On the final Thursday of the NEC regular season, several teams were jockeying for playoff position and seeding. Let’s recap all five games from tonight.
Sacred Heart 72, Mount St. Mary’s 65
Sacred Heart avoided their worst season in Division I basketball with an upset victory over Mount St. Mary’s. Despite boasting a 18-4 home record the past two seasons, the sloppy Mountaineers committed 13 turnovers and shot a NEC-low 32.1% from the floor. The big three of Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott combined to hit only 7 of their 31 attempts from the field. As a unit, they mustered just 0.93 ppp – it was the fifth time in 15 conference games when that has happened (they are 1-4 in those games). It certainly didn’t help that seven of the Mount’s 29 three-point attempts found the bottom of the net.
Sacred Heart, who played extremely hard despite being eliminated from the NEC tournament contention last week, led at halftime by four points, despite committing 15 turnovers on 37 possessions (40.5%). Sacred Heart actually committed a mind-numbing 20 turnovers in 40 minutes, yet the Mount only scored 15 points off those turnovers. When the Pioneers didn’t turn the ball over, however, they put the ball in the basket. In particular, freshman De’von Barnett scored 24 points on 16 shots in front of his family (he’s a Maryland native) as he consistently glided past and over the Mount’s bigs in Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher. Phil Gaetano was also excellent with 11 points on a perfect 5 of 5 shooting. His driving layups late in the second half were critical in holding off the Mount. As a team, the Pioneers dominated the Mount inside the paint, out-rebounding the Mount 39 to 26 and leading the scoring with 52 points in the paint (versus the Mount’s 18).
Central Connecticut 86, LIU Brooklyn 82, OT
While they fought valiantly, the LIU Blackbirds couldn’t save their NEC tournament hopes on Thursday night at the Steinberg Wellness Center. Central Connecticut’s Kyle Vinales drained a game-tying three pointer at the end of regulation and the Blue Devils pulled out an 86-82 victory in overtime. The win sends CCSU to its 16th consecutive NEC tournament.
Gerrell Martin played excellent defense on Vinales at the end of regulation, but the CCSU junior just knocked down a tough one from just left of center along the arc. LIU head coach Jack Perri said after the game while he had fouled in the past during those situations, it didn’t cross his mind. He did though want a hedge on the play, but after a quick two-day turnaround it was hard to go through every situation. Interestingly, CCSU coach Howie Dickenman didn’t call timeout, even though he had two remaining. Such a call would’ve allowed Perri to set up his defense.
Unfortunately, the loss also means that there will be no postseason for Perri’s squad. LIU is locked into ninth place in the NEC, as it’s now two games behind CCSU with just one to play. The odds were long coming in, but they’re now null. The realization that it’s over hit everyone hard, including Perri, who looked drained afterwards.
“I’m devastated. The guys are devastated,” Perri said. “It’s a devastating loss… It’s been that kind of year.”
There were some bright spots in the game for LIU. Martin scored a career-high 31 points in the loss. It was his offense that carried the Blackbirds through a lackluster and foul-plagued first half. In the second half EJ Reed played more minutes and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Joel Hernandez also had 17 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out during overtime.
Four players finished in double figures for Central Connecticut, but not Vinales. He scored eight on 3-9 shooting, but made them all count. The Blue Devils were led by the inside duo of Faronte Drakeford and Brandon Peel who scored 25 and 18 points respectively.
The loss means that Brickman, LIU’s senior point guard, knows the moment his collegiate career will end. After 10 assists on Thursday, he is sitting at 997 for his career. Senior Day on Saturday afternoon will be Brickman’s final chance to become just the fourth player in NCAA history to record 1,000 assists in his career. It will also be his final game in the uniform that he wore while quarterbacking the Blackbirds to three consecutive NEC tournament titles.
The Blackbirds have been dethroned. An excellent run has come to an end. But there’s one last game to play.
St. Francis Brooklyn 62, Bryant 59
After giving up 1.44 ppp in the first half, Glenn Braica’s Terriers outscored the visiting Bulldogs 39-23 in the second half to stay alive for a home playoff game in the first round of the NEC tournament. In a very slow-paced game (59 possessions), St. Francis went on a 15-4 run to bring themselves back after a lackluster first half. Amdy Fall nearly doubled his career high with 21 points in the victory, and his layup and foul with 36 seconds remaining put the Terriers ahead for good in the tightly contested matchup. Brent Jones filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, nine assists and four rebounds. Jalen Cannon grabbed a team high 10 boards.
Dyami Starks led Bryant with 20 points, but only he and Corey Maynard managed to score in double figures. Alex Francis nearly obtained his 11th double double of the season with nine points and 10 rebounds. As a team, Bryant shot 42% from the floor, it was their third worst shooting performance this conference season.
Robert Morris 69, Fairleigh Dickinson 64
With virtually nothing to play for, Robert Morris dressed seven players for this road showdown with the number one seed locked up. FDU took advantage of the short rotation early on, embarking on a 15-4 run to close out the first half. The Colonials disrupted their opponent’s momentum, however, and improbably collected their 14th conference victory and extended their winning streak to seven games. In addition, Robert Morris has now won 12 straight versus the Knights with the previous 11 victories coming by an average scoring margin of 22.2 points!
The margin of victory this time around was much closer, but Greg Herenda must be snaking his head after his Knights gave up 39 Colonial points in the second half. Lucky Jones and Karvel Anderson combined for 35 points, but needed 30 shots to get there. It was Andy Toole’s 2-3 zone which held FDU to 35.0% shooting and had the Knights heaving up 28 shots from behind the arc, of which they only connected on eight of those attempts. Four FDU starters registered double-digit points, but FDU’s bench only contributed for 11 of FDU’s 64 points. Because of the loss, FDU is in danger of finishing the regulars season as the #8 seed with CCSU eliminating LIU Brooklyn from playoff contention tonight.
Wagner 74, Saint Francis (PA) 45
Wagner extended their winning streak to a season high seven games and clinched the #2 seed in the NEC tournament as they clobbered the visiting Red Flash. Wagner had a 35-22 edge going into halftime, mainly by stifling the Red Flash’s offensive attack by holding Rob Krimmel’s group to 26% from the field. For the game, Saint Francis’ low post machine, Earl Brown, scored two points without making a single field goal. In fact, Rob Krimmel’s group was bothered (not surprisingly) by Wagner’s size and athleticism, as evident from their porous 25.0% (8 of 32) conversion rate from inside the arc. Wagner blocked seven of those Red Flash two-point attempts with Naofall Folahan swatting away two shots. The senior center now has a block in 12 straight conference games. Folahan for NEC Defensive Player of the Year, anyone?
After scoring a grand total of 24 points in his past five contests, Mario Moody woke up with 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Kenneth Ortiz was excellent in the victory, chipping in with 15 points and four rebounds. Wagner continues to lead the NEC in defensive efficiency by a wide margin. Going into tonight’s game, the Seahawks had allowed opponents to score 96.2 points per 100 possessions. Defending certainly serves Bashir Mason’s group well – when Wagner holds their opponents to under 1.00 ppp, they’re now 14-1 on the season.
NEC Player of the Night – De’von Barnett, Sacred Heart
If there was any doubt as to who the NEC Rookie of the Year is, Barnett surely sealed his case tonight. The high-flying freshman showcased his elite athleticism around the rim by scoring 24 points on 12 of 16 shooting. Barnett’s play in his rookie campaign gives Pioneer fans at least a little hope heading into the offseason.
NEC Standings Through February 27
1) Robert Morris, 14-1
2) Wagner, 11-4
3) Bryant, 9-6
4) Mount St. Mary’s, 8-7*
5) St. Francis Brooklyn, 8-7
6) Saint Francis (PA), 7-8
7) Central Connecticut, 6-9**
8) Fairleigh Dickinson, 6-9
9) LIU Brooklyn, 4-11
10) Sacred Heart, 2-13
*Mount St. Mary’s holds the tiebreaker on St. Francis Brooklyn based on head-to-head record (1-0)
**CCSU holds the tiebreaker on FDU based on head-to-head record over Wagner