The NEC finals are officially set! With the #1 and #2 seed advancing into the tournament’s final game, let’s break down the action on the last Saturday of the NEC conference season.
Without further ado…
Robert Morris 66, Bryant 53
For the sixth time in seven seasons, the Robert Morris Colonials are back in the NEC tournament final! Andy Toole will look to snap his four game losing streak in the NEC finals while making it to his first NCAA tournament as the Robert Morris head coach. For now though, the five-year head coach improves his NEC tournament record to a terrific 9-4.
Kavon Stewart played a major role in Toole getting that ninth victory. The sophomore guard had the game of his career, setting career highs in points (19), field goals made (6), steals (7) and efficiency rating (28) while adding eight dimes against a single turnover. His seven thefts were one short of a NEC tournament record for individual takeaways in a single game. He was everywhere on both sides of the floor.
After a mediocre first half, Lucky Jones was productive in the latter 20 minutes, finishing with 11 points, three steals, two assists and two rebounds. Rodney Pryor toughed it out on a bum ankle to score 12 points, his seventh straight game cracking the 10-point scoring threshold. In all, the Colonials shot 45% from the floor and punished Bryant’s matchup zone inside the arc, making 18 of 33 (55%) of those attempts.
The Bulldogs trailed for the first 25 minutes of the game, but two Joe O’Shea free throws gave his team an unlikely advantage with 14:16 left in the second half. The lead turned out to short-lived, however, as the Colonials soon embarked on a timely 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.
The Bulldogs’ 19 turnovers committed was certainly out of character for a squad that led the NEC in turnover rate (17.1%), but Stewart and the Colonials’ 2-3 zone led to several costly mistakes. The sloppiness and ineffectiveness also led to Bryant’s second worst offensive performance of the conference season at 0.83 points per possession.
Because of Robert Morris’ defensive pressure, Bryant had more turnovers than made field goals (18) and shot a middling 40% from the field. Dyami Starks did all he could to keep the Bulldogs in the game, especially in the first half when he scored 7 of his team’s first 9 points. He finished with a team high 19 points in his last ever NEC game, but it wasn’t enough as freshman Bosco Kostur (10 points, 4 rebounds, 4-7 shooting) was the only other Bulldog to crack double figures in scoring. O’Shea didn’t have much of an impact with five point and one shot attempt before fouling out.
Bryant has a 1-3 record in the NEC tournament in their brief Division I tenure. Even if they are invited to compete at the CIT or CBI, the program will finish at or above 0.500 for the third straight season.
St. Francis Brooklyn 62, Saint Francis U 48
For the first time since 2003, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers will be back at the NEC title game after soundly defeating their conference rivals in front of a packed house. For the Terriers’ next game, the festivities will be held inside the Pope Center on national television!
Jalen Cannon (surprise, surprise) paced his club with a game high 20 points and 11 rebounds. He registered his league leading twentieth double double (in 33 games) of the season. The NEC Player of the Year also drained two three-pointers and committed just one turnover and one personal foul. He received a lot of help from fellow frontcourt mate Chris Hooper, who contributed with 11 points (on 5 of 8 shooting) and seven rebounds. In all, seven different Terriers collected at least one offensive rebound. Their tenacity on the glass led to 16 second-chance points and a decisive +9 rebounding edge over the Red Flash. Senior Brent Jones finished with 13 points and eight assists in his second to last game ever at the Remsen Street campus.
With today’s victory, the Terriers earned their 23rd victory of the season, matching a program high. Back in 1954, the Terriers finished the season with a 23-5 record under the direction of Daniel Lynch. If SFC pulls through on Tuesday, it will set a new mark for the most victories ever earned in a season and, of course, guide the program to its first ever NCAA tournament berth.
The Red Flash hung tough through one half of play thanks to Malik Harmon’s 12 first half points – he finished with a team high 18 — but the #1 seed ran away with the contest early in the second stanza. A 14-6 run out of the gate extended the Terriers lead to double-digits, and they never looked back from there. SFU was outscored by 11 points in the second frame.
Earl Brown struggled to score in the final NEC game of his career, registering 12 points on 3 of 14 shooting. He did have an impact around the rim, though, collecting a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. After Harmon’s effort, the rest of the Red Flash combined to shoot a ghastly 22.2% (10-45) from the field. Despite the loss, SFU is guaranteed to finish the 2014-15 season with a winning record, their first since the 2004-05 campaign.
NEC Players of the NEC Semifinals
Kavon Stewart, Robert Morris – The shifty and lightning fast point guard wasn’t a likely candidate for this honor prior to Saturday’s jump ball, but the sophomore was fantastic running Toole’s offense and disrupting Bryant’s offensive attack, which came in as the second best offensive efficiency (108.4 points per 100 possessions) in the NEC.
Jalen Cannon, St. Francis Brooklyn – The senior was unstoppable again, mainly in the low post after sinking 7 of 8 from inside the arc. Today’s performance was a model of efficiency, as Cannon registered a splendid efficiency rating of 26.
NEC Player of the NEC Semifinals in a Losing Performance
Malik Harmon, Saint Francis University – The sophomore did all he could to keep his team in the game, but alas his 18 points on 11 shots wasn’t enough. With Earl Brown struggling and little help elsewhere, the point guard had to morph into a shooting guard today (he had zero assists) just to keep the Red Flash within striking distance.
Next Up For the NEC Finals
#2 Robert Morris at #1 St. Francis Brooklyn, 7 PM
*Game played on Tuesday, March 8