Northeast Conference Notebook
by Zach Smart
A Devil Of A Time
This year’s Central Connecticut team possesses a three-headed monster that all of two conference teams have been able to maintain.
This is, however, the Northeast Conference we’re talking about now. The top dog can never be inked in as the champion, regardless of how many top-tier teams it has dumped off by 30 or more points this year.
“In this conference we know anyone can beat anyone on any given night,” explained Quinnipiac senior guard Adam Gonzalez. Gonzalez and the Bobcats were twice trounced by Central in lopsided losses, all while they stood right behind them in second.
But make no mistake about it, this year’s Central team is something else. The proof is in the record. The Blue Devils (18-11, 15-2) have eaten up the conference schedule in shark-sized bites.
The trio of Javier Mojica, Tristan Blackwood, and Obie Nwadike is simply too much to counter for most teams. Mojica, originally a walk-on, has developed into one of the conference’s most prolific scorers, leading the Blue Devils with 17 points per game. He averages seven boards while shooting .426 from beyond the arc. Blackwood, who went off for 40 points (13-23 from the floor including 10-17 from behind the arc) against Robert Morris on Feb. 22 to avenge a loss, has come into his element. He’s flourished in a role that allows him to create offense, averaging a team-high four assists per game, highlighted by nine in a win against Mount St. Mary’s at the beginning of the month.
Nwadike is the senior strongman who has led the conference in rebounding since his sophomore year. The forward from Jersey City is a double-double waiting to happen with 14.3 points and 10.7 boards per game.
The team is only about seven deep. The finely-tuned starting five of Mojica, Blackwood, Nwadike, big man Jemino Sobers, and Joe Seymore, a freshman guard from Delaware, average 32.8 minutes per game. At week’s end, the Blue Devils have the upper hand on the entire conference.
At the beginning of the season, there questions surfaced about how well the Devils would recover from the loss of last year’s MVP, Justin Chiera. Chiera, the best three-point shooter in program history averaged 14 in 2005-2006 while facilitating the offensive attack.
No worries. Blackwood has certainly filled the leadership void left by Chiera, and Mojica has certainly carried the load on offense at times. He scored a career-high 32 against Quinnipiac, weeks after putting 31 on New Hampshire.
Blue Devils coach Howie Dickenman beefed up the Devils’ out-of-conference schedule with a season-opener at Michigan and meetings with Delaware, UMass, and Vermont. It’s seemed to rub off on the team.
Quinnipiac’s dreadful losing streak, during which the Bobcats failed to mesh together, delayed it a bit, but forward DeMario Anderson (a transfer via Central Connecticut) held his coming-out-party against Vermont, going off for 20 points and scoring timely buckets in clusters. Since then, he’s emerged as one of the conference’s marquee players. Anderson poured in 31 in a win against in-state rival Sacred Heart on Feb. 8. It was one point off his collegiate career high. Surprisingly enough, Anderson’s career-high 32 points came against Quinnipiac during his final regular season game in a Blue Devil uniform in 2004-2005.
Quinnipiac, without standout big man Victor Akinyanju (favoring his right foot), suffered an embarrassing 73-72 loss to basement-dweller St. Francis (Pa.) on a night which featured all sorts of lineup changes. Guard Adam Gonzalez (14.7 points, 3.7 assists per game) sat in Joe DeSantis’ doghouse for much of the game, playing just eight minutes – all in the first half. The loss puts Quinnipiac in a log-jam with Sacred Heart for second place. A tough conference match with the Pioneers at the Pitt Center awaits them.