Northeast Conference Notebook
Rewind back two months to the supposed big match-up of the early NEC conference season, Quinnipiac at Central Connecticut State. Recall the big snowstorm that postponed the game which was then rescheduled for this Wednesday. Well, what has changed since then? Just about everything. The weather has eschewed snow for extreme cold. According to scientists, we are currently in the coldest two week stretch in the past twenty-five years. A climatologist at Cornell discovered it was warmer on Mars than it was in many Northeast cities a couple weeks back.
In the NEC, these two preseason favorites are mired in struggles. CCSU started off all right at 2-1 but then lost three straight, including a setback to Sacred Heart on Monday. Quinnipiac dropped their first three conference games but picked up a couple victories over Sacred Heart and Monmouth before a loss on Monday to Fairleigh Dickinson. So now these two teams were 2-4 and the rematch was a struggle to stay in the hunt for a trip to the NEC tournament as opposed to a match-up of conference powers. The game played a match-up of powers with both teams battling back and forth, the lead changed hands twelve times and the Bobcats led by two at the break. But the Blue Devils fought back to take the lead early in the second half and pretty much controlled the rest of the game, building the lead to as much as ten. The Bobcats cut it to within three a couple times, but CCSU always answered. In the final minute, CCSU led by seven when Quinnipiac pulled off a miracle run. The Bobcats scored eleven points in the final 51 seconds, capped off by a Rob Monroe three at the buzzer to get the win 88-87. The comeback win catapults the Bobcats into the thick of the race and makes them a team to be reckoned with the rest of the season. The loss was the fourth straight for the Blue Devils and puts them into a last place tie with Mount Saint Mary’s and Long Island. It’s a long ways back to the top of the conference where I predicted them to finish.
With a high RPI and five straight wins to open conference play, Monmouth looked like they were cruising towards the number one seed in the tournament. However, a weekend sweep at the hands of Long Island and Quinnipiac set them back. These two teams had exactly one conference win between them before the start of last week. They are a half-game behind first place St. Francis NY, tied with Robert Morris. Monmouth still holds the advantage over these squads having already beaten them once but that will all change if they don’t end this slide soon.
Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (5-9, 2-5 NEC)
The Blue Devils have dropped five of their last six and strangely the only win came without senior captain Ron Robinson in a 79-60 win over Long Island. With the exception of the game against Quinnipiac, CCSU trailed the majority of the second half in each of their losses. Against St. Francis NY, Sacred Heart and Wagner they were able to tie the score but never get over the hump to take the lead. Against Quinnipiac, they led by seven in the last minute and actually hit seven of eight free throws but committed two huge turnovers including one with five seconds to go which gave the Bobcats the chance to set up the game-winning three. Ron Robinson has been performing to his usual high level, averaging 17.4 points and 9.6 boards per game in this last stretch. He scored his 1000th career point in the loss to Quinnipiac. Before this week, Obie Nwadike was asserting himself as an impact player by leading all NEC freshmen in rebounding and field goal percentage. He was named NEC rookie of the week for averaging 9.3 points and 9.3 rebounds against Wagner, Long Island and Fairleigh Dickinson. But this week he scored five points in the loss to Sacred Heart and was held scoreless without attempting a field goal against Quinnipiac. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the troubles lie. In each of the past six games they’ve out-rebounded their opponent. They won the game where they turned the ball over 25 times. They shot nearly sixty percent in the loss to Quinnipiac. Free throws were a problem against Wagner and Sacred Heart and they are shooting only 57.5 percent on the season, but they’ve had a couple games with stellar free throwing shooting including a 15-20 outing against FDU. It seems like they are just struggling to put a full game together. This weekend they have a trip to Monmouth and Mount Saint Mary’s to try and get things straight.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (10-7, 5-3 NEC)
Last weekend, the Knights picked up a huge road sweep at CCSU and Quinnipiac to bring their record back over .500. Before that they dropped two games at home to conference front runners St. Francis NY and Robert Morris but defeated St. Francis PA between those outings. Chad Timberlake was named NEC player of the week for a career-high 22 points in the win over St. Francis PA on January 19th which he then topped by going for 25 in the win over Central Connecticut State on Saturday. Last Monday against the Bobcats he nearly had a double-double with thirteen points and nine rebounds but it was Gordon Klaiber who stole the show by scoring 31 points and 11 rebounds in the 84-81 overtime win. The Knights have been taking care of the basketball this year and lead the NEC with the fewest turnovers per game and the best turnover margin. This week’s only game is a trip to Maryland to face Mount Saint Mary’s.
Long Island Blackbirds (6-10, 2-5 NEC)
The Blackbirds had a light schedule the past couple weeks, only playing Central Connecticut State on the 19th and Monmouth on the 22nd. Against the Blue Devils, they got victimized by 64.6 percent shooting and lost 79-60. James Williams, who had been named NEC rookie of the week for his efforts against St. Francis PA and Quinnipiac the week prior, continued to play well by leading the team with 17 points. Against Monmouth, it was another freshman, Evan Meekins who led the charge. He scored 18 of his 23 points in a 35-14 run in the second half that put LIU in control. Monmouth came back to tie the score but the Blackbirds shut down the Hawk offense and used free throws to put the game away. In the 85-79 win, LIU shot a season-high 51.8 percent and had all five starters score in double figures. This weekend, they finish a six game home-stand with Wagner on Thursday, St. Francis on Saturday and Robert Morris on Monday.
Monmouth Hawks (11-7, 5-2 NEC)
We left the Hawks undefeated in the league at 3-0 coming off a big win at St. Francis NY. Blake Hamilton led them to 4-0 by scoring 26 points in a 74-64 win over St. Francis PA. Coupled with the 29 points against the Terriers, Hamilton earned NEC player of the week honors. Monmouth then made it 5-0 with a 75-67 over Robert Morris. But then Long Island beat them 85-79 on the road in a game where they failed to take advantage of a 17-9 turnover margin and 16 more shots. They followed that with 20 turnovers and 30 percent shooting in a 75-63 loss to Quinnipiac. Next they face perhaps the only team in the league struggling more than they are, Central Connecticut State. The game is on Saturday and is their only game of the week.
Mount Saint Mary’s Mountaineers (4-13, 2-5 NEC)
The Mount evened their conference record at 2-2 with an 85-76 win over Sacred Heart on the 17th behind 26 points from Charles Cook. It appeared as if they would move over .500 in their next game against Wagner after fighting back from a ten point deficit to take a one point lead in the last minute. But Courtney Pritchard hit a bucket with 2.2 seconds to go for the win. The Mount then lost consecutive games to St. Francis PA and Robert Morris last weekend to drop them into the cellar of the NEC. In both games, the Mount closed the lead to within three in second half but could get no closer. Landy Thompson led the way with seventeen points against SFPA and fourteen points against RMU. On the year he’s averaging 18.6 points per game which is good enough for second in the league. The Mount will try and end their three game slide this weekend with games at home against Fairleigh Dickinson and Central Connecticut State.
Quinnipiac Bobcats (7-11, 3-4 NEC)
Since opening NEC play with three straight losses, the Bobcats have win three out of four. They started the stretch with a huge 90-62 win over Sacred Heart. Van Crafton hit eight three pointers to set the Bobcat Division I record for most threes in a game. Rashaun Banjo and Kason Mims each had double-doubles and all five starters scored in double figures. Next they handled Monmouth 75-63 where five players scored in double figures, led by nineteen points from Rob Monroe. Last Monday, the Bobcats rallied from fifteen down in the second half and Rob Monroe scored his 1000th career point, but the Bobcats lost in overtime 84-81 to FDU. Monroe reached the milestone in 71 games which was faster than any previous Bobcat. Quinnipiac responded with the big win over CCSU that almost didn’t have the chance to materialize. Trailing by two with four seconds to go, Adam Tancredi intercepted a Blue Devil pass and moved the ball up court. His outlet pass was deflected out of bounds as time expired. But the game was televised which allowed the officials to review the play and determine that the CCSU player who deflected the pass was out of bounds as he touched the ball. Eight-tenths of a second were put back on the clock which was enough time for Rob Monroe to take a deflected pass in the corner and hit the game winning three. The three capped an 11-3 run in the last 51 seconds to get the win. Again, Kason Mims and Rashaun Banjo had double-doubles. Banjo scored 30 points and grabbed twelve rebounds while Mims scored 25 points and dished out ten assists. This weekend it’s off to Sacred Heart and Wagner in hopes to continue the hot streak.
Robert Morris Colonials (8-8, 5-2 NEC)
The Colonials have won three out of their last four games. They picked up their first road win of the year by defeating Fairleigh Dickinson 62-58 to start the stretch. Chaz McCrommon scored 20 points including four big free throws in the last minute and a half to seal the win. Maurice Carter and Aaron Thomas each scored 21 points in the next game out at Monmouth but it wasn’t enough to erase a seven point Hawk halftime lead as Monmouth won 75-67. RMU bounced back against Sacred Heart behind 25 points from Chaz McCrommon in a 69-66 win. The Colonials then made it two straight with a 77-65 win over Mount Saint Mary’s. Aaron Thomas led the way with 22 points and McCrommon had 20 as RMU used a late 10-0 run to put the Mountaineers away. The Colonials moved their overall record up to .500 for the first time this year and currently sit in a tie with Monmouth for second place in the NEC. This weekend will witness a battle for first place when the Colonials travel to St. Francis NY on Saturday; the Terriers currently hold a half-game lead. RMU will finish the road trip with a game at Long Island on Monday.
Sacred Heart Pioneers (8-9, 4-4 NEC)
The Pioneers ended a three game losing streak Monday by beat Central Connecticut State 72-69. SHU led for much the second half, but CCSU tied the score at 65 with just under four minutes to play. Omar Wellington hit a three on the next possession to get the lead back and the Pioneers would never relinquish it. The game marked the first win over the Blue Devils since the move to Division I and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time. In the previous three games, the Pioneers had some tough games. They started the streak with a 85-76 loss to Mount Saint Mary’s, a game which they led by as many as eleven in the second half. Then they lost to Quinnipiac 90-62 and had a comeback fall short in a 69-66 loss to Robert Morris. Maurice Bailey averaged over 21 points a game in that stretch but couldn’t lead his team to victory. Against CCSU he scored 22 points and now leads the NEC in scoring at 19.4 points a game. The Pioneers will take on conference leader St. Francis on Thursday and then hope to avenge the blowout to Quinnipiac on Saturday.
St. Francis (NY) Terriers (9-8, 6-2 NEC)
The Terriers have used a three game win streak to surge into first place in the NEC. Mike Wilson started the charge by scoring 21 points in a 69-57 win over Central Connecticut State. The Blue Devils came back from a ten point deficit at the break to take the lead eight minutes into the second half but SFNY answered with an 11-1 run to take control. Mike Wilson again led the charge with seventeen points the next time out when SFNY beat Fairleigh Dickinson 81-72. Tied at 62 with seven and a half minutes to go, the Terriers used a 9-2 to get the lead and made 11 of 12 free throws in the last two minutes to ice the game. John Quintana led five Terriers in double figures with fifteen points to beat Wagner last Saturday 82-70. Tied with three minutes to go, SFNY used a 14-2 run to end the game, including six straight free throws in the final minute. The most impressive part of the win streak is that all three games came on the road. The Terriers have a chance to increase their half-game lead in the NEC with three games at home this weekend as Sacred Heart, Robert Morris and St. Francis PA all come to town.
St. Francis (PA) Red Flash (6-9. 3-3 NEC)
The Red Flash came off a tough trip to Jersey and got a key win over Mount Saint Mary’s last Saturday 71-58. Darshan Luckey scored 21 points in the win which moved SFPA back to .500 in NEC. Before that, the Red Flash had lost two straight. In the first game against Monmouth, they fell behind early only to pull within one late in the first half. But the Hawks opened the second half with a run and SFPA couldn’t recover. Rashaan Benton led the team with fifteen points off the bench. SFPA came back two nights later and lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in a heartbreaker. In the final minute, the score was tied at 74 when Jason Osborne missed a jumper and FDU got the rebound and a chance to wait for the final shot. Chad Timberlake drove the lane and kicked out to Tamien Trent for the game-winning three with seven-tenths of a second remaining. This weekend, the Red Flash head back to the road to face Long Island and St. Francis NY.
Wagner Seahawks (5-11, 2-4 NEC)
The 19th saw the Seahawks finally pick up their first conference win. They led by as many as ten in the second half only to watch Mount Saint Mary’s take the lead in the final minute. But Courtney Pritchard answered with a two in the lane to get the lead back with 2.2 seconds to go and ultimately the 74-73 win. They game marked the return of Nigel Wyatte who had missed the previous game against Fairleigh Dickinson with a sprained ankle and led the team with fifteen points off the bench. The next game marked the return of Doug Viegas who was supposed to miss the rest of the season with a lacerated kidney. He only hit six threes on his way to 20 points, leading the team to a 73-67 win over Central Connecticut State. Unfortunately the magic couldn’t last and the Seahawks dropped their last game 82-70 to St. Francis NY. Teoine Carroll hit a three to tie the score at 68 with three minutes to play but couldn’t find the bucket in the last minutes and SFNY pulled away. Wyatte led the team with 14 points and Sean Munson had a double-double with thirteen points and sixteen rebounds. Wagner hopes to get back on track with games at Long Island and at home against Quinnipiac this weekend.