Given all of the so-called parity in the NEC this season, several teams expected to finish in the upper third of the league did just that. No one was all that surprised to find Robert Morris, Wagner and LIU Brooklyn hosting home playoff games, with Bryant serving as the Cinderella story of the group. All four clubs won at least 12 NEC games; therefore KenPom pegged each as moderate to heavy favorites for tonight’s matchups. Frankly, it isn’t all that shocking given the numbers listed below, courtesy of NEC Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner:
- Home teams have posted a 18-2 record in the quarterfinals over the last five years.
- All four home teams hosting tonight were a combined 43-11 in their friendly confines before tonight’s action.
- In the last seven seasons, the #1, #2, and #3 seeded teams of the tournament were 21-0 versus their quarterfinals competition.
In other words, history was not on the underdog’s side. But this is why we play the games, so allow us to recap and highlight the first round of the fabulous NEC tournament.
#1 Robert Morris 75, #8 St. Francis Brooklyn 57
History was certainly against the Terriers heading into this one, with Robert Morris compiling an exceptional NEC tournament record of 10-2 in the previous four seasons. St. Francis did nothing to thwart that trend, as the Terriers went quietly into the night never once threatening to become the first #8 seed to win since 1984. Robert Morris was dominant on the defensive end, forcing 16 turnovers and holding Glenn Braica’s club to 0.88 points per possession (PPP). The Colonials are now 12-1 on the season when they hold their conference opponents to under 1.00 PPP. Karvel Anderson, bum wrist and all, scored a game high 20 points with four rainmakers. Senior Russell Johnson registered 19 points and seven rebounds, while Lucky Jones also grabbed seven caroms to go along with 16 points. Jalen Cannon and Dre Calloway scored an efficient 29 points on 14 shots, but the rest of the Terrier roster only managed to make nine of 33 shot attempts. St. Francis concludes their season with a final record of 12-18.
#5 Mount St. Mary’s 75, #4 Bryant 69
Mount St. Mary’s continued their hot streak by winning their eighth straight game to stun the Bryant Bulldogs, 75-69, in front of a packed house in Smithfield, RI. It was the first playoff win for the Mount since the days of Milan Brown, thanks to a second half surge that saw the Mount outscore their opponent, 47-34. The Bulldogs, led by Alex Francis and Vlad Kondratyev’s combined 20 first half points, led at the break by seven. But Jamion Christian’s defense attacked in the second half, mounting a comeback fueled by nine Bulldog turnovers, some clutch shooting, and severe foul trouble by Bryant. Overall, it wasn’t a great shooting night for the Mount, but the team made a season high 26 of 27 free throws to provide separation at the end. Four Mountaineers scored in double figures, led by Rashad Whack’s 19 points paired with eight rebounds. It was Christian’s first playoff win of his career, and now he’ll get a chance for a second victory at the Chuck on Saturday afternoon. Only five players scored for Bryant, who found themselves in severe foul trouble throughout. Alex Francis logged a game high 25 points.
#3 LIU Brooklyn 91, #6 Quinnipiac 83
For the second straight season, Tom Moore’s Bobcats fell to LIU in the NEC playoffs. Quinnipiac had second half leads in both games, but failed to hold on. After leading by as many as nine points in this one, LIU embarked on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 75 all. From there, a back and forth battle ensued leading to six players eventually fouling out. But in the end, LIU Brooklyn’s experience pulled through thanks to C.J. Garner’s 30 points. Despite playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble, NEC POY Jamal Olasewere scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists. Quinnipiac’s season likely comes to an end (barring an unlikely invitation from the CIT or CBI), but Moore can rest assured that Ousmane Drame should be a dominant force down low next season. Drame scored 23 points in the defeat and ends his season averaging 14.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest over the final 12 games. Senior Jamee Jackson finishes his career with 10 points and nine rebounds. For Ray Curren’s guest post about the game go here.
#2 Wagner 72, #7 Central Connecticut 50
Wagner turned back the clock and played some Dan Hurley inspired defense to smother CCSU from the opening tip in a dominating first round victory. Led by Jonathan Williams’ 20 points and six rebounds, the Seahawks built a commanding 14 point lead at the half after holding CCSU to only 22% shooting. Things didn’t get any better for Howie Dickenman’s kids, as they shot 25% and committed 11 turnovers versus only four assists for the game. Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter combined to miss 25 of their 35 shots, with the more athletic and deeper Seahawks pestering the Blue Devils all night. Offensively, it wasn’t a great effort for Bashir Mason’s Seahawks, but they did just enough to comfortably win their 11th home game of the season. Like Christian, Bashir Mason is now in the win column for the NEC playoffs. Not bad at all for a 28-year-old.
Top Performances of the Night
C.J. Garner, LIU Brooklyn – The senior was the man with Jamal Olasewere helplessly watching from the bench, scoring 17 of his game high 30 points in the second half.
Russell Johnson, Robert Morris – The most consistent frontcourt presence for Andy Toole all season shined once again, filling up the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds, and five steals. As far as game efficiency ratings are concerned, tonight was the best game of Johnson’s career.
Biggest Surprise of the Night
Mount Mayhem – After trailing by seven points at the half, Mount St. Mary’s defense dug in and shutdown the best offense of the NEC for the second half. The Mount held Bryant to only 1.00 PPP and 40.7% from the floor for the final 20 minutes, which may not seem like much, until you realize Bryant was scoring at a 1.14 PPP rate and shooting 47.9% for the NEC season.
NEC Semifinals Schedule
Saturday, March 9th, Noon: #3 LIU Brooklyn at #2 Wagner
Saturday, March 9th, 2:30 PM: #5 Mount St. Mary’s at #1 Robert Morris