(photo courtesy: Steph Crandall)

Hartford Loose And Ready For Stony Brook In America East Semifinals

Hartford became the only team in the short two-year history of the America East Playoffs to upset a team in the quarterfinal round.

Their upset of second seeded Albany reverberated throughout college basketball, becoming one of the first upsets in a long string of conference tournament games in March already. However, now the Hawks have to turn their attention to take on top seeded Stony Brook on Monday night at 7pm, thanks to the conference’s re-seeding.

Yet head coach John Gallagher isn’t worried about that. The Hawks have started to find their way, scoring better than 1.14 points per possession in three of their final five games. They drained 12 three-pointers in their upset on the road at Albany and it’s that looseness that Gallagher expects when they take the floor at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

“We’re going to be the loosest group in America playing Monday night,” Gallagher said. “There won’t be a looser group that’s playing Monday night. College, NBA we’re going to go out and just have a blast, it’s going to be tremendous fun.”

“We’re not even thinking about what it means, we’re just going out and playing hard and with great excitement for 40 minutes. It’s going to be a hard challenge to win the game, we know that just like Albany was, but we’re just focusing on Hartford and what we have to do to win the game.”

Junior Pancake Thomas, who scored a game-high 16 points in the victory on Wednesday, said their energy has increased since their win over Maine, where they came back from down nine points to win 82-74.

“It’s just been a really big energy, you can feel the energy once you step in the gym,” Thomas said.

Gallagher has raved that their practices have been the best of the season to date and Thomas agreed that their looseness has translated on the court in practice and in games.

“Really no one expects us to be here, so like we’re not really supposed to be here,” Thomas said. “So we’re loose.”

The 6’5” New Mexico transfer was hardly surprised when freshman JR Lynch found the ball in his hands to hit the three-pointer to ice the game Friday night either, he knew the 5’10” freshman could do it.

“That was a big shot by him, big shot as a freshman, but I had confidence that he was going to make it because he’s in the gym with me early morning getting up shots,” Thomas said. “He put in a lot of work, so I knew he was going to hit that one.”

But now comes facing a top seeded Stony Brook, but Thomas is one player who has experience on a top seeded team. He was on Steve Alford’s New Mexico team that won the Mountain West Conference tournament back in 2013. He knows the pressure the other side is facing.

The last time the Hawks faced Stony Brook was on Feb. 8, since then Hartford has played Eastern Michigan transfer Jalen Ross has taken on a stronger role as their primary point guard and 6’7” freshman TreVaughn Wilkerson has helped fill the front court along with his classmates George Blagojevic and Jason Dunne.

But the Hawks know that they will need to bring another Albany-like performance to compete with the top seeded Seawolves, who have won all but one game at home this season.

“We do have a young group that’s going to compete, I know at a high level, because we’re competing right now with unbelievable energy,” Gallagher said. “We’re going to just try to be the best version of Hartford. They’re going to throw a lot of punches, we got to take some punches and we got to be able to throw some punches. You can’t stand back and be passive against that type of talented team.

Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.

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