St. Francis Brooklyn’s calling card used to be its defense, but when that fell apart against NJIT the Terriers tried to shoot themselves out of a jam. Unfortunately they came up just short, 92-86, in overtime on Thursday in Brooklyn.
The Terriers attempted a school record 49 three-point attempts making 16, as NJIT mostly sat in a 2-3 zone. They needed every single one of those baskets though, as NJIT’s powerful guards constantly found room to work in the paint on drives into the teeth of the St. Francis defense. Tim Coleman had a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds and Ky Howard added 23 points and 10 boards as well.
Considering SFC hit nearly 33% of their three-point attempts in the game, the strategy was actually not poorly conceived. In fact, considering the Terriers’ struggles around the basket, where a variety of tip-ins just didn’t seem to want to go down the best strategy against NJIT’s 2-3 zone was often to just chuck it from distance and grab a long carom. St. Francis rebounded 54% of its misses on Thursday, including six by Antonio Jenifer.
There were a number of positives and things to work on that both teams could take away from the game. Here are three thoughts on the Terriers.
1. The Terriers desperately need one more forward, but there’s no help coming. When Amdy Fall picked up his second foul with more than 16 minutes to go in the first half Glenn Braica had to know that his team would struggle a bit on the defensive end. Without a shot-blocking post presence in the game NJIT took advantage, using back cuts to get to the rim at will. It’s telling that Coleman and Howard led the team in scoring on Thursday. The Highlanders’ excellent other guard, Damon Lynn, is more of a long-distance threat. He was constantly checked and finished with 15 points in 45 minutes. But that left his teammates with open lanes to drives, and they did. The Highlanders also managed to take twice as many free throws, 31 to 15 during the game. Part of that was St. Francis trying to come back at the end of overtime, but Howard and Rob Ukawuba were able to get contact at a number of key moments. St. Francis is going to have to be stronger on the defensive end in NEC play, though only a few teams have a trio of guards as talented as NJIT’s. The Highlanders were 27-46 (59%) on two-point attempts, an issue that has plagued the Terriers all season, even when Fall has been in games.
2. Jon Doss provided an unexpected boost. Braica is still looking for the perfect answer on offense and he might’ve found it with the long-range shooting of Doss, who hit five threes in the first half. The odd thing was Doss’ minutes were limited in the second half. It could be related to his defense. It’s hard to play Doss, Yunus Hopkinson and Tyreek Jewell together. Jewell is a strong defensive player and shadowed Lynn most of the game, but SFC’s height is certainly a problem on the perimeter. The other player who looked good in the St. Francis offense was Jenifer. If a team leaves him open along the three-point arc the shot might not be pretty, but it is going in. He hit 4-9 from three-point range and had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
3. Yunus Hopkinson has been thrust into a big role. The injury to sophomore point guard Glenn Sanabria means that Hopkinson has been given the full reigns of the point guard position for the Terriers. Glenn Braica has a number of talented players to play the wings, but it’s at center—where a rotation of Fall and Hooper is basically the only answer—and point guard—where it’s Hopkinson or off guards masquerading at the point of attack—that the Terriers have the biggest questions. I would like to see Hopkinson continue to move the ball rapidly through the offensive set, too often he took shots that stopped the flow of the offense. He struggled on those shots too, finishing just 3-15 from the field and 0-8 from three. But when Hopkinson drove into NJIT’s defense good things happened. He finished with a career-high 11 assists.
Overall the Terriers showed a number of positives that should position them well for NEC play. The Highlanders are one of the top teams in the Atlantic Sun for a reason. Their experience certainly helped down the stretch—Coleman seemingly had an answer for every crisis on the court—and helped them make the key plays down the stretch.
It won’t always be bombs away in Brooklyn, but the results weren’t terrible either.