NEC Tournament First Round: Recaps and Highlights

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

Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed

It was the year of parity and unpredictably in the NEC, and that notion certainly extends out to our all-conference awards. There are several worthy candidates, so it was a challenging exercise for John and I to sort out our All-NEC first, second, and third teams. For our individual awards, including Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc., go here. So without further ado, let’s begin! Continue reading “Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed”

NEC Thursday: The Valentine’s Day Recap!

With my wife out of town, I was able to keep my eye on the NEC basketball scene for what turned out to be a special Valentine’s Day recap! Enjoy…

Mount St. Mary’s 84, Bryant 70
Sam Prescott had the performance of his life with 44 points on 16 of 24 shooting to help lead the Mount to an impressive drubbing of league leader Bryant. After the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead thanks to Dyami Starks’ three points, two assists, and one rebound in four minutes, Bryant struggled offensively when Starks was saddled with two quick fouls. After that, a Prescott onslaught from behind the three-point line guided the Mount to a double-digit lead at the half. In all, Prescott tied a Mount record for the most threes scored in a game (10-14), while also breaking the school’s D-I record for most points in a game. Perhaps quietly, Shivaughn Wiggins and Julien Norfleet did a wonderful job fasciliating on offense. The duo dished out 16 assists versus only one turnover. Bryant shot the ball well, but couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers and a porous effort defensively on the perimeter that allowed the Mount to sink 50.9% of their shots. Alex Francis scored a team high 25 points to go along with ten rebounds, but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome Prescott’s special night.

St. Francis (PA) 64, Sacred Heart 60
In the upset of the night, St. Francis (PA) notched their third win of the season by knocking off a significantly banged up Sacred Heart team on the road. Phil Gaetano was out with the flu leaving the Pioneers devoid of a true point guard on the roster and limiting Dave Bike to seven healthy scholarship players and walk-on Louis Cramer. Shane Gibson did his part registering 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and five steals, but it wasn’t enough as no other Pioneer logged a game efficiency rating higher than a six (for non-stat heads, a six isn’t very good). Four players scored in double digits for Rob Krimmel’s club, led by double-double machine Earl Brown with 13 points and 11 boards. St. Francis lost the edge on the boards, but shot well enough from the perimeter (7-16 behind the arc) and at the charity stripe (19-26) to pull through. The win moves St. Francis (PA) out of the cellar with a 3-10 record, while Sacred Heart nows find themselves only up 1.5 games on the 9th place team in the conference. With no more “cupcakes” on the schedule, it’s now or never for the Pioneers coming up.

LIU Brooklyn 82, Monmouth 66
A nearly down-and-out Monmouth team hung tough and even led the back-to-back defending champs with 11 minutes left in the second half, 52-51. But then a 20-5 LIU run put the game out of reach and made certain the Hawks would lose for the fifth time in six games. The offensive numbers won’t make Jack Perri all too happy (1.02 PPP, 14 assists versus 24 turnovers), yet the defense stepped up to force 17 turnovers and a mediocre 40% shooting mark for Monmouth. In addition, the Blackbirds won the rebounding battle 35-27 and hit 14 more freebies from the line. Jamal Olasewere led the team with 23 points, but C.J. Garner was equally as excellent with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Ed Waite led Monmouth with 24 points, but he needed 19 shots to get there. After him though, only two Hawk players – Jesse Steele and Stephen Spinella – scored more than five points.

Wagner 101, Central Connecticut 82
If Wagner scores the basketball like that the rest of the season, then I’m pretty confident they’ll join Robert Morris, Bryant, and LIU Brooklyn in the upper third of the league at season’s end. Wagner shattered their season high in points per possession with 1.32 PPP, while draining over 61% of their shots in a blowout home win over the suddenly defensively challenged Blue Devils. Seven Seahawks scored at least eight points with Marcus Burton claiming 23 points on only nine shots. The game moved at a feverish pace with 155 total possessions, but it was Wagner who benefitted the most from the tempo. Central Connecticut, led by Kyle Vinales’ 42 points on 24 shots, cut Wagner’s lead to seven points early in the second half, but a 15-0 run by the Seahawks essentially turned the game into a laugher. Odd enough, CCSU falls to 4-8 on the season when they average more than 73 possessions in a game. Is it safe to say the lack of depth hurts CCSU in these games that turn into track meets? Whatever the reason, Howie Dickenman shouldn’t be happy that Wagner outscored his club in the paint, 44-24, while also allowing the Seahawks to drill nine of their 15 long-range jumpers. It was a lousy defensive effort whichever way you slice it.

St. Francis Brooklyn 85, Fairleigh Dickinson 61
When it rains it pours, and right now it’s pouring losses for FDU. The Knights dropped their ninth straight to a struggling St. Francis team, as they were unable to overcome 21 point efforts from both Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols. The Terriers were efficient on offense, and while that may be from FDU being in the bottom 10% of the nation defensively, Glenn Braica certainly has to be pleased with 16 assists versus a mere five turnovers, a 25-28 shooting performance from the free-throw line, and the fact that his team surged despite a zero point overcome from Jalen Cannon. Kinu Rochford had another monster game for FDU (what else is new) with 20 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent FDU’s slide into the NEC basement.

Quinnipiac 63, Robert Morris 61
In perhaps their last meeting before Quinnipiac departs for the MAAC, the Bobcats outlasted the banged-up Colonials in a ridiculously tight game throughout. Velton Jones supposedly did his best Willis Reed impersonation (OK, maybe not) by suiting up right before tipoff, yet he struggled with only six points on 13 shots. Evan Conti led Quinnipiac with 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists and has been the unsung hero in this recent run for Tom Moore. Conti has scored in double figures in four straight, while also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. The big difference in the game was free throws, as Robert Morris uncharacteristically went to the charity stripe just 13 times (and missed eight of them). On the other hand, Quinnipiac had 17 points from the line and also doubled the Colonials output on the boards (44-22). The Bobcats are officially the hottest team in the NEC, winning five of their last six contests to move into a tie for fifth place. A home playoff game is now absolutely within reach.

NEC Standings
1) Bryant, 9-3
2) Robert Morris, 9-4
3) LIU Brooklyn, 9-4
4) Wagner, 8-5
5) Sacred Heart, 7-5
6) Quinnipiac, 7-5
7) Central Connecticut, 6-6
8) St. Francis Brooklyn, 6-7
9) Mount St. Mary’s, 6-7
10) Monmouth, 4-9
11) St. Francis (PA), 3-10
12) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-11
*Robert Morris holds tiebreaker on LIU based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*Sacred Heart holds tiebreaker on Quinnipiac based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*St. Francis Brooklyn holds tiebreaker on Mount St. Mary’s based on head-to-head record (1-0)

History Lesson: LIU Brooklyn vs. St. Francis (NY)

NEC rivalry week is here and the biggest set of games is right here in New York City. LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis (NY) will play two times in order to determine who will be in first place in the NEC at the end of the week. Monday during the day Nelson Castillo, who I’d definitely recommend following on Twitter, took a trip down memory lane to some of the most exciting recent games of this rivalry. Let’s take a look back at them.

Continue reading “History Lesson: LIU Brooklyn vs. St. Francis (NY)”

Robert Morris reels LIU Brooklyn back into NEC race

Winning at Robert Morris was going to be a difficult task for LIU Brooklyn. The Colonials are one of the more talented teams in the NEC and guard Velton Jones has been on a roll lately. It was Jones and the rest of the RMU backcourt that outplayed Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner and Michael Culpo and led the Colonials to a 75-66 win that tightened up the NEC race.

Continue reading “Robert Morris reels LIU Brooklyn back into NEC race”

What’s wrong with LIU?

Long Island is now 5-6 this season after a 73-62 loss at MEAC contender Norfolk State last night. The Blackbirds are 2-0 in the NEC, but Robert Morris seems to have replaced Jim Ferry’s squad as the favorite in the conference. It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Blackbirds. Sure, title defenses are never easy, but with a bunch of key players coming back expectations were high. What’s changed? Can the Blackbirds turn it around?

Continue reading “What’s wrong with LIU?”

Three Questions – Long Island

As the season approaches every team has questions. This series is going to look at three key ones.

1. How does the team react to everyone gunning for the Blackbirds? – Last season LIU had the advantage that no one was looking at a team that finished 14-17 (11-7) as the team to beat in the NEC. After going 27-6 (16-2) last season the target is squarely on the Blackbirds’ back. There are a number of experienced, talented challengers in the conference and Jim Ferry has to make sure his team is ready for the game against Wagner on Dec. 1 and every other conference matchup.

Continue reading “Three Questions – Long Island”