As I spent time watching NEC basketball over the past week, I wondered who the most invaluable players throughout the league were. Continue reading
We recently documented the plight of Tom Moore and his offensive struggles at Quinnipiac last season, specifically the inability to shoot the ball. Well, Glenn Braica could definitely empathize with his St. Francis Brooklyn squad this season.
Unfortunately for the Terriers, just two years removed from an NEC regular season title (and one game away from removing its name forever from the “Cursed Five” teams that have never made the NCAA Tournament), are 4-17 and losers of six straight NEC games after a 55-47 loss to Mount St. Mary’s at the Pope Center Saturday.
He was guarding Michael Carey because he might be the top option for Wagner to give the ball to with the game on the line, but Chris Wray was smart enough to know that with the clock rapidly approaching zero, the chances of him getting the ball in time were virtually nil.
So Wray left Carey completely, sped to the other side of the court, and arrived like your neighborhood superhero, just in time to save the day, swatting Corey Henson’s shot away at the buzzer, giving Mount St. Mary’s a 57-56 victory Saturday afternoon at Knott Arena.
“We had said we were going to switch, but I saw on the clock what the time was and I felt that by the time he shot it, there wouldn’t be any time left. It was a perfect time to contest it,” Wray said.
Two days earlier, Wray had donned his cape as well, beating LIU Brooklyn by going the length of the court and scoring just before the horn sounded. (He had done the same in what, seemingly forever, was The Mount’s only victory, albeit an impressive one over George Mason.)
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
Another year, another opportunity for us to semi-panic about Mount St. Mary’s! See, even I’ve done it in past seasons here and here. Why are they losing so much? Where has the offense gone? Does Jamion Christian truly have enough depth to install his Mount Mayhem model? These are questions that are seemingly asked every single season because, well, the Mount always plays a ridiculous out-of-conference schedule loaded with five or more guarantee games.
The 2016-17 season may be the toughest non-conference schedule Christian has ever constructed and that’s saying a lot. Six of the Mount’s first eight opponents landed in KenPom’s top 60, while the other two, George Mason and Southern Illinois, are respectable mid-major programs. This murderous start of the schedule shouldn’t have concerned us much; after all, the Mountaineers were favored to lose every road game.
Just saw Mount St. Mary’s non-conf schedule & wow Nov is brutal! Let’s all agree not to panic when the Mount is 0-8. Thank you in advance.
— Ryan Peters (@pioneer_pride) September 29, 2016
Mount St. Mary’s actually exceeded my low expectations by upsetting George Mason in a thriller of a contest, but since then the team hasn’t performed well versus “like” competition. It’s the most recent three game stretch that concerns me a little and Mount St. Mary’s fans a lot.
In those setbacks to Loyola (MD), UMBC and Lehigh, the Mount notably sputtered after halftime, scoring on average just 12 points over the first 10 minutes of the second half. So what has led to the poor start against mid-major competition? I offer some thoughts as to why much of it, I believe, lies on the offensive side of the ball:
1) The Offense is Still Looking For Its Rhythm
In their last three games, the Mount has mustered just 0.92 points per possession. Many of the offensive statistics aren’t inspiring, but just a simple eye test will tell you that the chemistry of this generally inexperienced team is off. There’s way too much dribbling, not enough penetration, and surely not enough sharing of the basketball.
One of the things Christian focused on this offseason was making sure his team made the right pass to get teammates in advantageous positions to score. Despite the focus, the Mount is 324th nationally in assists to field goals made (43.5%) and it hasn’t really gotten much better over the last three games (46.1%). Residing in 9th place among their NEC counterparts in assists per game isn’t where Christian wants the team to be.
It would also help if the Mount made their open looks, which they haven’t for the most part. Will Miller has converted just 26.7% of his 3-point attempts, easily a career low. Junior Robinson has a pedestrian effective field goal percentage of 45.8%. The team as a whole is setting a career low, under Christian, in two-point field goal percentage at 43.0%. It would probably suit the Mount well to increase their three-point takes – remember the Mount Mayhem model prefers a copious amount of threes, usually an average of 25 attempts per game!
2) The Frontcourt Has Trouble Generating Their Own Offense
When Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher were part of the Mount’s frontcourt, they provided Christian with excellent balance one through five. Although they weren’t offensive stalwarts, the big men were solid at generating offense on their own. For starters, they could pull post defenders away from the rim – as the seniors combined to shoot 36.0% on their shots away from the rim. That’s not great, but it’s far better than what the current frontcourt of Chris Wray and Mawdo Sallah has produced. Both have combined to shoot a paltry 12.8% on their 39 away-from-the-rim attempts with Sallah going 0 for 14 on his jump shots. If you’re a defender, there isn’t a good reason not to dare Wray and Sallah to beat you away from the basket.
In addition, neither player provides much of a post presence, whereas the 7-foot-0 Danaher could get a bucket in the post with his back to the basket. Granted, Christian wasn’t calling plays for Danaher like he was Julian Boyd, yet one to three of those baskets per game took some pressure off this teammates who made their living from the perimeter. This season, that post presence is lacking and it’s placed more of the shot making burden on the guards and wings of Christian’s offense.
Wray and Sallah are terrific athletes, no one would ever dispute that, but they don’t seem to be far enough in their offensive development to consistently create for themselves and score all over the floor. It’s part of the reason for the Mount’s low 2-point field goal percentage.
3) The Defense Hasn’t Bailed the Offense Out As Much
When Mount Mayhem is clicking on all cylinders, the team is usually able to extract lots of turnovers and turn them into easy buckets in transition. So far this season, the Mount’s defensive turnover rate is middling at 19.8%, and it hasn’t improved much against mid-major competition.
Will it get better? There’s reason to believe this will improve, especially as Christian begins to expand his rotation back to 9, 10 players. In the early going, it made sense to play a condensed roster, especially when you’re competitive with the likes of George Mason, Southern Illinois, Arkansas and Michigan in the second half. Why play your back-of-the-rotation guys and risk the higher ranked opponents going on a run?
If Christian begins to trust players like Khalid Nwandu, Ryan Gomes and Randy Miller more, then the turnover rate could begin to tick upward, and coincidentally easy buckets in transition will follow. All it takes is a few buckets a night off turnovers to lift a heavy load from the team’s half-court offense.
Push comes to shove, do I believe Mount St. Mary’s will reside in the bottom 30 of KenPom in offensive efficiency? No I don’t, but it has to be a little concerning that after 11 games, the offense still is struggling to mold into a cohesive unit. If Christian can get his players to improve on the three points I shared, then they’ll compete for the NEC title. It’s now up to the players to improve on the statistics I outlined.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride