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Northeast Finals Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Northeast Conference Finals Preview

Preview by Keith Burdette

No. 7 Central Connecticut State Blue Devils at No. 1 Monmouth Hawks
This final matches the teams who have claimed three of the last four NEC tournament titles. Central Connecticut State won in 2000 and 2002 but the only players who were around for either of those games are Ron Robinson and Rich Pittman. Monmouth won in 2001 and Jason Krayl and Russ Anderson are the only players left who participated in that title game.

The Blue Devils got this far by upsetting No. 2 St. Francis NY in the quarterfinals 81-68 and No. 3 Fairleigh Dickinson 76-73 in the semifinals in overtime. In the semis, a 30 foot three-pointer from CCSU’s Justin Chiera at the buzzer sent the game into overtime. All season, Ron Robinson has been the stalwart for the Blue Devils. The NEC tournament has been no different as he’s averaged 17 points and 11-and-a-half rebounds per game. Robinson needs only three rebounds to become the NEC’s all-time leader in that category.

The Hawks beat No. 8 Mount Saint Mary’s 64-52 in the quarterfinals then took out No. 4 Robert Morris 62-45 in the semis. Blake Hamilton and Dwayne Byfield have been a great one-two punch for Monmouth. In the playoffs, Hamilton is averaging sixteen-and-a-half points while Byfield has been getting thirteen points per game.

These teams split the regular season meetings with each team winning big on their home court. January 31st, Monmouth won 78-61 as they shot 59 percent from the field, forced 28 turnovers and had four players in double figures. CCSU returned the favor less than a week later with a 73-54 win. In that game, Ron Robinson and Javier Mojica each scored sixteen points and the Blue Devils outrebounded the Hawks 37-21. Monmouth hosts the championship having won the regular season championship and thus the higher seed in the tournament. So far on the season, the Hawks are 12-0 at home in Boylan Gym.

Regardless of the situation, Robinson for CCSU, Hamilton and Byfield for Monmouth have performed at a high level this season. But these teams are most successful when other players step up. So far in the tournament, the Blue Devils have had at least four players in double figures both games. Meanwhile, only Byfield and Hamilton were in double figures in Monmouth’s wins. The Hawks have countered with great defense and are holding their opponents to less than 50 points per game and under 33 percent shooting. During the regular season, Monmouth led the NEC in scoring defense, but CCSU wasn’t far behind in third place.

Ultimately the big difference in this game could be free throwing shooting. Monmouth was second in the NEC at 74.3 percent while CCSU was last at 64.4 percent. In the tournament so far, the Blue Devils are shooting just under 69 percent from the line and have attempted 28 more free throws than their opponents. Ultimately I expect this trend to continue and for Central Connecticut State to win the game. Monmouth will keep the game low scoring but right now the Blue Devils are running on all cylinders and have the mojo behind them with the last second three in the semifinals.

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