Going into the third Thursday of Northeast Conference play, the major storyline was unfortunately injuries. Several players unexpectedly missed action tonight, but that didn’t stop the conference from having several fantastic finishes late. Three games improbably went into overtime, while every game was decided by no more than nine points. Let’s recap all of the action, before my head explodes. (By the way, trying to focus on four games at once is not for the faint of heart)
Robert Morris 66, Sacred Heart 62
Sadly, if you made a team out of the players missing action tonight, you would have a dominant top seven of Velton Jones, Karvel Anderson, Evan Kelley, Chris Evans, Justin Swidowski, Lijah Thompson, and Vaughn Morgan. The game, however, still was played in Moon Township, with the Colonials simply outlasting the Pioneers by slowing down the tempo in the second half. The Colonials never relinquished the lead once they went on a 13-0 run midway through the second half, although Shane Gibson did his absolute best to bring SHU back. It was vintage Gibson tonight, as the senior had 27 points (on 13 shots) to go along with six rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Quite simply, his effort couldn’t overcome the Colonials’ advantage in free throws (20-13) and turnovers forced (21-11). Not one Colonial particularly shined in the win, but it was a collective team effort with four Colonials scoring in double figures while holding the Pioneers to 0.94 points per possession. A win is a win, and Andy Toole will take it without his senior leader on the floor.
Quinnipiac 75, St. Francis (PA) 66
Quinnipiac, who was without staring point guard Dave Johnson with a concussion, earned a much needed victory over the feisty Red Flash, who charged back early in the second half to tie the game after trailing by as many as 13 points. It was an ugly shooting display across the board, although Quinnipiac did make 20 of 24 (finally!) from the charity stripe for one of their best free throw performances of the season. After blowing a six point lead late in regulation, the Bobcats offense dominated in the extra frame, scoring 16 points on their nine overtime possessions. Ike Azotam led Quinnipiac (what else is new) with 22 points and ten rebounds. Earl Brown was back to his dominant ways on the glass, grabbing 18 rebounds to go along with 14 points. Which leads us to a statistic oddity: In the last six games, Earl Brown has corralled nearly half (93 of 203) of the Red Flash’s rebounds. You don’t see individual dominance like that all too often.
Monmouth 71, St. Francis Brooklyn 67
In a game featuring two teams going in opposite directions, it was the Hawks who surprisingly came away with an impressive road win over St. Francis Brooklyn. Jesse Steele had a game high 20 points for the Hawks, who without Andrew “Red” Nicholas still had their second best shooting performance of the season. In the past three games, the diminutive Steele is averaging 18.0 points per game on a respectable 18 of 39 from the floor. John shares his five thoughts of the game here.
LIU Brooklyn 79, Fairleigh Dickinson 75
In front of 319 fans (really Knight fans, that’s all you got?), LIU Brooklyn stole a game across the Hudson River when they shocked the Knights in a fiercely contested battle. Jamal Olasewere was sensational with 30 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks, and C.J. Garner had perhaps his best game of the year. The senior combo guard scored 23 points along with four rebounds and five steals. FDU blew sizable advantages throughout the contest, but it was their late game failures that will be most remembered tonight. The Knights were leading by five points with 21 seconds remaining before three pointers by Garner and Brandon Thompson (his only points on the night) sent the game into overtime. Once in overtime, FDU’s offense went ice cold as they missed their final five shots, including two ill-advised bombs from Melquan Bolding and Mostafa Jones late. Greg Vetrone has to be sick to his stomach after this one, while Perri’s Blackbirds move to 2-3 in the conference despite committing 18 turnovers against only 13 assists. FDU’s senior trio of Bolding, Lonnie Robinson, and Kinu Rochford scored 54 of the Knights’ 75 points in the loss.
Bryant 79, Mount St. Mary’s 78
It appeared we were heading toward an expected ho-hum victory for Bryant when the Bulldogs went up by 11 late in the second half after a Frankie Dobbs bucket and the foul. But the Mount – taking on the never quit mentality of head coach Jamion Christian – eventually stormed back to tie the game after Shivaughn Wiggins drained a three to send it into the overtime. The freshman had the game of his young career, scoring 20 points on 8 of 10 shooting. (Maybe he heard me complain about the lack of freshmen contributing league wide on the podcast? Ok, maybe not.) In overtime, the game was a fantastic seesaw battle which ended stunningly when Bryant freshman Shane McLaughlin, of all people, drove and scored the game winning lay-up with six seconds left. It was McLaughlin’s ONLY shot attempt of the game. Four Bulldogs played 38 minutes or more, and perhaps their weariness showed with Bryant committing a season high 19 turnovers against the Mayhem attack. Despite the choas, Alex Francis was once again terrific for the now 5-0 Bulldogs. The athletic junior had 25 points (on 12 shots) and seven rebounds. If you didn’t really know about Francis before this season, you surely do now.
Central Connecticut 73, Wagner 66
It’s time for me to officially apologize to Kyle Vinales for having the audicity to suggest that the sophomore was tiring after going through a tough four game slump earlier in the non-conference season. Since the Syracuse blowout and after dropping 30 points against a very good defensive team in Wagner, Vinales is averaging a sparkling 24.8 points, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals, and only 3.0 turnovers per game. Not too shabby. CCSU led for most of the game and was able to dominate despite the return of Seahawks wing Jonathan Williams from a hip injury. The senior struggled, as did many of the Seahawks, sans Ortiz who scored a team high 18 points. For Wagner, it was their third straight game – two of them losses – where they’ve allowed more than one point per possession. That’s an unusual trend for a team that prides itself on shutting down their opponents on the offensive end.
NEC Standings Through Five Games
1) Bryant, 5-0
2) Wagner, 3-2
3) St. Francis Brooklyn, 3-2
4) Central Connecticut, 3-2
5) Robert Morris, 3-2
6) Sacred Heart, 3-2
7) LIU Brooklyn, 2-3
8) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-3
9) Quinnipiac, 2-3
10) Monmouth, 2-3
11) Mount St. Mary’s, 1-4
12) St. Francis (PA), 1-4
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride