Three Thoughts: Robert Morris 66, St. Francis Brooklyn 63

It’s taken a lot of time to process what happened last night on Remsen Street.

The atmosphere in the Pope Center was absolutely electric. Here's the standing room only St. Francis student section.
The atmosphere in the Pope Center was absolutely electric. Here’s the standing room only St. Francis student section.

From an entertainment and production standpoint the NEC received everything it could’ve asked for from its conference tournament. The final between Robert Morris and St. Francis Brooklyn was one for the ages with all the twists and turns necessary for a championship. Ray Curren wrote an excellent piece shortly after the buzzer (and Vincent Simone took some great photos), but now that I’ve had some time to think about it, here are three thoughts from Brooklyn.

1) This was heartbreaking for St. Francis Brooklyn, but it’s certainly not the end. For the entire season SFC played like the best team in the NEC. It’s how the Terriers earned home court advantage throughout the tournament and why just more than 1,000 people packed into the Pope Center wishing for a championship. Up six at halftime the Terriers had a chance to dream. To wonder if they would finally make the #forgottenfive the #forgottenfour. Unfortunately, just like William & Mary the night before, the ending was all too cruel.

But as Glenn Braica said after the game, Robert Morris wasn’t a great matchup for St. Francis. The Colonials had the ability to neutralize many of the Terriers’ best tricks, including their three-guard sets thanks to the presence of Rodney Pryor and Lucky Jones. The two versatile wings can guard both up (a power forward inside) or down (a shooting guard on the wing). Pryor in particular is a three-guard lineup killer. His three-point stroke once again proved to be a major difference, as he went 4-8 from deep and scored a team-high 17 points. It was Pryor whose threes keyed the run that ultimately gave RMU the victory.

Still, St. Francis isn’t done. The Terriers will get a shot against someone in the NIT. Most likely it’ll be a No. 1 seed and a hostile gym. But after months of playing NEC teams giving who gave SFC their best fight it might just be exactly what this team needs to have one final moment in what has been one, if not the greatest, seasons in school history.

“People respect the program,” Braica said afterward. “I’d be shocked if anyone doesn’t. People respect our program and these guys should be proud of that.”

Andy Toole, always a gracious victor echoed the same sentiments. “I can’t tell you how much we respect Glenn and his staff and his team and their players and what they do. We know that every time we’ve played them since he’s been there they’ve been wars.”

Those battles are likely to continue too. Even though SFC will graduate some key pieces in Jalen Cannon, Brent Jones, Lowell Ulmer and Kevin Douglas, the cupboard isn’t bare. Glenn Sanabria, Tyreek Jewell, Chris Hooper and Amdy Fall are all key pieces of a St. Francis program that has flourished under Braica’s toutelage and should be right back in the mix next season in the NEC. This might be just the start of an impressive run for SFC.

2) Brent Jones blamed himself, but he shouldn’t have. In the press conference after the game, Brent Jones — who was in foul trouble for most of the night and finished with just seven points, five assists and four turnovers before fouling out last — took a large share of the blame for the loss. What he said is understandable. Jones is one of the most honest and animated quotes I’ve ever spoken with. He’s grown from a part-time player to an all-conference first team player during his four years in Brooklyn Heights and he’s never been one to shy away from the spotlight. He was the animus of the Terriers’ attack all season. Andy Toole knew it too. After Jones scored 23 points, including 20 in the second half, at Robert Morris on Jan. 16, it wasn’t going to happen ever again. Jones scored only 11 points in the two-point loss to RMU in the rematch a little more than a week later and during the championship it seemed as if the Colonials’ zone had only two jobs: Stop Brent Jones. Stop Jalen Cannon.

“I was thinking too much,” Jones said about facing RMU’s defense. “How can I get Jalen the ball? How can I get Chris [Hooper] the ball? How can I set up Tyreek [Jewell]?”

That was exactly the issue. Like all of Glenn Braica’s guards, Jones is at his best he’s instantly reading and reacting. Playing on instinct. There’s one dribble, one decision, and it happens. That’s really hard to do when everywhere you turn there’s a new player jumping out on you defensively. The RMU defenders consistently came way above the three-point line to stop the ball screens that are the key to SFC’s zone offense. They dared Jones to try and find a corner and then those same defenders dared Jewell, Kevin Douglas, or whoever else was on the wing to beat them. In the end they couldn’t. And while Jones made some absolutely sublime players plays, including one dastardly cut right into the teeth of a defense, he never seemed to find a rhythm. RMU concentrated on taking away SFC’s soul and succeeded in doing exactly that, especially in the second half.

3) Kavon Stewart deserved to be on the NEC all-conference team. Coming into the season Kavon Stewart was the biggest question mark in the Robert Morris rotation. During NEC play the sophomore point guard was shaky in a lot of RMU’s losses, but he put together three of his best games of the season in the NEC tournament. Stewart had offensive ratings of 114, 152 and 99 in the three tournament games and scored 10, 19 and 11 points respectively. His ability to hit late-game free throws helped RMU clinch the title too. Stewart deserved a spot on the NEC all-tournament team – though I don’t know who you’d kick off. If he’s found another level, then Robert Morris becomes a much more difficult team to stop. A feisty, tenacious defender with good passing skills, Stewart should be a fixture in the lineup in Moon Township the next two seasons.

And now both of these teams — and Saint Francis U. — will continue playing in the postseason. Robert Morris looks destined for the NCAA tournament play-in game (“first round”) in Dayton, while St. Francis Brooklyn will probably play at one of the teams that is among the first four left out of the NCAA tournament in the NIT. The Red Flash get to host a game in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. We’ll follow all of it here.

5 thoughts on “Three Thoughts: Robert Morris 66, St. Francis Brooklyn 63

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more about Stewart being on the all-tourney team. Earl Brown is a great player but not sure how you put him ahead of Kavon given how well he played in all three games and how much Brown struggled in Brooklyn.

    I would like to add that it was so refreshing to see how classy both coaches and teams were in their respective post games. Congrats to them both on great seasons.

    Looking forward to seeing how all three teams fare in the postseason. Hopefully, RMU can get a win in Dayton, SFB puts a scare into someone in the NIT and SFU makes a run in the CIT.

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  2. Elijah Minnie also deserved to be on all tourney team he had 14 pts 9 boards and 4 blocks they could have left Jones of as well 7pts and 4 turnovers in final are not all tourney worthy. I thought RMU would win it all even though they were not “the best” team in the conference all season long they did have the most talent and potential. That’s why you work on getting better as the season progresses in order to be ready for the conf. Tourney. With RMU being so young I figured it would take time, but I also knew Coach Toole would coach them up and have them ready for the tourney. Minnie and Stewart kept improving and are both playing their best ball of the season. Not a surprise here.

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    1. RMU will continue to be a top flight NEC program if they can reduce all of the off-the-court issues. Lucky Jones won’t be back but the rest of that core will be. Big question will be whether Andy Toole will be lured elsewhere. Think that he’s likely accomplished what he wanted to do at RMU and it may be time to move on. Interesting that the Terrier women now at least have a chance for payback vs RMU. That would be sweet, as no one gave them a chance to make the NEC final. SFC still has a shot to make the NCAA’s. Incredible!

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      1. Dear John,

        I appreciated your advice on the schools not in the power six conferences. Just want to make sure that I have this right. All we have to do is schedule the power six conferences on their home court and like Texas, who has not beat a single team that is in the tournament in an away game, we will get in. Since December 5 they are 2-12 against teams which will be in the tournament, beating one on their home court, which would not be possible, since you have stated yourself that they will not play a team like Murray on their court, and one on a neutral court. They have a record of 9-11 since January 5. Those wins consist of three against Texas Tech, which is not going to a tournament, two against Kansas State, which you have kicked out of the NIT, and two against TCU, which is not going to a tournament. I do give them credit, as they have went 2-12 against teams who will be in the tournament since December 5th, as I have noted. Therefore, why do you have them in your bracket. Murray State is 25-1 since Thanksgiving. They deserve a bid. Can you defend putting a Texas team who is under .500 in their conference, with zero road wins against teams that will be in the tournament, over Murray State. Evidently, you think so. People do not tune in to the NCAA tournament to see a team with 13 losses, and a 2-12 record against tournament teams. They tune in to see Cinderella. If Texas makes it, I’m not watching.

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      2. I’m not sure how this ended up here, but…

        All I’m saying is that we have established selection criteria for how a team makes the NCAA tournament. That selection criteria is quite obviously flawed, but it exists. Before the season every team knew exactly what it would be judged on and could create schedule accordingly. Murray State knows that it plays in the OVC. So Murray State should also have known that it should take ANY game it could get that was against a power conference school. It would’ve helped. Murray held out mostly for home-and-home games and had to settle for lesser opponents.

        Texas is definitely one of the best teams in the country. They played in one of the toughest conference not just this season, but ever. They’ve had some terrible luck in close games and according to KenPom are the 19TH BEST TEAM IN THE COUNTRY. Texas beat Iowa (in the tourney) on a neutral court and beat West Virginia and Baylor at home. So there’s three wins over tournament teams. I understand Texas is 20-13, but they’re one of the best 68 teams in the country and they deserve to play in the NCAA tournament. I want my Cinderellas to have earned their place at the ball. Murray State didn’t. If Texas gets in and Murray State doesn’t I hope you’ll reconsider, because it’s going to be a great tournament.

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