This new NEC looks a lot like the old NEC after Saturday’s action. Once again Robert Morris and LIU Brooklyn are sitting at the top of the standings as Wagner, Bryant and Quinnipiac chase. The bottom of the standings though is getting tighter by the week as nine teams are fighting hard for just eight spots.
Mount St. Mary’s 89, Central Connecticut 80
The unusual 11:30 AM start didn’t sap the energy of this critical NEC matchup with both teams firing at a frentic pace. CCSU held a narrow one point advantage after an exciting first half, but the Mount pulled away later on to win their fifth game in six tries. The Mount won the turnover differential (15-9) and expectedly outscored the Blue Devils 20-4 off of turnovers, while also jacking up many more three-pointers. Mount Mayhem basketball, everybody! The junior trio of Julien Norfleet, Sam Prescott, and Rashad Whack combined to score 61 points, but Norfleet was the most impressive. The crafty guard continued his hot run, scoring 21 points (on 14 shots), seven rebounds, and five assists. Over the past six games, Norfleet and Shivaughn Wiggins have dished out 50 assists versus only 19 turnovers (2.6 A/TO). I think we just found out why the Mount’s offense is clicking on all cylinders. On the flip side, the incredibly thin Blue Devils wore down today, and have now allowed their last three opponents to socre 1.19 points per possession. It must have been a long bus ride back to New Britain.
Quinnipiac 71, St. Francis (PA) 55
Here come the Bobcats. QU is one of the hottest teams in the NEC right now having won its last four games and six out of the last seven. Tom Moore has his team right in the thick of the race for the final home NEC tournament game after this easy 16-point win over the Red Flash. The Bobcats led by 22 points at halftime and coasted to victory. Ike Azotam had 17 points in 22 minutes and Zaid Heart scored 16. Quinnipiac out rebounded St. Francis 46-19 in the game. Ousmane Drame almost grabbed more boards than the entire Red Flash roster with 15 in 26 minutes.
Robert Morris 68, Sacred Heart 63
RMU led by 16 points with 3:49 to play but had to hang on and make some smart plays down the stretch to pull out the road victory. After two Russell Johnson free throws the Colonials led 64-48, but they’d score just four more points down the stretch (all free throws). Up three with six seconds remaining Andy Toole had his team intentionally foul and it paid off when Phil Gaetano missed both free throws. Lucky Jones played 35 minutes, but didn’t have a great game, finishing with 10 points and seven turnovers. (Velton Jones didn’t play in this one…) Shane Gibson didn’t make his second basket of the game until about nine minutes remained, but he finished 6-16 and scored 17 points. Luis Montes had a super efficient 15 points and nine rebounds, but he could’ve scored even more except for a 5-12 day at the free throw line. SHU shot 14 more free throws than RMU (41 vs. 27), but made just one more.
Wagner 89, Bryant 75
The Seahawks ran the Bulldogs until they were exhausted and then ran some more. Along the way Wagner showed why it’s going to be very dangerous down the stretch. The offense looked excellent for Bashir Mason’s club in transition. The depth certainly helps as well. Nine players played at least 10 minutes in the game. Just six Bryant players did the same and Frankie Dobbs, Dyami Starks and Corey Maynard all played 37 minutes or more. Wagner also did an especially good job of pressuring Dobbs, who turned the ball over six times as Kenny Ortiz and Marcus Burton were especially pesky. The Seahawks offense is also playing better during the past seven games or so. Part of the reason is that Latif Rivers is healthy. He shot just 1-6 in the first half, but then exploded in the second half, shooting 7-9 and finishing the game with 20 points. Ortiz had 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists (but also five turnovers). Burton appears to be very comfortable with his shooting range right now as he made a number of long threes and scored 14 points. This was Bryant’s second loss in a row. Joe O’Shea scored 21 points for the Bulldogs and Dyami Starks scored 19 (but it took 17 shots).
LIU Brooklyn 92, Fairleigh Dickinson 67
After letting FDU hang around for a little bit the Blackbirds led by 11 points five minutes after halftime and never let up on the way to a blowout win. The 92 points came from an extremely balanced offensive effort. Eight players scored at least six points led by Jamal Olasewere’s 18 points. Booker Hucks came off the bench to score 14 points on 5-8 shooting (4-6 from three). Jason Brickman played 32 minutes, the most of any Blackbird, and had nine assists and just one turnover. FDU got 17 points from Mathias Sellund. LIU had 16 offensive rebounds. Since starting conference play 0-3 the Blackbirds are 10-1, the lone loss a close one to RMU at WRAC. Does anyone want to count them out? While LIU can’t look past Mount St. Mary’s, next Sunday’s ESPNU rematch with Wagner looms large on the schedule.
Monmouth 73, St. Francis Brooklyn 64
Things are not good in Brooklyn Heights. The Terriers lost another close game (this was a four-point game with 30 seconds remaining) and are now on the outside looking in on the NEC tournament. The loss dropped St. Francis Brooklyn to ninth in the NEC standings at 6-8 in conference play. The Terriers though are fourth in the NEC in efficiency margin. They’ve been extremely unlucky, but at some point losing all these close games is going to be a trend that probably stems from poor guard play. Unable to make key plays down the stretch or get the ball to Jalen Cannon SFC struggles to score down the stretch. Cannon had 10 points and was one of just two St. Francis players in double-figures as Travis Nichols led the team with 20. St. Francis shot 11-20 from the free throw line, including 1-4 from both Brent Jones and Dre Calloway. Monmouth shot 18-19 from the charity stripe, including a perfect 10-10 for Jesse Steele, who led the Hawks with 26 points. Ed Waite scored 23 points to go over 1,000 points for his career down on the shore. Monmouth attempted just eight threes in the game, instead opting to pound the ball down low and finished 23-38 (61%) on twos. Monmouth is now just 1.5 games behind Central Connecticut for the eighth and final NEC tournament spot, so the Hawks definitely still have something to play for. Considering SFC’s brutal schedule down the stretch (Wagner, at Mount St. Mary’s, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart) it’ll be awfully impressive if the Terriers can turn things around and make the tournament. That game at the Mount next Saturday is huge.