Bryant 61, St. Francis Brooklyn 59: Bulldogs Clutch Again

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – In an NEC race that seems to pretty clearly up for grabs this season, it’s nice to have a guy like Shane McLaughlin around. The Bryant senior captain leads the conference in assists, and although he averages just 7.4 points per game can almost always be counted on to do the right thing down the stretch.

And with seemingly every NEC game going to the wire in 2015-16, he’s a big reason why the Bulldogs have shaken off a frustrating non-conference campaign to sit atop the NEC at 4-1 thus far. Thursday night in a tie game with the clock running down, Tim O’Shea put the ball in McLaughlin’s hands and hoped he could find an open teammate. When the tough St. Francis Brooklyn defense wouldn’t let him, McLaughlin – despite being just 1-5 from the field for two points at the time – took it upon himself, draining a fade away 18-footer with 1.3 seconds left to give Bryant a hard-fought 61-59 win at the Chace Athletic Center.

“The play was definitely to get the ball in my hands, but we wanted to get a ballscreen with Marcel (Pettway),” McLaughlin said. “We wanted to give me a couple of options, come off a ballscreen and make a read. I was having a tough night, actually, so I was looking to pass the ball. But at the end you just have to make something happen and I did.”

Bryant (7-11) began the season 2-1, but then dropped its final nine non-conference games. To be fair, it was an ambitious slate with Duke (12), Michigan (30), Providence (36), Georgetown (69), Yale (74), Siena (124), Harvard (128), and Army (163) all in the top-half of the KenPom rankings, and much higher than anyone in the NEC currently resides.

But McLaughlin and the Bulldogs, picked third in the preseason NEC poll, still expected more. And almost all of those games, with the exception of a Kris Dunn-less Providence weren’t close. Or even close to being close.

“We definitely had a tough schedule. I don’t like to use that as an excuse,” McLaughlin said. “The biggest concern for me early on wasn’t that we were losing, but how we were losing. Losing by 40 at Yale and Harvard, those are games we feel we should use as measuring sticks. But we’re young and could have packed it in, but we’ve stuck together, and we’re really reaping the benefits of those tough times.”

Although there’s still work to be done, Bryant posted 1.20 points per possession in the second half Thursday against the second-best defense in the NEC in the early stages (Mount St. Mary’s leads), and shot 56.7 eFG% against a Terrier team that leads the NEC in eFG% defense. It doesn’t necessarily narrow it down to call Bryant a contender (everyone is), but they certainly feel a lot better about their chances than they did a few weeks ago.

“We as a team didn’t have our best night and credit them, they’re really, really good defensively,” McLaughlin said. “They’re one of the few teams in the league that have legitimate shot blockers, so I think that was in our head a little bit. I thought some guys came up really big down the stretch. It’s important to win at home, and it’s important when you don’t have your best stuff to still come out with a win.”

What else did we learn on a Thursday night in Smithfield?:

1) St. Francis Brooklyn looks at glass half-full

The Terriers (6-12, 2-3) led 57-51 with 3:30 left and couldn’t finish the job, coming up empty on five straight possessions to allow Bryant to take the lead, before Chris Hooper tied it and McLaughlin won it. It was a similar scenario in that ugly game at Mount St. Mary’s last week before they lost in overtime. With those two wins (both against teams atop the NEC), St. Francis Brooklyn would be 4-1 and tied for first.

They aren’t, of course, but they are 2-0 at home (0-3 on the road) in conference, and – like Bryant – have made some strides since a fairly difficult non-conference slate that saw plenty of losses.

“We’re going to just keep fighting, keep getting better, and hopefully we’ll hit our stride soon,” Braica said. “The bottom line is we’re 2-3 in the league, and we’ve had three road games and two home games. We would have liked to get the road games, but we didn’t. We have to go back home Saturday and we have a big game against Sacred Heart. We have to be on point or we’ll lose again. Our non-league schedule turned out to be really good. North Florida, Albany, Saint Peter’s, all those teams are doing well.

2) Dan Garvin and pick-and-rolls

Garvin was in foul trouble and St. Francis Brooklyn dominated the paint in the first half. But with the Bulldogs apparently in trouble, they went almost exclusively to NBA-style pick-and-roll isolations and it gave the Terriers fits. The primary beneficiary was freshman Marcel Pettway who had 10 second-half points on 5-6 shooting, with McLaughlin getting five assists (seven for the game), four to Pettway.

And although Garvin was limited to 15 minutes with foul trouble, he came up big at the end with eight points and five rebounds after halftime, including two clutch free throws in the final minute. Garvin and Pettway could provide quite the tandem down low when both are at their best, and with Hunter Ware, McLaughlin, and Nisre Zouzoua Bryant could be a NEC championship team (there was even a Justin Brickman cameo in the first half, and he did really well) if they play like they did late Thursday.

3) Winning ugly

Braica is smart enough to know what he has, and right now it’s not a stellar offensive unit. The Terriers are currently 333rd nationally in offensive efficiency and 334th in adjusted tempo, meaning that St. Francis Brooklyn games are not going to resemble Golden State Warriors tilts anytime soon.

However, as they’ve proven, their defense could be enough to make them a contender. Andy Fall had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and (although Bryant did a reasonable job on the boards) he, hooper and Antonio Jenifer are as formidable an interior combination as you’ll find in the NEC. Tyreek Jewell is also a fantastic on-ball defender, an area of his game that doesn’t get noticed enough.

Jewell led the second-half charge and finished with 20 points on 4-8 three-point shooting, which will be huge if he can continue it (he’s only at 26.45 for the season). Braica desperately needs somebody, anybody to be another threat from the outside, Jon Doss got his first career start in place of an injured Gunnar Olafsson, but didn’t score. Keon Williams had some good minutes, but he’s not a pure shooter, and Dagur Jonsson was 0-5 from three and continues to struggle from deep (28.1%).

So for now, the Terriers will have to live and die with their defense.

“They’re tough road games, but we expect to win our share, and I think we will, but we didn’t get these two,” Braica said. “We’ve played pretty well, we did some good things. They’re trying, they’re playing hard. If we keep that up, we’ll get better offensively and we’ll be alright. But we have to keep guarding and rebounding and doing all the other things. We just struggled down the stretch and we couldn’t extend the lead before that.”

Bonus) Stories of the NEC

One of the reasons why we love the NEC are some of the human interest stories that it produces, and you never know what you’ll see when you show up at one of the tiny gyms.

Thursday I arrived to see Angel, St. Francis Brooklyn’s long-time bus driver out in warm-ups shagging missed shots and getting them back to their shooter as quickly as possible. Would you see that anywhere else in Division I?

And then there was Bryant superfan Bryce Lavalla, who can always be seen taking shots at halftime, and more often than not connects at least once at the break. The celebration never gets old no matter how many times Bryce does it, nor should it.

4 thoughts on “Bryant 61, St. Francis Brooklyn 59: Bulldogs Clutch Again

  1. Dan From Staten Island

    It’s a shame that the Terriers can’t lengthen a lead when they have an opponent apparently on its heels. They haven’t been able to come up with someone to consistently hit that game-altering three a la Ben Mockford or Brent Jones. Coach Braica was hoping that SFC would be a better shooting team than last year’s edition, but it’s not happening. The low Terrier turnover number last night was a real good sign, but a few of those miscues happened late in the game and hurt badly. And they did an incredible job of reducing Shane McLaughlin to a non-factor until the last several seconds. Just a key bucket and a bit more ball security for SFC in those games at MSM and Bryant and the Terriers’ NEC record would be 4-1 instead of 2-3. (Woulda, coulda, shoulda!) But, there’s still hope — they’re right there. Just need a break or two.

    Reply
  2. Mike R

    Great recap! Wish I could have been there. Something that really hit me while watching last night’s game is how balanced Bryant’s offensive attack has been. Sure, Marcel has had some big games as of late, but if you look at the season scoring averages for all five starters, they are very close together:

    McLaughlin – 9.3
    Ware – 13.8
    Zouzoua – 10.7
    Pettway – 10.4
    Garvin – 10.1

    So if one guy isn’t having a great game, others have been able to pick up the slack. It has been great to watch the evolution of the 2 freshman as well. Final thought… what the heck has happened to Bosko Kostur? Everyone had pegged him as a starter for Bryant. I believe Ryan Peters even ranked him as the 20th-ish best player in the NEC in the preseason. He has played 5 minutes in the last 6 games combined! Is he hurt/sick? Any insight that I don’t know about?!

    Reply
    1. Ryan Peters

      Hey Mike,

      My understanding is that Bosko was banged up during the non-conference and then the emergence of Marcel Pettway pretty much relegated Bosko to the bench when he was fully healthy. O’Shea really likes to play only seven guys per game, so with a rotation of McLaughlin, Ware, Zouzoua, Garvin, Pettway, Oakley and Scocca/Riley coming off the bench, there’s no room for the sophomore stretch four.

      The reason I ranked him so high is because O’Shea himself was optimistic that Bosco could become an All-NEC guy with maturity. But it simply didn’t happen and O’Shea was likely surprised with how quickly Pettway came along as Bryant’s full time center. If anything now, Bryant has really good depth behind the top 7/8 with Scocca and Kostur ready to come off the bench should something happen to Garvin and Pettway. It’s a good problem to have.

      Reply
      1. Mike R

        Hey Ryan,

        Excellent insight per usual. I certainly agree that the emergence of Marcel has pushed Bosko to the bench. I’m just surprised that Coach O’Shea hasn’t tried to fit in 10-15 minutes for him to see if he can spark the offense when it’s sluggish. I’m sure he could find those minutes if he shaved some off from Oakley, Riley, and Marcel (he’s been playing 39-40 minutes each game). I think what confused me the most was that Bosko hasn’t even seen time when Garvin is in foul trouble. It has mostly been Riley. Thought Bosko might get a shot in those cases. Coach O’Shea does a good job of switching things up throughout the year when they are not working, so there is still a good chance we see more of Bosko towards the end of the season.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *