It hasn’t been a good start for the Northeast Conference, but tonight the league had a chance to earn some victories against mid-major equals. Let’s see how everyone fared on the first Wednesday of the 2014-15 season!
Maryland Eastern Shore 53, Mount St. Mary’s 41
The Mount came out flat early and dug too deep of a hole to get out of, losing to KenPom’s 350th ranked team in the country (there are 351 teams total), Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) by double figures. It was UMES’ second straight victory over the Mount, this time in the friendly confines of Knott Arena. Despite a good home atmosphere, the Mount fell behind 26-11 at the half after hitting just one three-pointer in 13 attempts. An 8-0 Mount run to start the second half closed UMES’s advantage some, but they would never get closer than six points the rest of the way. Jamion Chrisitian’s defense wasn’t bad allowing 0.93 points per possession (ppp) – it was the offense that was troublesome. They scored 0.69 ppp, shot 30% (14-47) from the field and committed 13 turnovers to just seven assists against a UMES program that gave up a remarkable 1.20 ppp last season. Nine Mountaineers played at least 14 minutes, yet none of them had an efficiency rating in the double-digits. Freshman Lamont “Junior” Robinson “led” the Mount with 8 points (on 12 shots) and four assists in the ugly home opener.
Rutgers 61, Fairleigh Dickinson 44
Any chance of another classic Greg Herenda upset was squashed quickly once their in-state rivals jumped out to a sizable first half advantage. After leading 6-5, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights went on a 30-11 run to put the game out of reach. Bishop Daniels led Eddie Jordan’s group with a game high 18 points on 7-11 shooting. Rutgers dominated their smaller opponents on the boards (44-26) and were far more productive on the free throw line (19-4) as well. For the Knights, Mustafaa Jones was the only player to reach double-digit points while transfer Darius Stokes had a respectable game with eight points and seven rebounds. FDU will now embark on an interesting three game stretch of mid-major opponents including Columbia, Lafayette and Princeton.
Army 74, St. Francis Brooklyn 71
Two early fouls to Jalen Cannon could’ve cost St. Francis Brooklyn, but the Terriers actually managed to only trail by one point at halftime. Unfortunately, in the second half it was the little things — a missed free throw, a careless turnover, a botched defensive assignment — that all added up and left SFC in a 12-point hole. The Terriers battled back, but could never take the lead and Brent Jones’ three-pointer at the end of regulation missed the mark. The loss puts St. Francis at 0-2 on the young season, but they’ve been two hard fought games against strong opponents. Glenn Braica knows that this team is still a work in progress, even if they were picked No. 1 in the NEC to start the season. John wrote about his thoughts from the game.
St. John’s 66, LIU Brooklyn 53
In a game that was closer than the final score may indicate, Jack Perri’s LIU Brookyln Blackbirds put up a valiant fight before falling to St. John’s in their season opener. The inexperienced Blackbirds, who at one time had five freshmen playing at the same time, cut the Johnnies lead to three points after a Nura Zanna (10 points, six rebounds) layup with 10:32 left. LIU would get no closer, however, as the offense sputtered with 10 points in their final 20 possessions. Nevertheless, Perri had to be pleased with a defensive effort that held St. John’s to 1.03 ppp and eight offensive rebounds (12.5%). The Blackbirds simply couldn’t make any shots, sinking a paltry 30% of their attempts from the floor. Senior Landon Atterberry had a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) while freshman point guard Elvar Friririksson dished out five assists. Sir’Dominic Pointer was fantastic for St. John’s in the victory with 18 points, eight rebounds, six blocks and two assists.
Robert Morris 68, Bradley 61
The Colonials avoided their first 0-3 start since 2010 by knocking off Bradley despite a late charge by the hosting Braves. After trailing for all of the second half, Bradley had an opportunity to take the lead with 1:30 remaining, but a Warren Jones three was off target, leading to a Rodney Pryor triple on the other end to help the Colonials pull away for good. Overall, Pryor was sensational, netting a team high 26 points aided by six makes from behind the arc. Andy Toole’s club was careless with the basketball (22 turnovers), yet that was mitigated by 33 free throw attempts and a seven rebound edge on the boards. Lucky Jones got back in track in the victory with 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists. One interesting note: the game featured 149 possessions, a rather quick pace for a Colonial club used to running a slower, methodical offense. Last season when Robert Morris had 70 possessions or more in a game, they went 5-9.
Performance of the Night – Robert Morris
As the only NEC program to win this evening, the Colonials earn the Performance of the Night by default. Congrats to Toole on his 91st career victory!
Player of the Night – Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris
After lighting up Mansfield in an exhibition game, Pryor struggled in his first two Division I games of his career, going just 5-19 from the floor for an average of 7 ppg. Tonight, Pryor was terrific when it mattered most. His 16 second half points, including 10 points in the final four minutes of the contest, kept Bradley out of arm’s reach for a possible comeback.