NEC Recap January 2: The Season Openers

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – NEC conference hoops time! Fans across the league will be treated to four conference showdowns in the next eight days for each program, so playing well to begin 2016 will be critical in helping to shape the final standings come March.

Let’s jump right into it and provide a recap of each game and offer our NEC player and performance of the day.

Saint Francis U. 73, Wagner 65
Saint Francis U. started NEC play strong with a home victory over Wagner. The Red Flash and Seahawks were two of the more successful NEC teams during non-conference and they played a competitive opener. Wagner dug itself into trouble by only scoring 25 points in the first half. The offense picked up a bit in the second half though. In particular the Seahawks were able to score in the paint, as Mike Aaman (16 points on 8-8 on twos in 13 minutes) and Michael Carey (11 points on 3-5 on twos) both scored in double-figures. The problem was foul trouble. Both Carey and Henry Brooks fouled out of the game and Aaman and Japhet Kadji both finished with four personals.

The Red Flash earned the victory thanks to a balanced scoring effort that was led by Greg Brown. The senior guard scored 19 points even while dealing with Dwaun Anderson most of the afternoon. Brown is now averaging 20 ppg in his last three contests and has become the go-to scorer for SFU. Four others scored in double-figures for the Red Flash, including Isaiah Blackmon. The freshman guard scored 12 points in 33 minutes because SFU’s starting point guard, Malik Harmon, left the game with an apparent shoulder injury just three minutes into the first half. Rob Krimmel has to be happy that his team was able to notch the home victory and now SFU will have a fascinating game against Sacred Heart on Monday. The winner will be undefeated and the early season leader in the NEC.

Sacred Heart 69, Robert Morris 65
After a difficult non-conference season which mercifully ended with a 10-game losing streak, Sacred Heart got off on the right foot with a nail-biting road victory over Robert Morris to start the conference season. It was Sacred Heart’s first win at The Chuck since January 13, 2008 and only their third win overall against Andy Toole in 5+ seasons.

Cane Broome nearly scored half of his team’s points, registering a career high 33 points on 22 shots. Broome’s backcourt mate Quincy McKnight was also quietly efficient with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Senior Eyimofe Edukugho, filling in for an injured and unavailable Tevin Falzon, chipped in with 10 points off the bench. The Pioneers made 47.6% of their 2s, which isn’t bad considering the injuries and constant foul trouble throughout the game.

Robert Morris was seemingly in control after a 9-3 run to close out the first half pushed their advantage to 5 points, yet the Pioneers answered with a 10-0 run of their own early in the second to get back into the game. The Colonials failed to put away the Pioneers thanks to some poor shooting (40.8% overall) and carelessness (20 turnovers) on the offensive end. Equally as puzzling was Sacred Heart outscoring Robert Morris 38-22 in the paint, and the Colonials registering just 0.88 points per possession, even though SHU opponents had broken the 1.00 ppp threshold 10 of 11 times coming in.

Kavon Stewart and Rodney Pryor (35 combined points) did their best to keep the Colonials around late, but it wasn’t enough to offset a difficult shooting performance from behind the arc (28.6%, 6 of 21). They’ll host a defensively stout, yet offensively challenged Wagner squad on Monday evening.

Bryant 88, Central Connecticut 72
According to KenPom, Bryant had the best chance to win today as a 86% favorite and they delivered in what turned out to be a lopsided affair in Smithfield, RI. It was the Bulldogs second straight win and fourth straight in NEC openers under Tim O’Shea.

Freshman Marcel Pettway continued his dominant run with 26 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. In his last 9 games, the freshman center is averaging 11.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 2.2 apg. Daniel Garvin posted his third double-double of the season with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Shane McLaughlin and Hunter Ware each contributed 15 points on 11 shots.

After an Eric Bowles three-pointer gave CCSU a lead 6 minutes in, Bryant took the lead for good on a McLauglin layup and coasted from there. Khalen Cumberlander scored a team high 17 points, but a porous defensive effort (1.28 ppp allowed) doomed the Blue Devils.

Central Connecticut has now dropped seven straight to Bryant, with their last victory coming in January of 2012. They are 1-11 to start the 2015-16 season.

Mount St. Mary’s 79, LIU Brooklyn 63
Mount St. Mary’s improved to 23-7 at home over the past 3 seasons with a decisive victory over the visiting Blackbirds. After a back-and-forth affair in the early going, a 18-4 Mount run, fueled by four 3s and two buckets in transition off of LIU Brooklyn turnovers, extended the Mount’s advantage to double-digits. The Blackbirds wouldn’t get any closer than 11 the rest of the way.

The Mount Mayhem identity, in fact, was on full display for most of the contest, with the team forcing 21 turnovers and outscoring the Blackbirds behind the arc, 27-9. Moreover, the Mountaineers possessed excellent balance, another staple of Mayhem, with five players scoring at least 13 points. BK Ashe led the team with 17 points, although it was the bouncy sophomore Chris Wray who was the most efficient, pouring in 13 points and 5 rebounds on 6 of 10 shooting. Collectively, the Mount shot 46.1% from the field, which was their fourth best shooting percentage of the season.

LIU Brooklyn, meanwhile, was paced by Martin Hermansson (17 points on 11 shots), Jerome Frink (16 points, 10 rebounds, seventh straight game in double figures) and not much else. The offense was clearly bothered by the Mount’s consistent pressure, as evident from their turnover rate of 29.6%. If there was one bright spot for Jack Perri’s team, it was their aggressive nature which led to 20 made free throws on 26 attempts. The Blackbirds will look to regroup at the hapless CCSU Blue Devils on Monday.

Fairleigh Dickinson 86, St. Francis Brooklyn 77
Stephan Jiggets and Ghassan Nehme hit big threes down the stretch after costly St. Francis Brooklyn turnovers and Fairleigh Dickinson won its fourth straight NEC opener in Teaneck, NJ on Saturday evening. (Though whether that bodes well for the future is TBD because they’ve finished a combined 11-41 after the past three seasons.) Jiggets scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Knights, while Darian Anderson added 20 and Earl Potts Jr. threw in 16. Add Marques Townes’ 11 points and Greg Herenda got exactly what he wanted out of his guards, which led to the Knights scoring 1.21 points per possession—their best efficiency against a Division I opponent all season.

FDU needed all those points though, after shooting 4-16 from three and committing 16 turnovers. The Terriers were able to score 1.08 points per possession by going 19-24 from the free throw line (an excellent day for the Terriers who came in shooting 59% from the line) along with 18 offensive rebounds. Chris Hooper scored 19 points to lead the way while Amdy Fall added 15 for the Terriers. Despite the production down low, SFC really struggled to contain FDU’s athleticism on the offensive end. Townes, Anderson and Jiggets were all able to create for each other off the dribble and the interior defense was especially poor for the Terriers when Fall wasn’t in the game. The Terriers have now lost six of their last seven games and have a tough road game at Mount St. Mary’s on Monday.

NEC Player of the Day
Cane Broome, Sacred Heart – Broome’s 33 points accounted for 48% of the Pioneers scoring and he did it while posting a splendid efficiency rating of 30.0 for the victory. His ability to slash off the dribble and keep defenders honest from behind the arc allowed Sacred Heart to walk away with an improbable victory minus their second best player, Tevin Falzon.

NEC Performance of the Day
Mount St. Mary’s – As usual, it’s been an topsy turvy non-conference campaign for Christian’s team, yet they were dominant today in the friendly confines of Knott Arena. Despite boasting one of the best offenses in the NEC, LIU Brooklyn never was comfortable handling the Mount’s pressure and could only muster 0.88 points per possession. 

NEC Standings
T1) Bryant, 1-0
T1) Saint Francis U., 1-0
T1) Sacred Heart, 1-0
T1) Fairleigh Dickinson, 1-0
T1) Mount St. Mary’s, 1-0
T6) LIU Brooklyn, 0-1
T6) Robert Morris, 0-1
T6) Wagner, 0-1
T6) St. Francis Brooklyn, 0-1
T6) Central Connecticut, 0-1

Next Up on the NEC Schedule
Sacred Heart at Saint Francis U., 5 p.m.
Bryant at Central Connecticut, 7 p.m.
St. Francis Brooklyn at Mount St. Mary’s, 7 p.m.
Wagner at Robert Morris, 7 p.m.
LIU Brooklyn at Central Connecticut, 7 p.m.
*All games are on Monday, January 4

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