St. Francis Brooklyn 60, CCSU 49: Do Terriers Need An Offense?

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that St. Francis Brooklyn is getting by with its defense this season. A quick check of the numbers shows that the Terriers have been in the top three of defensive efficiency in NEC play in each of Glenn Braica’s first five seasons at the helm in Brooklyn Heights, which is also the biggest reason why the Terriers are 54-34 in that span, never missing the NEC Tournament and winning the regular-season crown in 2014-15.

Even without Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, St. Francis Brooklyn is moving slowly toward the top of the NEC defensive ratings (if it weren’t for two poor games against Wagner, it would be past Mount St. Mary’s and long there already). As I’ve talked about before, Tyreek Jewell is a fantastic defender and held Central Connecticut’s biggest offensive threat, Austin Nehls, without a field goal until the game was decided in a 60-49 smothering win for the Terriers (9-14, 5-5) at Detrick Gym Saturday afternoon.

CCSU (2-19, 1-9) managed just 0.82 points per possession, and that number was a bit inflated by some late points with the game already decided. The Terriers, in an extremely balanced league, can still be NEC contenders, as they’ve proven by tight losses at Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. But they will need an offense. At least a little. Currently, they are 336th nationally in efficiency and only Robert Morris and CCSU are keeping them off the bottom in NEC play.

They’ve shown signs of breaking out: Yunus Hopkinson hit four three-pointers, and Dagur Jonsson, Keon Williams, and Antonio Jenifer got in on the fray, enabling St. Francis Brooklyn to go through stretches where it was competent and even fluent offensively, as seen in this Jewell dunk.

The Terriers close the season with five of eight at home (five of seven after a big game at Sacred Heart Thursday), and while their second straight NEC regular-season crown looks like a longshot, getting a key home game in the quarterfinals seems a realistic goal.

What else did we learn at Detrick Gym Saturday afternoon?:

  1. Why is St. Francis Brooklyn so good defensively?

We know about Amdy Fall (on CCSU’s pregame radio show, Howie Dickenman said he would attack inside when Fall was out of the game and outside when he was in the game), but to me, everything starts with Jewell. Saturday was a bit different because Jewell was marking Nehls, who is not a point guard, but it’s not a coincidence that St. Francis Brooklyn opponents have attempted the second fewest three-pointers of any team in the nation (amongst a list littered with teams like North Florida, Army, and Eastern Washington, who are trying to get teams to push tempo, so they give up a lot of shots in the paint).

The on-ball defense and closing out shooters forces them inside, where Fall and Chris Hooper are waiting to make things difficult there as well (the Terriers are allowing only 39.8% on two-point shots in league play, tops by a wide margin, with Robert Morris’ zone second at 43.6%). Interestingly, if you want to know how good FDU has been on offense this season in NEC play, the Knights were able to shoot 10-20 from three, even against St. Francis Brooklyn.

2) Why does St. Francis Brooklyn struggle so much offensively?

This one’s a little tougher to figure out, although it obviously begins with putting the ball in the basket (I refuse to say scoring the basketball, sorry). Despite being 333rd nationally (29.7%) and ninth in the NEC in league play (29.6%), the Terriers are 34th nationally in three-pointers attempted, which is a poor combination, and makes them dead last in the NEC in eFG% (45.4%). They are also last in turnover rate, with only its offensive rebounding rate (second) keeping it anywhere close to above water.

Chris Hooper scored 15 points on 5-7 shooting Saturday and seems to be the easiest answer to St. Francis Brooklyn’s offensive woes (at 62.8% for the season). But we shall see. Jonsson is a guy that could definitely open up defenses if he could be more consistent shooting, but it’s likely t be a grind every night the rest of the way. If they can get hot for three nights in March, though ….

3) Central playing out the string

It does appear (as Bryant could attest) that CCSU will battle at home. Saturday, the Blue Devils led 11-3 in the first four minutes, but managed just 11 points in the rest of the first half, trailing 26-22 at the break. They were still within striking distance until the final minutes, and are difficult to prepare for because who knows what player will step up and try to lead them (except Nehls, who plays almost every minute of every game). Saturday it was Mustafa Jones (dubbed “Dr. J” by the fans behind me) who scored 14 points on 7-10 shooting.

Alas, of its final eight games, only three are at home and they are against Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s and Fairleigh Dickinson, currently the top three teams in the league. The highest projected win percentage in any of its final games is 18% per KenPom.

Bonus) Icelandic pronunciations

If you’ve been to Detrick Gym or a fan of the NEC (or Mid-Majority), you know about Joe Arnone and his six decades at the microphone as PA announcer for CCSU. Arnone announces every player’s hometown, either in the starting lineup or the first time they check in, but I’m guessing a half-century ago, there weren’t many Icelandic players coming to Detrick.

And so when Jonsson, from the Fjolbrautaskolinn school in Reykjanesbaer, Iceland checked in, well, Arnone did his best, we’ll say. To be fair, you try.

Double bonus) Sneakers

Almost all Division I coaches wore sneakers for a good cause, but it was still interesting to see Howie Dickenman’s choice of attire.

And Glenn Braica went casual for the occasion.

Game 73: St. Francis Brooklyn at Central Connecticut – Worst record, but best media spread in NEC. #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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