly as big of an impact on that game as Broome


  2. SFU outplayed the Mount in every way possible tonight. Nothing to really say, they were the better team. One thing that frustrates me (and I’m sure every coach in the NEC) that is completely unrelated to basketball is SPRING BREAK. It sucks to work all year and earn a home court game only to have the advantage completely taken away because the student section is empty. It happens every year and worked to our advantage in the past. I guess it’s unavoidable to an extent, but I sure wish these schools would consider the playoffs when planning the school schedule. It can certainly be the difference between winning and losing and making the NCAA tourney has to be huge for the school for marketing, you would think planning Spring Break accordingly would be worth it. I think Mount’s break is earlier than the rest of the league this year, but it’s going to effect the rest of the home teams this weekend and next week. Just annoying that it’s a factor every year.

    Besides that, one complaint, and it’s been a complaint all year, Will Miller needs more minutes and more shots. He’s not an all-league defender, but figure out a way to hide him on D because His shot is a difference maker. His minutes were mismanaged all year and really prevebted him from taking over games with his shot. The PG’s need to look for him and other shooters (Ashe, Smeathers) in transition more too. They’re young, so that should improve next year.

    Good luck to STBK and Bryant. Just don’t let RMU win!!


    1. Will Miller played more than half the game last night and the team lost by 15 points. Not sure how much giving him more minutes would have factored into the game last night, or any night really.

      He’s a specialist and a great shooter but until he figures out a way to be effective in other areas of the game he’s not going to be a factor to play more than he does. That’s the bottom line.

      That being said, the team is young and faced a team much more experienced. Similar to LIU. Both teams will be back in the finals before too long.


  3. Good to see the Mount bounced out of the tourney. RMU had the most impressive offensive performance of the night and maybe its best offensive showing of the year. One thing I worry about with the Colonials is their 3-2 zone. It looks really leaky at points and allows some easy shots for post players (see: Mike Aaman).

    Hopefully Toole has a backup defense in place or switches to a 2-1-2 if the opposition is scoring easily. I would like to think the Colonials would score 80 every game but that isn’t realistic.

    Also, RMU fans need to show up in force on Saturday.


  4. Really frustrating night as a Mount alum and fan to watch that display. Junior Robinson picked the worst night to look like a true freshman and really struggled making bad decisions all night. I totally agree with the early post about the timing of spring break and not having any students present at the game. Watching it online I saw a lot of red in the stands. The Mount played St Francis at home earlier in the year during their homecoming and the atmosphere couldn’t have been any different. All that being said much credit to the more experienced St. Francis (PA) team. Early Brown played great when he is team needed him the most.

    I am rooting for a Robert Morris at St Francis Brooklyn final b/c I think that would be a highly entertaining game and a great showcase of talent for the NEC. Either team I believe could upset someone in the big tourney.


  5. I would like to see St Francis Brooklyn go all the way and make their 1st NCAA tourney.
    It is never easy in the NEC, especially when your the #1 seed.


  6. Spring break is a fact of life. LIU’s 3rd championship was contested during spring break and the stands were pretty full for the LIU-Mount game.

    Not an excuse. The players need to perform and while the fans in the stands do help a bit, they don’t execute offense or defense. I’m pretty sure Jamion Christian will tell everyone that will listen that the fans had nothing to do with why SFU shot 52% and why his team shot under 40%.


  7. NEC Fan – Were you there last night? SFU brought two bus loads of fans and a marching band (mounts was not there) and were most definitely a factor in the game. Without Mount students there, they were noticeably louder and chanting the entire game. If it’s not a factor, then why does home court ever matter? They basically took the home court. It wasn’t the only reason we lost obviously, many factors contributed to that, but is it inconceivable that it played a factor in the overall performance of both teams?? I don’t think so. All you have to do is look at the first 5 minutes. Mount looked shell shocked by the noise of their crowd and was done 9-0. I think the fans were shell shocked too.

    I know Spring Break is a reality, that’s basically what I said in my first post, but it’s still annoying when it takes away part of the home court advantage and it can be a factor in the game.


    1. No, I was not there. But as I said before, it’s Mount’s responsibility to figure it out if their campus is on spring break. LIU’s spring break was during that tournament game in 2013, and Mount sent plenty of people. LIU was able to get enough of a crowd, and ultimately their team won. It’s just another excuse.

      Another thing – experience (and inexperience) plays a huge factor in playoff games, regardless of where the game is played. If you don’t have kids who have gone through everything before, its unlikely you’re going to go very far.

      Mount had three seniors last year that played a huge role. St. Francis has a ton of seniors this year. LIU had a ton of experience even in their first championship with two starters being seniors and having two redshirt sophomores.

      Mount’s top 3 scorers and playmakers last year graduated. They’re young. That played a bigger factor than the crowd.


      1. Again, I didn’t say it was the only factor, just that it was a factor. I know it effects other schools too, I said that. Good for LIU to overcome it 2 years ago. I’m just saying it played a role last night. Being young played a role as well. Mount does have some experience though, a 6 year senior and three juniors play a lot of minutes plus Ashe and Miller who played roles on a championship team last year. They are young at PG though, which is arguably the spot where experience pays off the most. But, agree to disagree.

        I gave SFU credit right away though, and I’ll do it again. They won fair and square. Outplayed the Mount the entire game.


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