It’s opening day of the NEC, and I’m here to recap all of the action. Without further ado:
Robert Morris 78, Sacred Heart 67
Despite a fantastic effort by Sacred Heart power forward Joe Lopez with 23 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks, Robert Morris won their first conference game of the season thanks to an impressive defensive effort. The Colonials gave minutes to 10 players and wore down the shorthanded Pioneers, who were without frontcourt players Cole Walton (flu) and Mario Matasovic (calf). Robert Morris forced a turnover on 27.1% of Sacred Heart’s possessions and scored 28 points off those miscues. In particular, the Colonials defense reeked havoc with Quincy McKnight (10 turnovers) and Cha Cha Tucker (5 turnovers) and held Sacred Heart to 37% shooting in the second half.
The Colonials trailed throughout the first half and for some of the second half until a 12-0 run fueled by three Pioneer turnovers put the game out of reach for the host. Isaiah Still led the Colonials with 22 points (on 12 shots), 7 rebounds and 2 steals. Aaron Tate (10 points, 6 rebounds), Dachon Burke (10 points, 2 steals) and Kavon Stewart (14 points, 4 steals) all played pivotal roles. Robert Morris improves their career record against Sacred Heart to 21-10, whereas Andy Toole owns a 5-2 versus Anthony Latina.
McKnight had a game to forgot – registering 18 points on 7 of 20 shooting while committing those aforementioned 10 turnovers. Matej Buovac gave Latina a spark off the bench by scoring 12 points.
St. Francis Brooklyn 80, Bryant 77, OT
The young Bryant trio of Nisre Zouzoua, Marcel Pettway and Adam Grant combined for 59 points on 38 shots, but it wasn’t enough to outlast a resilient Terriers squad that won their first Division I game at the Pope Center this season. St. Francis Brooklyn played from behind for much of the game, but the play of freshmen Rasheem Dunn (24 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists) and Robert Montgomery (10 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) was a big reason why Bryant now has a five game losing streak. Dunn had nine points in overtime, including two critical threes.
As expected the Terriers were led by their backcourt with 62 of 80 points coming from their guards. Glenn Sanabria struggled with his efficiency, needing 12 points on 4 of 13 shooting, yet he did hand out 7 assists to just 3 turnovers.
This was the first conference opener Tim O’Shea has lost since 2011-12, their last season before becoming an eligible Division I member. Zouzoua, the NEC’s leading scorer, did his best to keep the Bulldogs alive, but a porous defensive effort by the team in the second half and OT period (1.20 ppp allowed) turned out to be fatal. Dan Garvin returned from injury to give Bryant 8 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks while Pettway posted his first double double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Fairleigh Dickinson 77, St. Francis University 65
After subjecting themselves to a difficult non-conference schedule, Fairleigh Dickinson took advantage of the clean slate with a workman like victory over the visiting Red Flash of Saint Francis U. Darian Anderson led the Knights with 18 points and 5 rebounds in 37 minutes; it was his ninth game this season with an offensive rating over 100. Mike Holloway was efficient in the post with 16 points on 10 shots.
The Knights scored 1.10 ppp and shot 54.8% from the field, but it was their defensive and rebounding efforts that may have been the most impressive. The Knights outrebounded their opponents 38-30 and they held SFU to 0.92 ppp. It’s the first time they’ve held a Division I opponent under the 1.00 ppp threshold all season.
Despite jumping out to a 15-7 advantage at the start of the game, the Red Flash gave up 17 unanswered points to FDU and could never regain the lead from there. They were able to cut their deficit to seven points in the second half on a flurry of threes, but they inevitably couldn’t put together enough defensive stops to mount a complete comeback. Sophomore Josh Nebo had 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in the defeat, SFU’s seventh in a row.
Mount St. Mary’s 67, LIU Brooklyn 65
Despite being absolutely pounded on the glass by a +15 rebound margin, Mount St. Mary’s was able to secure a huge road victory thanks to Chris Wray’s full-court sprint and runner at the buzzer. The Mountaineers overcame a 9-point halftime deficit to earn the victory, just their third in 14 tries this season.
LIU controlled the paint for the entire first half, and only allowed 0.68 ppp during that time. But the Mount heated up in the next 20 minutes, shooting 5-11 from behind the arc. Elijah Long played a big part in that, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second half. Sophomore Mawdo Sallah (11 points, 6 rebounds) was also effective, as his length around the rim bothered the Blackbirds. Junior Robinson (13 points) went on a personal 5-0 run to take the lead, 59-56 with 4:37 to play.
Nura Zanna had a double-double with 21 points and 17 rebounds for the Blackbirds. It was Zanna’s offensive rebound and put-back with 4.2 seconds remaining that tied the game at 65 before Wray went coast-to-coast to stun the Blackbirds.
LIU was playing without starting freshman point guard Jashaun Agosto due to an injury in practice this week. Fellow freshman Julian Batts (6 points) started in his place, struggling with foul trouble before eventually fouling out late in the contest. Iverson Fleming scored an inefficient 12 points on 21 shots for LIU, while the constantly double teamed Jerome Frink registered 14 points and 9 boards. LIU Brooklyn has now dropped four in a row and six of their last seven.
Wagner 71, Central Connecticut 46
Bashir Mason improved his personal record vs CCSU to 7-3 as the Seahawks soundly defeated the struggling Blue Devils in their conference opener. Wagner scored 1.20 ppp with a balanced attack – seven players scored 5 points or more in the victory. Mike Aaman was awarded the KenPom MVP of the game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. Corey Henson scored a team-high 14 points and now has eight double digit scoring performances from this season.
The Seahawks forced just nine Blue Devil turnovers (15.3% turnover rate), yet a dominant performance on the glass (45-21) and an overwhelming advantage behind the arc (11 made Wagner 3s vs 1 made CCSU 3) led to the rout.
Despite taking care of the ball, Central Connecticut shot 36.7% from the floor and mustered just 0.78 ppp, their second worst offensive output of the season. Mustafa Jones had a team-high 16 points with 10 in the first half, but no other Blue Devil could reach double figures in scoring. The Blue Devils have now lost seven in a row and have a combined NEC record of 6-31 over the past 2+ seasons.
NEC Player of the Day
Elijah Long, Mount St. Mary’s – From an offensive rating standpoint, Long had the best game of his young career, needing 9 shots to register 21 points. He was perfect from behind the arc (4-4) and is now averaging 17 ppg, 5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 2.0 spg in his last two contests.
NEC Player of the Day in a Losing Cause
Joe Lopez, Sacred Heart – Robert Morris had no answer for Lopez, who collected his fourth double double of the season. The junior transfer is now averaging 18.8 ppg and 12.3 rpg over his past four games.
1) Wagner, 1-0
2) Mount St. Mary’s, 1-0
3) Robert Morris, 1-0
4) Fairleigh Dickinson, 1-0
5) St. Francis Brooklyn, 1-0
6) Sacred Heart, 0-1
7) Bryant, 0-1
8) LIU Brooklyn, 0-1
9) Saint Francis University, 0-1
10) Central Connecticut, 0-1