Fairleigh Dickinson’s First Ever NCAA Tournament Victory Highlights the NEC’s Great Night

Tuesday night marked a magical night for the NEC. Three teams were in action, and all three played well, representing the league as best as anyone could have imagined going into the night. Please allow me to offer my thoughts on the action, starting with the biggest win in FDU’s history.

Good Luck Keeping the Knight’s Offense at Bay for 40 Minutes

Fairleigh Dickinson started their first NCAA tournament game since 2016 with 9 turnovers versus 2 field goals. The Prairie View Panthers, the SWAC champions, came out on fire, hitting 10 of their first 14 shots from behind the arc. Even the team’s starting 6’7″ forward, Devonte Patterson, made 3 of 5 from way downtown after going 10 of 58 (17.2%) from 3 for the season.

The Panthers’ quickness was bothering the Knights, bottling up passing lanes and preventing Jenkins and others from dribble penetrating to create. They came into the night sixth in the country in defensive turnover rate, and their early extractions only bolstered their case.

In other words, it didn’t seem to be Fairleigh Dickinson’s night. Trailing by double figures early in the second half must have felt like a 20-point deficit, but then Greg Herenda’s offense started to settle down like they did over the final eight minutes of the first half.

Great offenses can be contained for stretches, but rarely will they be held down over the entirety of 40 minutes. Such was the case on Tuesday night. In the Knights final 26 possessions, they scored 44 points for a pristine 1.69 points per possession mark. Yes, I’m acutely aware of my proclivity to cherry pick good-looking data, but this data represents a meaningful sample size. When you look over the Knights past four postseason appearances, in fact, the offensive explosive has been a marvel to watch. Case in point:

  • NEC Quarterfinal vs Wagner: 43 points in 24 possession to close first half (1.79 ppp)
  • NEC Semifinal vs Robert Morris: 27 points in 18 possessions in a second half comeback (1.50 ppp)
  • NEC Final vs Saint Francis U: 60 points in 40 possessions in the meat of the game (1.50 ppp)
  • NCAA tournament First Four vs Prairie View: 44 points in 26 possessions to close game (1.69 ppp)

And they are doing this all with a 6-man rotation!

After an ominous start to the second stanza, Jahlil Jenkins took over. Despite misfiring on his first two shots of the half, Jenkins dazzled to convert 8 of his final 10 field goal attempts, en route to a scorching hot 20-point, 4-assist and 2-rebound performance in what amounted to be 19-plus breathtaking minutes. The Panthers did an admirable job stymying the lightning quick floor general in the early going, but like he did in the second half of the NEC semifinals, Jenkins’ will and elite agility got the best of the opposition.

It comes as no surprise – the diminutive floor general was a winner in high school, leading Virginia Academy to a Division 3 state championship as a junior. It was a big reason why Herenda was recruiting Jenkins in the first place!

Along with his partner in crime Edge, the duo combined for 55 points on 29 shots – quite efficient to say the least – while turning the ball over just four times in the game. The last statistic impresses when the ball was seemingly in both guards hands at every waking moment. Guard play wins big games, and the First Four opener in Dayton is living proof of that.

While Edge’s play in the first half should be lauded for keeping the Knights in the game – his 18 points was more than the rest of his teammates combined (16) – the other senior was pivotal down the stretch. Mike Holloway had a difficult 25-plus minutes – he appeared to be pressing, unable to finish around the rim (2 of 6), catch the ball cleanly and find open teammates when Prairie View collapsed on him near the rim (5 turnovers). At one point, Reggie Miller even suggested on the nationally televised broadcast that FDU should stop giving Holloway the ball!

The great 3-point shooter turned announcer hadn’t ever witnessed the senior’s resolve and heart, and knew little about the bruiser from Essex County, New Jersey. When it mattered most, Holloway buckled down and provided the Knights with the dominating interior presence the team was lacking throughout the contest. After committing 3 turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half, Holloway settled down to pour in 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. The first rejection came at an opportune time, as Jenkins’ transition basket off the Holloway block was the start of a much-needed 14-3 spurt that gave FDU their first lead (61-59) of the contest.

Overall, it was a terrific second half comeback, even if this story was written before in the NEC semifinal. It was deja vu in a way, with Edge and Jenkins willing the Knights and keeping the team’s magical season alive. Onto Utah to face the #1 seed Gonzaga!

The Red Flash Conclude a Successful Season

It was supposed to be another ho-hum victory for the Indiana Hoosiers. Yes, they were part of the first four teams out of the NCAA tournament field, and thus their motivation would understandably be in question, right? But surely they’d make quick work of Saint Francis after demonstrating their dominance against programs from smaller leagues this season. In six home games against mid-major competition in 2018-19, the Hoosiers won all six contests by an average of 31 points.

Indiana needed to work harder that they anticipated for win number seven.

The start was promising enough – a 14-0 run after falling behind 7-2 early seemed par for the course. The lead would extend to nine points, 22-13, before the Red Flash made their run, much of it having to do with the play of senior star Jamaal King. The 5’10” NEC all-conference first teamer was awesome in the first 20 minutes at Assembly Hall, registering 16 points on 9 shots to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. His ability to make perimeter jumpers and convert at the stripe (4 of 4) was a big reason why Saint Francis held a surprising 6-point advantage at the half.

Indiana came out swinging after the break, presumably in response to head coach Archie Miller’s stern lecture in the locker room. The Hoosiers went back to using their size advantage, outscoring the Red Flash 56-18 in the paint. They stopped settling for ill-advised 3s and they won going away.

Despite the season ending setback, Saint Francis and King in particular have a lot to be proud of. The program’s NIT appearance is their first since 1958, back when that postseason tournament was the premier event in college basketball. For Rob Krimmel, this year’s NEC Coach of the Year, to turn Saint Francis into a league powerhouse is a remarkable accomplishment. And the head coach casts much of the credit to King.

“He’s a big part of why the program is where it is right now, because of his willingness to stick with us, to challenge guys to be better,” Krimmel said in the postgame press conference at Assembly Hall. “And as I’ve said before, the best thing that this team did all year, is that they were close… and it was Jamaal King that was responsible for that.”

Prior to that, Krimmel praised King in more ways than one. “I don’t know if I’ve coached a more competitive kid. To see where he’s comes as a freshman and where he is now as a player and a person, it’s – you know when you hear the saying ‘good things happen to good people,’ he’s right there by that definition in the dictionary.”

King finished his excellent career with 1,536 points, 391 assists, 290 rebounds and 138 steals. He, along with Andre Wolford and Luidgy Laporal, will be missed on a Red Flash roster that won its first NEC regular season championship since 1991.

For Krimmel’s complete press conference, go here. His video begins at the 9:20 mark.

Robert Morris Keeps Their Season Alive

The Colonials saved their best for last from an offensive standpoint, at least for the time being. Robert Morris scored a season high 98 points and 1.24 ppp against Division I competition in their CIT opening round victory on Tuesday night. The trio of Matty McConnell, Josh Williams and Jon Williams were sensational, combining for 83 of the team’s 98 points (84.7%).

It wasn’t a consistent defensive effort by any stretch, but Andy Toole was pleased the team made the stops when needed, especially in overtime.

The Colonials will live to see another day in the CIT, with their next matchup to be determined.

In the meantime, the NEC gets to showcase St. Francis Brooklyn at the CIT on Thursday night, along with an exciting FDU matchup in Utah against Gonzaga. Enjoy the action, NEC postseason basketball in mid March: there’s nothing better!

 

5 Thoughts as FDU Bests Robert Morris for Spot in NEC Tourney Final

It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing first half at the Rothman Center, but the Northeast Conference had to be pleased with how the final 20 minutes turned out. Both programs were exerting maximum effort and making plays on both ends of the floor. There were five ties and six lead changes over the course of the game, much of that occurring in the second half. The gym was electric. It was, quite simply, March Madness at its finest.

I was fortunate to be court side for the action, so please allow me to organize my thoughts in what turned out to be a great NEC tournament semifinal.

1) The Knight Guards Adaptability

The Robert Morris defense came as advertised, especially in the first half, holding the Knights to 1.00 point per possession and a bloated 32% turnover rate over 20 minutes. Their perimeter defense was fantastic throughout; the Colonials quick feet and fresh legs – Toole gave double-digit minutes to 8 players when it was all said and done – led to FDU settling for a series of contested perimeter jumpers. In the first half, the Colonials excelled in disrupting the Knights’ offensive flow and preventing their transition opportunities to a minimum.

Not much changed from the Colonials effort and execution in the second frame, instead the Knight guards realized that creating scoring opportunities inside the arc was a must. The philosophy didn’t pay dividends initially – Robert Morris held a daunting 10-point advantage midway through the second half, but the relentless drive of Darnell Edge and Jahlil Jenkins spurred Herenda’s offense when he needed it most.

“You could see they were hedging hard on ball screens and we weren’t getting open looks and they like to pack it in,” Edge said afterwards when asked Robert Morris’ game plan. “We knew we weren’t going to have a lot of wide open shots, so that’s why we wanted to get the ball in and then get it outside.”

Edge’s inability to develop a rhythm behind the arc was the epitome of the Colonials defensive prowess – he made just one triple in his 38 minutes. Rather than continually camp out on the perimeter, however, Edge got creative and converted 7 of 8 from inside the arc for a game-high 20 points. Those points didn’t come the typical way Edge is accustomed to, but he got his buckets nonetheless. His seven 2s tied a season high, when the senior scored as many against Rutgers in the season opener back in November. He successfully adapted from perimeter sharpshooter to mid-range guru. It’s not the most efficient thing to take long 2s, but it was an absolute necessity given the Colonials game plan.

The Knights still registered a 57.9% effective field goal percentage for the game, but that surely was the hardest FDU had to work this season to score 66 points, their third lowest scoring output this season in games they were victorious. The Knights attempted only 15 3s, Mike Holloway was constantly bodied and fronted (mostly by Yannis Mendy and Malik Petteway) en route to just 4 shot attempts, and the Colonials patented “turn them over” defense was in full swing (28% turnover rate, 17 turnovers in 60 possessions).

But Edge and Jenkins adapted their games in the second half, and it was a prime reason the Knights are travelling to Loretto for a Tuesday night championship showdown. Speaking of Jenkins….

2) A Winning Point Guard

The explosive Jenkins has been a model of efficiency as a sophomore – he was second in the NEC in assist to turnover ratio (2.2 to 1) and has been the main catalyst for why the Knights offense has run at a super efficient clip. But a quick gander at the semifinal box score tells a different story: the stoic floor general dished out just one dime against five turnovers. It was only the third time all season where Jenkins had 1 assist or fewer in a contest and the second time he committed five turnovers or more. That didn’t matter, as Jenkins morphed into a scoring point guard, because he had to. He found a way and did whatever it took to win.

He willed the shorthanded Knights by running the point for 38 minutes and literally touched the ball on every offensive possession. Andy Toole is certainly cognizant of how difficult it was to contain Jenkins, even when they bottled up his passing lanes.

“He just puts a lot of pressure on you because of his ability to get downhill,” Toole said after Robert Morris’ semifinal loss. “He’s constantly on ball screens, he’s constantly on the attack, and your guards consistently have to be ready. It makes him a hard matchup.”

Jenkins scored 18 points on 9 shots and got to the charity stripe 10 times, making 9. He was also disruptive on the defensive end, compiling 2 steals and getting out in transition a number of other times to give the Knights the best chance to score against a Robert Morris defense that couldn’t settle amid the tempo. By constantly being in motion and on the attack as a scorer, the Knights were able to survive. Jenkins relentless motor and ability to fly by defenders off the bounce is a marvel to watch.

3) FDU Getting Contributions Elsewhere

In the absence of Xzavier Malone-Key, the Knights bench got even shorter on Saturday. It was evident in the early going that Herenda was rolling with a 6-player rotation, for better or worse. Normally the shallow rotation isn’t an issue, nor has it been over the course of the Knights’ latest 12-2 stretch, yet Toole routinely employs an 8-player rotation, and today was no exception. Depth was a concern if you’re a FDU fan, but the play of freshman Brandon Powell was pivotal in helping quell those concerns throughout the contest. Especially since Kaleb Bishop found himself in foul trouble throughout the second half.

“A few weeks ago he was in the doghouse and I just told him, ‘you went from the doghouse to the Penthouse,” Herenda said of his freshman. “It was a team effort.” 

The rookie played his best basketball in the most important game of his life – at least up to this point. He posted a season high 163 KenPom offensive rating with a 11-point (on 4 shots), 3-rebound and 1-assist showing. It wasn’t an eye-popping performance by any stretch, but Powell did more than enough to ease the burden of the missing Malone-Key, even on the defensive end.

In addition to Powell’s contributions, Elyjah Williams effort in the second half should not go unnoticed. The energetic, versatile big led the team in cheerleading – he was imploring the crowd to make noise much of the time – and was a key contributor in the second half. After a quiet first half, Williams registered 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in the second half. His two hustle offensive rebounds in the final minute of the game allowed FDU to secure a possession for 49 consecutive seconds (1:03 to 0:14) and led to two Jenkins FTs that extended the lead to 2 possessions.

4) A Legitimate Playoff Atmosphere

Fairleigh Dickinson has struggled to draw basketball crowds in the past, but their fans came out in impressive numbers for the 2 NEC tournament games this week. After finishing near the bottom of the league in terms of home attendance (482 fans per game) for 2018-19, the Rothman Center brought in 1190 and 1212 spectators, respectively, for the two playoff showdowns. Considering it is spring break on the Northern New Jersey campus, that’s a nice turnout for the #2 seed of the league.

The atmosphere was electric throughout as there were several moments in the second half where the crowd noise was deafening. Well done, Knight (and Colonial) fans! NEC spirit was alive and well in Hackensack on Saturday.

5) Saying Goodbye to Matty McConnell

There haven’t been many four or five-year seniors who’ve stuck it out at Robert Morris over the past decade, but one player that’ll surely reside in program lure is Matty McConnell. The senior had himself a game on Saturday, collecting 17 points, 4 assists and 2 steals in defeat. A presumed finalist for NEC Defensive Player of the Year, McConnell embodied the hard-nosed, tenacious defensive effort taught to perfection by Toole.

One notable fan and alum, Chris Cappella, poignantly paid his respects to No. 23 on Saturday afternoon.

In the post game press conference, Toole was reflecting on McConnell’s impact, both this season and in seasons past. “I thought he played an excellent game today; thought he should’ve been the defensive player of the year in the Northeast Conference,” Toole said before continuing on.

“He had his best season as a senior and I would’ve like to see him continue to compete for a championship and unfortunately he was not able to do that. But for four years he’s obviously made a number of winning plays. You know he’s a guy whose poured his heart into his team and his program and his jersey and it’s difficult when you can’t help him get to where he wants to get to as a player, which is compete for a NEC championship. So we are sorely going to miss him and all that he brought to the team and I’m happy he was able to compete as he did today.”

The senior guard finished with 1,102 points, 509 rebounds, 297 assists and 232 steals.

Enjoy the NEC finals in Loretto on Tuesday night! And before you do, please allow me to shamelessly promote my feature earlier this year on the NEC family ties between cousins Mike Holloway and NEC Player of the Year Keith Braxton.||

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 3/8/19

STARTING LINEUP: 2014 QUARTER-FINAL FLASHBACK


DOUBLE OT DRAMA IN LORETTO    


In the previous 32-year history of the Northeast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament there have been many standout games, spectacular shots, and memorable moments…and then there was the 2014 quarter-final contest between the Saint Francis Red Flash and the Sacred Heart Pioneers. It’s a game that has to be placed in a separate category, because the NEC Tournament hadn’t seen anything like it before and hasn’t seen anything like it since. 

On Sunday, March 9, 2014, Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart stepped into the DeGol Arena in Loretto, PA for a late-afternoon playoff match-up pitting the sixth seeded Pioneers up against the third seeded Red Flash. It would be a rematch of the previous year’s semi-final, won by SFU 83-67, and a matchup between two programs who had combined to win nine out of the previous 12 tournament championships.  

The Pioneers were in their first year under Jessica Mannetti. Sacred Heart had lost their senior point guard Ericka Norman earlier in the season due to injury, and was stumbling to the finish line. After starting 7-2 in NEC play, the Pioneers lost seven out of their last nine games going into the conference tournament. While managing to keep their conference tournament qualification streak alive, making it to 15 straight conference tournaments at that point, the sixth seed was the lowest seed the Pioneer program had ever earned.  

On the other side, the Red Flash entered 2014 with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after a 39-point loss to Quinnipiac in the previous year’s championship game. The Red Flash routed Wagner in their regular season finale, 101-75, to clinch a first-round home playoff game at DeGol Arena, a facility in which they had won 24 consecutive home playoff games, a streak dating back to the early 90’s. SFU senior Alli Williams punctuated a 2014 first team all-conference season with a 47-point performance against the Seahawks.

From the onset, the game moved at a blistering pace. SFU would hold a 53-47 lead at intermission. The Pioneers fought back with a 12-4 run right out of the break to force a tie, and managed to take back control of the scoreboard on a Gabby Washington three nearly 30 seconds later. 

With 38 seconds remaining in regulation the Pioneers were protecting a seven-point edge, 100-93, following a pair of made free throws by Washington. It was the first time Sacred Heart had hit the century mark in a single game since 1985. Things seemed grim for the Red Flash, until SFU junior Alexa Hayward quickly converted a jumper to move the Flash to within five. Then, following a timeout, Corissa Archer forced a steal. She would give It up to Williams, who was fouled. Williams made good on both of her free throws, and suddenly, it was a one possession game. 

With 12 seconds to spare in regulation, Hayward converted a layup to bring the Flash to within a single point. On the other end, SHU point guard Katie Shepard made one out of two from the charity stripe. With time running out, Hayward raced down the court in desperation, penetrated towards the basket, and fed it to Alli Williams, who converted the layup with just one second remaining to tie the game and send it into a bonus session.  

In overtime, once again, SFU saw their season flash before their eyes in the final seconds. Trailing by three, 115-112, and under 20 seconds to go, Alexa Hayward drove hard to the basket, drawing a foul while converting the shot, to earn an “and one” opportunity. After Hayward completed the old fashioned three-point play to tie the game, Hannah Kimmel missed a shot at the buzzer for SHU. With the outcome still unsettled, the teams would have to play on.

“I know [Gabby Washington] didn’t want to foul me. Just driving in I felt confident,” said Hayward of her clutch three-point play. “I went into her a little bit and made sure I could get the shot up. I just wanted to make the shot and hit a free throw to take us home.”

Eventually, the duo of Williams and Hayward would prove to be too much for Sacred Heart. In the second overtime, Williams and Hayward combined to score 13 out of the 17 Saint Francis points, leading SFU to a thrilling 132-124 victory, and a chance to live and play another day, against Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC Tournament semi-finals. 

Now looking back, five years later, there are still several eye-popping numbers associated with this game that stand out. First, the 256 combined points set a new mark as the second highest scoring NCAA women’s basketball game in history (Behind Kentucky over Baylor in four overtimes, 133-130, from earlier that season). Also, prior to this game, no NEC team had ever reached 100 points in an NEC Tournament game. On this day, not only did both teams reach the century mark, but they both did it by the end of the first 40 minutes! The game also featured not one, not two, but three 40-point scorers – Alli Williams and Gabby Washington each setting a new NEC Tournament single game scoring record with 47 points apiece, and Alexa Hayward who finished with 43 and tied a NEC tournament record with 16 made field goals. For Williams it was a second straight 47 point showing, equaling her career high.

“I was thinking at a point, wow this could be my last college game,” said Williams. “I am so appreciative of my teammates for stepping up down the stretch.”

“It was all adrenaline,” said Washington. “Like when something big happened, stuff came out of us that I didn’t know was possible. We were just starting to talk and it kind of helped us and pushed us. It just didn’t go our way.”

The see-saw affair saw a total of 12 ties and 22 lead changes. Yes, you read that right…22 lead changes! Finally, in a feat that would seem nearly impossible in a game like this, the Red Flash committed a grand total of just NINE TURNOVERS on the afternoon!  

“It’s a shame somebody had to lose today because I couldn’t have asked for a better effort and a better game, actually, to be a part of,” said Coach Mannetti in her post-game press conference. “It was unbelievable the energy and excitement the playoff atmosphere created. To watch our team, who has really hit some bumps over the last couple games down the stretch of the regular season, show up with a lot of energy and excitement and optimism, they played their hearts out tonight.”


The Saint Francis Red Flash would go on to defeat Mount St. Mary’s in a tightly contested semi-final, 68-63, before running out of steam in the NEC Championship Game against rival Robert Morris, 78-64. Sacred Heart would bounce back to win 11 conference games in 2015, and then go 16-2, win the regular season title, and host the NEC Championship Game in 2016. The 132-124 double overtime thriller remains an NEC Tournament ‘Instant Classic’ and one of the most iconic games ever played in the NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. 



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*2019 NEC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW:2019 will mark the 33rd annual Northeast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament. After a year experimenting with a ‘pod system’ format in which the top two seeds each hosted two quarter-final games and one semi-final game, the tournament returns to the ‘higher seed hosting’ format, previously used from 2011-2017. After the quarter-final round, teams will be reseeded so the highest remaining seed plays the lowest remaining seed in the semi-finals. The quarter-finals will tip off on Monday, March 11th on NEC Front Row, with the semi-finals airing on both ESPN3 and NEC Front Row on Thursday, March 14th at 7pm. For the 12th straight season, the NEC Championship Game will air on ESPNU on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday, March 17th at 2pm. 

Home court advantage has certainly mattered in the early rounds, as under the previous ‘higher seed hosts’ format from 2011-17, home teams were 24-4 in the quarter-finals, only 7-7 in the semi-finals, and 5-2 in the championship game. The only team in history to ever win three straight road games on their way to the tournament title was the 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. As the #5 seed, they won at Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut, and Robert Morris en-route to their program’s first ever championship. The top four seeds here in 2019 (Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Saint Francis U) are a combined 31-5 at home this year against conference competition. 

Two new teams are set to enter the tournament field from the eight who qualified a year ago, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers last qualified in 2017, while the Seahawks are making their first tournament appearance in five years. The Sacred Heart Pioneers are making their 20th consecutive NEC Tournament appearance in 2019, extending their own league record. The Bryant Bulldogs are also appearing for a seventh straight season. They have made the conference tournament every year since they were first eligible back in 2013. 

Wagner, making just their third playoff appearance in the last 15 years will look to pick up their first playoff win since the 2002 quarter-finals. For Fairleigh Dickinson, seeded eighth for a third straight year, the tournament victory drought has been even longer. The Knights haven’t won a playoff game since their 1992 Championship Game victory over Mount St. Mary’s, a streak of 20 straight playoff losses over the last 26 years. 

The Saint Francis Red Flash are the reigning tournament champions, and have won a league record 12 tournament titles overall. There have been six repeat winners in history, and this season the Red Flash will look to become the first repeat champion since the Robert Morris Colonials in 2016 and 2017. Speaking of the Colonials, they will be the tournament’s top seed for a fourth time in history and have home court advantage throughout the tournament. The #1 seeded team has won it all 19 times in the previous 32 seasons. Robert Morris has advanced to the championship game in each of their last five straight seasons. If they can navigate their way back to the final again in 2019, they’d be the first team to play in six straight title tilts since SFU went to seven straight from 1994-2000.


Before the quarter-finals tip off on Monday night, check out our quarter-final previews for all four first round matchups, located below in the “A Look Ahead” section.


*PLAYER OF THE YEAR…A CLOSER LOOK: Five weeks ago, here on the NEC WBB Fast Break, we did a mid-season awards column, highlighting some of the top candidates for each of the NEC’s top honors at the half-way point. Now the regular season has been completed, the coach’s ballots are due in, and the winners are set to be announced by the Northeast Conference on Monday morning, prior to the tip-off of the women’s basketball quarter-finals on Monday night. 

One of the most interesting decisions will be in choosing the 2019 Player of the Year. At mid-season we highlighted five potential candidates: Jess Kovatch, Katherine Haines, Jade Johnson, Sydney Holloway, and Juliette Lawless. Over the final five weeks, Lawless fell off the pace due to a mid-season injury that caused her to miss a game and be very limited in a few others. For Holloway, she averaged a double-double, making her a virtual lock for a first-team all-conference bid, but a Player of the Year honor seems a little out of reach due to a mini-mid-season slump where she averaged only 13.5 points and 8 rebounds over an 11-game stretch. Then, you have the rise of Amy O’Neill, who jumped into the mix by leading the nation in assists and producing a pair of triple-doubles during the month of February. 

So let’s take a closer look at the top four main POY candidates and their numbers…


JESSICA KOVATCH: The Saint Francis senior is the incumbent, the reigning Player of the Year, and obviously the player with the biggest profile and reputation in the league. Kovatch still leads the league in scoring and made three pointers. She is amongst the nation’s best (second in the country) in made threes and made threes per game. However, her numbers down the stretch have been un-Kovatch like. Over the last six games, the Phillipsburg, NJ native is only averaging 16.2 points on 34.3% shooting and 29.0% from three. While those are still solid numbers, Kovatch could be considered a victim of setting the bar too high for herself during her Player of the Year season last year. Her numbers are more comparable to her 2017 season where she finished behind Anna Niki Stamolamprou in the Player of the Year race. While Kovatch’s scoring average and shooting percentage have dropped down the stretch, and she hasn’t had as many explosive scoring games this season compared to previous years, she is actually having her most efficient three-point shooting season overall. Here are how her numbers break down, at the time of the Player of the Year voting, in each of the last three years…

            
Kovatch by season (Numbers going into the NEC Tournament)
2017: 21.7ppg…42.4%FG…35.6%3pt…105 made 3’s 
2018: 24.0ppg…42.8%FG…37.2%3pt…118 made 3
2019: 21.2ppg…42.1%FG…36.8%3pt…112 made 3’s 


KATHERINE HAINES: Haines’ first half highlights include the first triple double in league history involving blocks and achieving her 1,000th career point early in the conference season. In the season’s second half, while Kovatch’s numbers have slipped, Haines has been on a tear. Over the last six games, Haines is averaging 19.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, on 52.9% shooting and 47.6% from behind the arc. If you go back even further to January 28th against Robert Morris, really the only conference game Haines struggled in (7 points, 4 rebounds, on 2-10 shooting), Haines is averaging over 18 points and 9 rebounds on over 50% shooting in her last 10 games. Haines’ 13 double-doubles are third most in the league behind Holloway and LIU’s Brandy Thomas. To compere, Haines’ numbers are very similar to the numbers of Sacred Heart’s last Player of the Year, Hannah Kimmel, in 2016.

            
(Numbers going into the NEC Tournament)
Haines 2019: 16.8ppg…9.2reb…48.7%FG…39.1%3pt
Kimmel 2016: 17.2ppg…7.7reb…39.1%FG…36.7%3pt   


JADE JOHNSON & AMY O’NEILL: Jade Johnson has had an incredible junior season offensively, scoring 19.9 points per game, while connecting on 97 made threes. All of those numbers are spectacular, but also are all second to Kovatch. Johnson’s teammate, Terrier senior Amy O’Neill has quietly developed a Player of the Year resume by significantly contributing in all areas. In the past, point guards usually don’t fare well in Player of the Year voting, perhaps because, as the primary facilitator, they don’t put up the crazy scoring numbers or rack up a ton of rebounds. The most recent ‘point guards’ to win Player of the Year were RMU’s Anna Niki Stamolamprou and Angela Pace, and in both cases, point guard wasn’t their natural position, they were moved there out of team necessity due to injuries and graduations. Excluding her 28-point scoring game last week against Bryant, O’Neill hasn’t put up big points, mostly because she’s been setting up her teammates, like Johnson, at such a high level. In addition, when you factor in that she leads the entire nation in assists, she leads her team in rebounding (as a point guard), and is one of the top defenders in the NEC (all while virtually never coming off of the floor – she has the most minutes played in the league), O’Neill’s complete resume definitely has her up there as an ‘NEC Elite’ player.   


O’Neill’s Last 6 games: 11.8ppg…7.3reb…9.8asst 


The official Player of the Year announcement, as well as the announcements of all individual award and all-conference winners, will take place at 10:00am on Monday, March 11th on the NEC Sports official Twitter page @NECSports. 



A LOOK AHEAD: 2019 NEC WBB QUARTER-FINALS


Monday, March 11, 2019

#7) Wagner at #2) Sacred Heart, 6pm 
#8) Fairleigh Dickinson at #1) Robert Morris, 7pm
#6) Mount St. Mary’s at #3) St. Francis Brooklyn, 7pm
#5) Bryant at #4) Saint Francis U, 7pm 



#8) FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (8-21, 5-13) at #1) ROBERT MORRIS (19-10, 16-2)

2018-19 Meetings: RMU 71-49 (1/7), RMU 63-43 (2/2)
All-Time Series: RMU leads 42-26 (Streak: RMU W8) 


The Colonials and Knights are set to square off in the NEC Tournament quarter-finals for the fourth time in the last five years. The Colonials swept the regular season series in 2019 with a pair of defensive gems. In January, RMU held the Knights to just two first quarter points, only 49 points overall on the evening, and 32% shooting in a 71-49 victory in western Pennsylvania. In February, the Knights were outscored 23-9 in the first quarter, and held to 43 points on 35% shooting, in RMU’s 63-43 win in the Garden State. Robert Morris has won their last eight straight meetings with the Knights. The Knights haven’t defeated the Colonials since sweeping RMU during the 2015-16 season. However, Robert Morris would manage to rebound in the 2016 NEC Tournament, eliminating FDU 68-59. They would again spoil Fairleigh Dickinson’s season in 2017, knocking the Knights out of the tournament, 68-35.  

Robert Morris began the year with an impressive 11-game win streak to start conference play. Their 16-2 conference record ties the 2008 team and last year’s team for the second best conference record in program history. The 2010 Colonials finished one game better at 17-1. The Knights went winless in February (0-7) for the first time since 2005. However, they managed to turn it around and win their final two regular season games to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot. 


ROBERT MORRIS 
*Preseason favorite Robert Morris returns to the post-season for the sixth straight season, and for the 14th time in the last 15 years. 

*The Colonials are the #1 seed for the fourth time in NEC Tournament history (2010, 2014, 2017, 2019) 

*The tournament’s #1 seed has won 19 out of the previous 32 NEC Tournament championships. In the 24 years since the discontinuation of the 6-team bracket, the #1 seed has won 17 times and has only missed the championship game on five occasions. 

*RMU has appeared in five straight NEC Championship Games, the most since Saint Francis U appeared in seven straight title tilts from 1994-2000. 

*Robert Morris has won seven NEC Championships, second most in history behind Saint Francis U (12)

*The Colonials are 13-5 all-time in the quarter-final round. They have won eight straight quarter-final playoff contests. The last time RMU failed to record a win in the quarter-final round was a 72-60 loss to Saint Francis in 2009.

*RMU has won six consecutive home playoff games and 17 out of their last 18. The Colonials are 21-2 all-time at home in the NEC Tournament. Their last NEC Tournament loss on their home floor was a 2015 NEC Championship Game setback to St. Francis Brooklyn, 77-62. 

*This is Charlie Buscaglia’s 14th NEC Tournament as an assistant or head coach at Robert Morris. While working for 13 seasons as an assistant under his dad, Sal Buscaglia set a NEC record with 20 tournament wins as a head coach. Since taking over in 2017, Charlie has led the Colonials to five tournament wins in two years, including a title in 2017 and a championship game appearance last year.

*The Colonials are appearing in their 24th NEC Tournament, with a 33-17 overall tournament record.


FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 
*Fairleigh Dickinson clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight season after a 68-49 victory over LIU Brooklyn in the regular season finale on Thursday night. FDU has qualified for the NEC Tournament 26 times overall and nine times in the last 12 seasons under head coach Peter Cinella 

*The current run of five straight tournament appearances is the second longest streak in program history. From 1992-1998 FDU appeared in seven straight conference tournaments. 

*The Knights were seeded as high as #5 in 2004 and 2008, but have not been seeded in the top four since they were the #1 seed in 1993, falling on their home floor to #4 seed Marist. The Knights are the #8 seed in 2019 for the third straight season. Last year they fell to the #1 Saint Francis Red Flash 89-70 in Loretto. 

*Fairleigh Dickinson was knocked out of the playoffs by Robert Morris in the quarter-final round for three straight seasons from 2015-17. 

*FDU is on a 20 game NEC Tournament losing streak. They have not tasted victory in a NEC Tournament game since their 78-55 victory over Mount St. Mary’s in the 1992 NEC Championship Game. The Knights are 10-24 all-time in the NEC Tournament. 

*Only once in NEC Tournament history has a #8 seed defeated the #1 seed. In 2007, #8 seeded St. Francis Brooklyn pulled off the historic upset against the #1 seeded LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. The Terriers were led by a 20-point effort from Sarah Bratton. 



#7) WAGNER (10-19, 8-10) at #2) SACRED HEART (18-11, 14-4)  

2018-19 Meetings: SHU 80-68 (1/12), SHU 72-64 (1/21)
All-Time Series: SHU leads 28-9 (Streak: SHU W11)


The Sacred Heart Pioneers have appeared in 20 straight NEC Tournaments. Back in March 2000, in their very first NEC Tournament game in program history, the #3 seeded Pioneers were upset in the quarter-final round by the #6 seeded Wagner Seahawks, 59-56. Monday night will be their first playoff meeting since. Presently, the Pioneers have dominated the series. They’ve won 11 straight games against the Seahawks, sweeping them five straight years. The last time Wagner defeated Sacred Heart was back in January of 2014, during Jessica Mannetti’s rookie season as head coach. This year the teams met twice within a nine day span in mid-January. During the first meeting in Staten Island, Kat Haines recorded a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Candice Leatherwood added 20 points. In the rematch, Leatherwood again reached 20, while Haines scored her 1,000th career point, as part of a 19 point effort. 

Sacred Heart boasts one of the most experienced rosters in the league with two seniors and three grad students. The Pioneers began the season 6-0 in NEC play before dropping three in a row. They burst out of that skid with a 76-41 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on February 9th. Since that game, SHU has won eight out of their last nine games and their last five in a row entering the tournament. The effort has been on both sides of the ball. During this nine game stretch, the Pioneers are averaging 68.2 points, 44% shooting, and 8.9 threes per game. All this, while holding opponents to just 52.8 points per game, including holding three teams to under 50 points. On the other side, the Wagner Seahawks have been one of the biggest surprise stories in the NEC this year. After finishing at the bottom of the league standings four straight years, and being forecasted to finish at the bottom again this year, the Seahawks defied the odds, making the NEC Tournament for the first time since 2014 and for only the third time since 2004. While Wagner got off to a 7-5 start in league play, they have dropped five out of their last six to finish up the regular season, having to settle for the seventh seed. 


SACRED HEART

*Sacred Heart is back in the post-season for a 20th consecutive year, the longest active streak in Northeast Conference women’s basketball. SHU has earned a top three seed in 15 out of their 20 tournament trips.

*The Pioneers have advanced into the semi-final round in 12 out of their previous 19 tournament appearances. SHU has been to the semi-finals three straight years and five out of the last seven. 

*SHU has won three Northeast Conference Championships (2006, 2009, and 2012). In 2009, the Pioneers became the 3rd team in NEC history to record a perfect 18-0 regular season on their road to the tournament title. 

*The Pioneers are the #2 seed for the fifth time in program history (2004, 2005, 2013, 2017, and 2019). Seven times the #2 seed has gone on to win the NEC Championship, with Robert Morris in 2008 serving as the last champion to start their journey at #2. 

*Sacred Heart has appeared in four NEC Championship Games, with their last coming back in 2016, a 56-51 loss at home to Robert Morris. 

*With another 18 win season recorded in 2019, the Pioneers have reached the 18 win plateau in 12 out of the last 16 seasons. With two more victories in this year’s tournament, the Pioneers would reach 20 wins for the 8th time since they joined Division I.  

*The Pioneers are 12-7 all time in the quarter-final round. SHU is also 17-8 all-time in NEC Tournament games played at the Pitt Center. 


WAGNER

*Wagner is back in the NEC Tournament for the 21st time in history, for the first time since 2014, and for just the third time since 2004. The Seahawks are the #7 seed for the third time in program history (1994, 2014, and 2019).

*The Seahawks are 8-11 all-time in the quarter-final round and 14-19 overall in the NEC Tournament. Wagner has dropped their last five straight tournament games. Their last tournament win came back in the 2002 NEC Tournament quarter-finals when they beat Monmouth 73-59. 

*Only once has a #7 seed upset a #2 seed. That came back in 2003, when UMBC, in their final year in the league, upset #2 Quinnipiac in the quarter-final. In fact, the Retrievers would also upset #3 Monmouth in the semi-finals, before falling to SFU in the 2003 Championship Game. The #7 seeded 2003 UMBC Retrievers are the lowest seeded team to ever play in the NEC Championship Game. 

*Led by tournament MVP Maureen Coughlin, the Seahawks won their lone championship in 1989 with a 66-60 victory over Robert Morris. Wagner also appeared in the championship game in 1991 and 2000, both times making it to the final as a #6 seed. 



#6) MOUNT ST. MARY’S (14-15, 8-10) at #3) ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN (18-12, 12-6)  

2018-19 Meetings: MSM 78-75 (1/28), SFBK 69-65 (3/4)
All-Time Series: MSM leads 52-8 (Streak: SFBK W1) 


The Mount and St. Francis Brooklyn had perhaps the two most impressive non-conference seasons in the league this year. The Terriers went 6-6, scoring over 100 points in three out of their first five games. The six non-conference wins was their most since they won nine in non-conference play in 2014. For Mount, at 6-5, they finished with a winning non-conference season for the first time since 2000. In conference play, Mount started slow out of the gate at 1-4, but managed to win three straight games at the end of January, including a thrilling 78-75 win at home over St. Francis Brooklyn. After a three-game skid to start February, the Mount won four out of their next five to clinch a playoff spot after missing the tournament by one game last year. The Mount picked up their biggest win on February 16th, handing Robert Morris their first conference loss of the year, 61-55, in a game that Juliette Lawless was limited due to injury. The Terriers are enjoying a banner campaign in their first year under Linda Cimino. St. Francis Brooklyn’s 12 conference wins are the most ever for a single season in program history, and their 18 overall wins is their most since they won 19 games in 2013-14. St. Francis Brooklyn defeated Mount in their second meeting, just last weekend, in Brooklyn Heights. Freshman Ebony Horton led the way with 18 points and 8 rebounds, while senior Amy O’Neill flirted with a triple-double, recording 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists. 

Both head coaches, SFBK’s Linda Cimino and Mount’s Maria Marchesano will be coaching in their first NEC Tournament game. The Terriers are the three seed for a second straight year, but will be hosting their first ever playoff game at the Pope PE Center, after having to play out in Pennsylvania at a ‘neutral site’ last year. St. Francis Brooklyn will be trying to reach the semi-finals for the first time since they won in all in 2015, while the Mount will look to advance into the league’s ‘final four’ for the first time since 2014.


ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN 

*St. Francis Brooklyn is the #3 seed for a second straight season, equaling the highest seeding in program history.  

*Three times the #3 seed has won the NEC Tournament: FDU in 1990, Long Island in 2001, and Robert Morris in 2016. The #3 seed has also seen its share of upsets. 10 times the #6 seed has upset the #3 seed, including in each of the last two seasons. 

*The Terriers are making their 14th NEC Tournament appearance and their third straight. 

*Only three times have the Terriers advanced to the semi-final round: 1987, 2007, and 2015. In 2007 the Terriers pulled off a historic upset as the #8 seed, knocking off the top seeded LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, before falling to Robert Morris in the semis. In 2015, the Terriers would again make history, becoming the first and only school to win three straight road games on the way to their first and only NEC Championship. 

*St. Francis Brooklyn is one victory shy of matching their 2014 team record of 19 wins in a single season  

*Linda Cimino led the Terriers to the #3 seed in her first season as head coach. The last head coach to win a NEC Championship in their first season was Charlie Buscaglia in 2017 with Robert Morris


MOUNT ST. MARY’S 

*The Mount returns to the post-season in 2019 after missing the tournament by a single game last year, ending a run of six straight seasons in the conference tournament. 

*Mount has now qualified for the NEC Tournament a record 27 times and 27 out of the last 30 years. 

*The Mountaineers have appeared in seven NEC Championship Games, but none since 2001. The Mount is tied with Sacred Heart at three NEC Tournament championships (1993, 1994, 1995), for the third most in league history. 

*After falling in the 2001 final, it would be 13 years until the Mount would win another playoff game. They would advance to the semi-finals in back to back seasons in 2013 and 2014. 

*The Mount holds the distinction of earning the NEC’s first two automatic NCAA tournament bids after winning the conference tournament in 1994 and 1995. 

*Mount St. Mary’s is 3-0 all-time in the NEC Tournament against St. Francis Brooklyn, winning playoff matchups in 1994, 1995, and 1998. The Mount is 19-23 overall in the NEC Tournament, with a 13-13 record in the quarter-finals. 



#5) BRYANT (11-18, 9-9) at #4) SAINT FRANCIS U (14-16, 11-7) 

2018-19 Meetings: BRY 66-63 (1/21), SFU 78-66 (2/11)
All-Time Series: SFU leads 10-9 (Streak: SFU W1) 


The Bryant Bulldogs and the reigning champion, Saint Francis Red Flash, will square off for the first time ever in the post-season. The Bulldogs will become the 14th different postseason opponent for the Red Flash, who are the league’s most accomplished tournament team with 47 tournament wins and 12 tournament championships. After a 3-0 start in league play, SFU dropped their next three, including a 66-63 setback in Smithfield. Jessica Kovatch was held to 14 points, ending her streak of nine straight games over 20. The Red Flash would then win their next six in a row before dropping four out of their final six games. The Bulldogs endured a mid-season five game slide, but finished up playing their best basketball of the year, winning five out of their final six games to earn the #5 seed. Bryant secured the 5th seed with a 76-73 victory over Wagner in the season finale. With the game tied at 73, and just seconds remaining, senior Naomi Ashley stripped the ball from the Seahawks and converted an ‘and one’ three-point play opportunity to seal the game. 

Monday night’s game will also be the likely final home game in the remarkable career of ‘the one and only’ Jessica Kovatch. Kovatch, the NEC’s all-time leading scorer, will take the court at DeGol Arena with 2,795 career points and 461 career three pointers. Last year, Kovatch scored a single tournament record of 103 combined points over three games at DeGol Arena to lead the Red Flash to the NEC title. 


SAINT FRANCIS U 

*The Red Flash will be making their 24th NEC Tournament appearance and their 10th in the last 11 years. SFU has won the most tournament games (47) and the most tournament titles (12) in NEC history.

*Saint Francis U has won 43 out of their last 49 playoff games and has appeared in 17 out of the last 25 NEC Championship Games. 

*The last team to repeat as NEC Champions were the Robert Morris Colonials in 2016 and 2017. SFU has always managed to win at least two consecutive championships (1996-2000, 2002-05, and 2010-11)

*At DeGol Arena, Saint Francis has won 29 out of their last 30 home playoff games. Their lone home playoff defeat since the early 1990’s was a 65-57 defeat to Central Connecticut State in 2017.

*The lone school to win the NEC Tournament as a #4 seed was the Robert Morris Colonials in 1991 when they defeated the #6 seeded Wagner Seahawks in the final. 

*This year marks just the 4th time the Red Flash have captured the fourth seed. SFU is 18-5 all-time in the quarter-final round. 

*Last year Jess Kovatch became the 7th player to win Player of the Year and Tournament MVP in the same season. Three players have won Tournament MVP in consecutive campaigns: Jess Zinobile 1999-00, Chinata Nesbit 2007-08, and Anna Niki Stamolamprou 2016-17. 


BRYANT 

*The Bryant Bulldogs have qualified for the NEC Tournament seven straight seasons, every year since first becoming eligible in 2013. 

*Bryant is 5-6 all-time in the NEC Tournament and 5-2 in the quarter-final round. They had appeared in the semi-finals five straight seasons before falling in the quarter-finals last year to Sacred Heart. 

*The Bulldogs are the tournament’s #5 seed for a second straight season. Only once has the #5 seed won a NEC championship, the 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. The 2015 Terriers are the lowest seeded team to ever win the tournament title. 

*The Bulldogs are the lone team in this year’s field to never win a NEC Championship. They appeared in their lone NEC Championship game in 2017, falling to Robert Morris in the final, 65-52.  



THREE STARS 

*For the games of March 7, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Naomi Ashley, BRY…Nina Augustin, RMU…Ashley Berube, CCSU…Jess Kovatch, SFU…Katherine Haines, SHU…Ebony Horton, SFBK…Ally Lassen, SFBK…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Janelle Mullen, WC…Amy O’Neill, SFBK…Isabella Posset, RMU…Lucia Serrano-Ranz, FDU…Taylah Simmons, WC…Natalie Zamora, FDU


THREE: Brandy Thomas, FR (LIU): While her team just missed out on the 2019 postseason, you couldn’t have asked for a better individual finish for Brandy Thomas in her rookie season. Thomas, a winner of three out of the last four NEC Rookie of the Week awards, recorded four straight double-doubles to finish up the 2019 campaign. On a night when the Blackbirds’ leading scorer Jeydah Johnson just did not have the shooting touch, Thomas did all she could to keep LIU in the game,  producing a monster 25 point and 14 rebound performance in the regular season finale against Fairleigh Dickinson. Thomas finishes up the season averaging a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, and is amongst the nation’s leaders with 15 double-doubles on the year 


TWO: Erin Storck, GR (SHU): On a night when the SHU offense endured a near 17 minute drought without a field goal, Storck led a key mid-fourth quarter stretch by scoring five straight points to help pull SHU within one of Mount St. Mary’s. Later, with 2:44 left and the game tied at 43, Storck made the assist to Jayla Davis for what would go on to be the game winning basket. Finally, in the closing moments, Storck collected two consecutive offensive rebounds off missed free throws and sank three free throws of her own to preserve the win. Storck scored eight of her game high 16 points in the fourth quarter. The Sacred Heart grad student has scored in double figures five straight games to finish up the regular season, averaging 13.2 points during that stretch. Erin Storck will enter the NEC Tournament with 910 career points, 90 shy of 1,000. 


ONE: Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): Holloway’s big plays in the fourth quarter helped to lead a Bulldog comeback over Wagner on Thursday night to help Bryant clinch the #5 seed. Training by five with nearly two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Holloway rebounded a Khaleah Edwards three point try and scored a layup on the other end to pull Bryant within three. After Taylah Simmons scored to get Wagner back up by five, Holloway found Haley Connors for an assist on the three point ball to get Bryant within two. Holloway finished the night leading Bryant with 20 points and 9 rebounds, with 6 of those points and 7 of those rebounds coming during the fourth quarter. Over her last five games, Holloway is averaging 22.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. She finished the regular season leading the NEC in rebounding for a second straight year, and is top 15 in the nation with 17 double-doubles.  



STAT OF THE WEEK 


*Prior to the 256 points scored in the 2014 NEC Tournament quarter-final between Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart, the NEC record for most combined points scored in a NEC Tournament game was 174 in Robert Morris’ 92-82 win over Saint Francis in the 2012 quarter-finals. The 2014 game smashed that record by a whopping 82 points. Three SFU players, Alexa Hayward, Rebecca Keegan, and Alli Williams, can lay claim that they have played in both of the top two scoring games in NEC Tournament history. 


Our NEC WBB post-season coverage continues on Wednesday, March 13th with a special semi-final playoff edition of the NEC WBB Fast Break column. We’ll recap the quarter-final round and preview both semi-final showdowns. Be sure stay with us all post-season long on the road to the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship here on the NEC Overtime! Blog.  

Thoughts and Reflections on the NEC Tournament Quarterfinals

March Madness has officially begun! For me, it honestly doesn’t get any better than watching four NEC tournament quarterfinals games on a weekday evening. The chaos that ensues for three hours is something to behold.

I did my best to absorb all of the Wednesday night action and wanted to record my thoughts of each contest. Even if it was with a heavy heart after my Pioneers lost a tough one to a veteran LIU Brooklyn squad. In fact, let’s start with the game in Fairfield…

Three-Point Shooting Carries LIU Brooklyn in NECT Upset

In one of my first years as a “glorious” blogger for NYC Buckets, I went to a game in Maryland. The road team lost that December matchup, mainly because they couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn. Afterwards, I sought out the head coach, but he wasn’t in much of a mood to talk to me. (And I don’t blame him.) His money quote to me that night ending up being something like, “If you don’t make shots on the road, you aren’t going to win.”

Ok, then.

As simplistic as that is – obviously the coach wasn’t about to share any of the hairy details for why his team shot so poorly – Anthony Latina likely felt the same way after the game last night. The Pioneers were hosting a NEC tournament quarterfinal for only the second time in nine seasons, and what unfortunately transpired was one of their worst shooting performances of the season. They converted a meager two triples out of 20 attempts after making 36.9% in 18 regular season games. Many of those misses were open looks, not necessary a product of LIU’s defense.

The charity stripe was unkind to the Pioneers as well – they left eight points off the scoreboard after shooting 63.6% in the contest, a far cry from their league leading 79.3% mark versus NEC competition. There may be no explanation other than the moment was possibly a little too big for the second least experienced team in the NEC.

On the flip side, a veteran LIU Brooklyn squad made the most of their opportunities from behind the arc, draining 11 of 24 (45.8%).

These two programs share some recent history in the NEC tournament, as each were exactly in the same position three years ago, at least with respect to their seeding. Back then in the 3-seed/6-seed matchup, the hosting Pioneers watched role player Iverson Fleming torch them in the first half, finishing the playoff contest with 18 points on 7 shots. Fleming had as many 3s (3 for 3) in the game as Sacred Heart had combined (3 for 20). This time around was almost like deja vu for Latina.

After making just two triples all season, Eral Penn made 3 of 5 from long distance. Jashaun Agosto, known far more for his ability to go downhill and attack the rim, made all three of his 3-point attempts. One of those buckets came at a critical time. With the shot clock winding down and the Blackbirds up three late, Agosto’s attempt at the top of the key found nothing but nylon, giving LIU a 2-possession cushion. As the old saying goes, guard play wins championships.

In all, six of Derek Kellogg’s players hit a 3-pointer and their free throw shooting down the stretch was just enough to keep the charging Pioneers at bay. When you hold a 27-point advantage from 3 and shoot 14 percentage points better from the charity stripe, you’re winning most of the time. You can afford to lose the battle on the backboards (-6), score less points in the paint (-12) and commit more turnovers (-5) as long as you do one thing significantly better than your opponent. The Blackbirds made shots on the road, and they won. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

A Highlight Reel in Hackensack

The Knights came into the NEC tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 11 of their last 13. They won those 11 by an average of 10 points per victory. They shot a blistering 51.1% (214 of 418) on their 2s, 47.3% on their 3s (88 of 186) and dished out 165 assists against 131 turnovers for a splendid 1.26 A/TO on those victorious nights. Their offense had basically matched the program’s incredible level three years prior, when a core of Darian Anderson, Stephon Jiggetts, Marques Townes and Earl Potts lead the league in offensive efficiency. The high flying, shot-making, crisp passing Knights under Greg Herenda were back and seniors Mike Holloway and Darnell Edge were a part of it for the second time.

Wagner was up against an offensive juggernaut, but if anyone could quell FDU’s attack it would be defensive mistro Bashir Mason, right? The start of the game were promising enough for Mason’s Seahawks. Two triples by Romone Saunders and Elijah Davis and two empty possessions by FDU spotted Wagner a 6-0 lead more than 3:30 in. And then the fireworks started in Hackensack. What transpired was an offensive masterpiece – the Knights closed the first half out with 43 points on their next 23 possession for an absurd 1.87 points per possession. In those 23 possessions, the Knights came up empty just four times, while scoring in their final seven times down the court.

When the dust settled, Wagner didn’t know what hit them, trailing 43-14. Five Knights scored in double figures led by NEC all-conference second teamer Holloway and his 18 points on 7 shots. The ever versatile Elyjah Williams had 17, while sharpshooter Darnell Edge “only” contributed with 15. Jahlil Jenkins was his heady floor general self, dishing out six assists versus just one turnover. How he didn’t make an all-conference team is beyond me, but I digress.

Greg Herenda now possesses a career record of 5-3 in the NEC tournament, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. That flawless record at the Rothman Center will be tested with Andy Toole and the defensive minded Colonials coming to town. Does Matty McConnell guard Darnell Edge? Who do you match up on the suddenly resurgent Holloway? What is Toole’s game plan for keeping Jenkins in front of his defenders?

It’ll be a fascinating chess match on Saturday, but for now, let’s sit back and admire the beautiful team basketball Herenda’s group has exhibited over the past six weeks. It sure is fun to watch them in transition…

On the offensive glass…

And in the half court with the sick stepback…

This is a special offensive unit.

Robert Morris Finds a Way

Coming into tonight, the Terriers haven’t been good on the road (3-6 in NEC play) whereas the Colonials have taken well to the cozy NAC gym with a 7-2 mark against conference foes. Andy Toole had bested Glenn Braica twice this season, and has gone 7-2 at home in the NEC tournament. Conversely, Braica is 2-7 in the conference playoffs with his only two victories coming during the Terriers magical 23-win season in 2014-15.

Want more kindling on the fire? The best defense in the NEC is a perfect 11-0 in league play when they hold their opponents to under 65 points or less. St. Francis Brooklyn could only muster 0.88 points per possession in their two losses (49 and 62 points, respectively) to their Pennsylvania rival. Throw in a 400 mile trip from Brooklyn to Moon Township and all signs point toward an easy victory for the hosting Colonials. Right?

Not so fast.

(Image of KenPom Chart)

At that point in the contest, the Terriers held a 55-47 lead with 4 minutes remaining. KenPom gave them a 95% chance to pull out it out and would have given the program their first NEC tournament victory since their memorable 2014-15 campaign.

But then, Matty McConnell happened.

McConnell was awesome in what could’ve been his final game as a Colonial – he finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks (!) in what turned out to be an overtime victory. But it was also the Colonials defense that kept them alive in regulation, holding the Terriers to one point in their final 7 possessions in regulation. Malik Petteway, the modern day Chris Wray, put his stamp on the defensive effort.

The defense continued the momentum into the overtime, holding the shellshocked Terriers to one 3-pointer in five possessions. By then, the Colonials had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was a phenomenal comeback led by McConnell and, surprise suprise, an Andy Toole coached defense. The victory was Toole’s 13th NEC tournament win against seven defeats.

Survive and Advance

It’s not easy having a bullseye on your back. Saint Francis University learned that lesson the hard way in last season’s NEC tournament when the 7-seeded FDU Knights upset the 2-seeded Red Flash in Loretto. In a similar situation yesterday, Rob Krimmel’s team jumped out to a comfortable 18-point lead at the half on the visiting Bryant Bulldogs.

One sluggish second half later and the Red Flash survived with a 4-point victory. It wasn’t pretty in that second stanza, but like Mount St. Mary’s (over Sacred Heart by 3 points in 2017 NECT QF) and Fairfield Dickinson (over SFU by 2 points in the 2016 NEC QF) before them, all you have to do is survive and advance. And that’s exactly what the kids from Loretto did. They may have only scored 1.03 ppp against the league’s worst defense from an efficiency standpoint, but the name of the game is to win.

The big four of SFU – Keith Braxton, Isaiah Blackmon, Jamaal King and Andre Wolford – combined for 54 of the team’s 67 points. They’ll be tested on Saturday when the defending NECT champions come to town having won 5 of their last 6.

The road to a NEC tournament championship is never easy.

 

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 3/5/19

(Photo Credit: Joseph Gomez/Josport)

STARTING LINEUP: AMY O’NEILL    


Moments before Saturday’s opening tip against the Bryant Bulldogs, St. Francis Brooklyn senior Amy O’Neill was escorted out to center court of the Pope PE Center by her mom and her teammate, Jade Johnson, as part of the Terriers’ Senior Day festivities. About two hours later, O’Neill would return to the center of the floor for a post-game interview on NEC Front Row, following a career-high 28-point, six rebound, nine assist, and two steal performance to help lead the Terriers to a 101-77 victory. Just as she’s been all season long, O’Neill was the engine that made the team go.

O’Neill was one of seven Terrier seniors honored on the afternoon, along with Maria Palarino, Dana DiRenzo, Lorraine Hickman, Dominique Ward, Mia Ehling, and Tori Wagner. But true to her selflessness and her personality, when asked about her individual performance in that post-game interview, O’Neill was quick to deflect the credit and turn the attention to her teammates, “What a day for all of us,” expressed O’Neill. “I’m so happy for our seniors and for our team and for people like Dana (DiRenzo) who used their opportunity today and just went for it. I’m just so happy for all of us.”

Nearly three minutes into the game, O’Neill would pick up her first assist on a quick inbounds feed from the baseline to Ebony Horton underneath the basket for an ‘and one’ layup. With the assist, O’Neill surpassed Sacred Heart’s Ericka Norman, and her NEC single season record of 229 assists set back in 2013. This season O’Neill also finds herself leading the entire nation with 8.5 assists per game, and is the only player in the Northeast Conference to rank top 15 in scoring and top 10 in rebounds, assists, and steals.

“I play hard,” explained O’Neill. “I might not be the best shooter, or whatever it may be, but I constantly feel like that I can outwork my opponent and play as hard as I can to help my team any way that I can. I work hard and I do what I can to help my team.”

The Melbourne, Australia native began her basketball journey in the States as a point guard at Cowley College in Kansas. After her sophomore season in 2016-17, O’Neill was named a NJCAA Division I All-American, recording 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, still searching for that steady point guard to lead the team following the graduation of Katie Fox after the Terriers’ 2014-15 championship season, the Terrier coaching staff was busy scouring the JUCO ranks. They found O’Neill, helped bring her to Brooklyn, and the rest, they say, is history.      

“They got into contact with me first. I believe that they were looking for a point guard and they thought that they needed more experience in the point guard position, so they looked at assists per game in the JUCO level,” recalled O’Neill. “I think that’s pretty much how they came about finding me. And then because I was Australian, I think their eyes lit up because they had Australians here before. I think that’s why they approached me, and then when they did, I was really excited because of the Aussie connection (with Jade Johnson), and I thought that was a good opportunity for me here at St. Francis.”

Coming to St. Francis Brooklyn last year to play for John Thurston, O’Neill was asked to not necessarily be the top scorer that she was at Cowley, but to be more of a pure point guard, running the offense efficiently and getting her teammates open. It was a role that was more natural and allowed her to fit right in.

Following Coach Thurston’s retirement last spring, Linda Cimino was brought in as the Terriers new head coach, and has helped take O’Neill’s game to new heights in her senior campaign. When Coach Cimino had her first meeting with her new team, O’Neill flew halfway around the world from Australia to be there. In that initial meeting, Coach Cimino sensed an instant connection and had a pretty good feeling about Amy’s leadership and personality. Coach Cimino named her a team captain on the spot. 

“She’s the ultimate team player,” praised Cimino. “All she wants to do is put her team in position to win. One of my favorite things about her is her leadership. She will take over a timeout. She will take the clipboard and draw something up. It really makes my job easier. I can count on her to run plays and to run an offense. But more than that, she’s a scorer herself. She can push the ball in transition and just create. I think she makes everyone around her better. She’s certainly made Ally Lassen one of the most improved players in the conference by just creating and drawing attention and dumping it in to Ally.”

One of the aspects of O’Neill’s game that’s hard not to admire is her vision on both ends of the floor. The senior captain has a unique ability and natural instinct to see where her teammates are and to anticipate where they will be to get them into a scoring position. She can also anticipate where the ball is going to carom off of the rim to collect rebounds and read where the opponent is going to go with the ball to help create steals and turnovers. “Even growing up, I wasn’t necessarily the tallest or the most athletic player out there. So I kind of found my way by being a bit more savvy and reading the game better,” said O’Neill. “I think through that development, it’s kind of helping me now. I just kind of learned how to read the play because I’m not the tallest or the most athletic or have the longest arms or anything like that. I just have to do what I can with what I have, and I learned how to play that way.”

“She’s super aggressive. It all comes down to her desire to go after the ball,” said Cimino. “She reads the lanes well, she reads the ball off the backboard well, and she’s a high IQ kid. She knows where the ball is going.”

O’Neill made history back on February 2nd when she recorded 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in 44 minutes of action against the Sacred Heart Pioneers. After flirting with a triple-double on several occasions during the season, the senior finally achieved the historic feat, recording the first triple-double in program history. Two weeks later, she would produce a 16 point, 10 rebound, and 11 assist outing against the Terriers’ rival, the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. O’Neill became just the second player in league history to record multiple triple-doubles in a single season, and is one of just six women in the country to hold multiple triple-doubles this year.

“It’s funny, the games that I have got triple-doubles are probably the games that I haven’t really worried about it at all,” said O’Neill. “Maybe because I’m not as aware and I’m playing freely and that’s maybe why I’m getting the triple-doubles, because I’m out there not thinking about that kind of stuff. As a whole, I don’t really think about my own stats, that’s just not who I am. I just play the game and play as hard as I can, and it’s kind of cool that I’ve been rewarded with some triple-doubles.”

“When you look at the box score at halftime and you see that she’s over five in every category already, you are like, ‘Wow!’ Four games (this year) she’s been one assist or one point off of a triple double, so she could have had five or six,” noted Coach Cimino. “It’s interesting because you look at the girl Sabrina (Ionescu) from Oregon. (She) leads the country in triple-doubles, and I look at Amy’s stats and they are very similar to hers, minus the points. Amy is number one right now in assists per game in the country. In rebounds, she’s 5’6” and she’s leading our team in rebounding as a point guard. For me, I look at the balance of 10 points per game, almost nine assists per game, and seven and a half rebounds per game…if you gave me the choice of one player in the entire league to start a program with, I would choose Amy O’Neill.”

With potential future pro opportunities waiting for her back home in Australia, that couldn’t be more further from her mind right now. This season the Terriers are 17-12 overall and have clinched both a winning conference season and a double-digit victory conference season for the first time since 2013-14. With the regular season winding down and the postseason set to begin, O’Neill’s thoughts are squarely on her teammates and the mission at hand – bringing a second championship in the last five years to Remsen Street.

“I can’t be more thankful for my teammates. I get the assists, but they finish it off for me, so I’m very lucky in that regard. I’m just so proud of our team. We’ve been through a bit of a change here at St. Francis, but I feel like everyone has bought in, and that’s where we are, quite successful. I hope that we can just keep it up, stick together, and maybe do something really special this year.”


With their 69-65 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Monday night, Amy O’Neill and her St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers have clinched a home playoff game for the first time in program history. The Terriers will begin their postseason journey in the Pope PE Center on Monday, March 11th. But first, St. Francis Brooklyn will conclude their regular season on Thursday night in New Britain against Central Connecticut State.



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES



*TIEBREAKER-MANIA: 85 conference games have been played this season, and now it all comes down to the final five. Each team has one final game remaining in the 2019 regular season to decide their fate. For some, it’s all about boosting their positioning and seeding. For others, it will be to try and qualify for the NEC Tournament altogether.

There are 32 possible combinations for how the final five games play out. But which combination will be THE combination? 40 more minutes of regular season basketball on Thursday night, for all 10 of the league’s teams, will decide that.

Late on Monday night, the Northeast Conference released the annual color coded grid of official women’s basketball seeding possibilities. Here is a copy of that chart and a breakdown of all the various playoff scenarios that will be in play as the ball gets tipped up on Thursday night for the final time this regular season…


ROBERT MORRIS: The Colonials have clinched the regular season championship for the seventh time in program history, and for the third straight season under head coach Charlie Buscaglia. They will be the tournament’s number one seed for the fourth time (2010, 2014, 2017, 2019), and for the third time in the last six years. Robert Morris will play all postseason games at the North Athletic Complex, where they are 15-0 all-time against NEC foes, since the facility opened at the start of last season. In addition to already knowing their playoff seed, and their playoff location, RMU also holds an edge in knowing their potential first-round opponents. The Colonials will host whoever emerges with the number eight seed, either Fairleigh Dickinson or Central Connecticut State.

SACRED HEART: The Pioneers have clinched the #2 seed and will open up the postseason at the Pitt Center next Monday night. With the second seed, Sacred Heart is also assured of a semi-final home game, should they advance. Possible first round playoff opponents are Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant, or Wagner.

SAINT FRANCIS U & ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN: Both schools have already clinched a top four seed and a quarter-final playoff home game next Monday night. The Terriers will be hosting their first playoff game ever in the confines of the Pope PE Center while the Red Flash are no strangers to playoff games in DeGol Arena, they have won 29 out of their last 30 conference tournament games played there. Saint Francis U can clinch the number three seed with a win or with losses by St. Francis Brooklyn and either Bryant or Sacred Heart. St. Francis Brooklyn can jump up to the third seed for a second straight season with a win and a SFU loss. If both schools lose on Thursday night, SFBK can grab the three with wins by Bryant and Sacred Heart. Possible first round playoff opponents for both the three and the four seed are Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant, or Wagner.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S, BRYANT, & WAGNER: These three teams will be seeded five through seven, with the positioning to be determined on Thursday night. Bryant has the inside edge as they can clinch the number five seed simply with a win over Wagner. A loss would drop the Bulldogs to either sixth or seventh. Mount can clinch the five seed with a win and a Bryant loss. If both win, Mount would be the six, while a loss would place the Mountaineers at either sixth or seventh. The Wagner Seahawks can reach the fifth seed with a win over Bryant and a Mount loss. A loss would slide the Seahawks down to seventh.

FDU & CCSU: Fairleigh Dickinson and Central Connecticut State will go into the regular season finale both still alive for the eighth seed. FDU can punch their ticket into the conference tournament for a fifth straight year (and third straight year as the #8 seed) with a win on Thursday over LIU or a Central Connecticut loss. The Blue Devils, looking advance to their fifth straight NEC Tournament, will need to win against St. Francis Brooklyn and hope for a FDU loss to the Blackbirds. Whoever emerges with the #8 seed will head to Moon Township next Monday night to meet the top seeded, regular season champion, Robert Morris Colonials.



(Photo Credit: Jim Stankiewicz/Merrimack Athletics)

*MEET THE WARRIORS: Back on September 10th, the Northeast Conference announced that Merrimack College, located in Andover, MA, had accepted an invitation to become the league’s 11th member. The Warriors will be incorporated into NEC schedules beginning next year, and will be eligible for the NEC Tournament beginning in the 2023-24 season, following a four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period.

The Merrimack women’s basketball program won a Northeast 10 Tournament championship back in 2004, winning 31 games and advancing all the way to the NCAA National Semi-Finals. This season, Merrimack qualified for their conference tournament for a third straight season, and for the fourth time in the last five years. The Warriors are led by eighth year head coach Monique LeBlanc. Current junior forward Denia Davis-Stewart is one of the leading rebounders in the NE-10, averaging 11 per game, while serving as the team’s second leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. The Dorchester, MA native was recently named the Northeast 10’s Defensive Player of the Year.

In their final Northeast 10 campaign, the Warriors went 20-10 and hosted a playoff game at Hammel Court for the first time in four years. Recently, we spoke with Coach LeBlanc to introduce her program to Northeast Conference basketball fans, and to get a sense of what we can expect to see from the Warriors starting next fall…


CD: What are some key things about the Merrimack women’s basketball program that are important for Northeast Conference women’s basketball fans to know?

ML: Something I’ve learned really quickly coaching in this conference (Northeast 10) is that it has some of the best coaches in the country. You can start with Barbara Stevens at Bentley and over 1,000 wins and countless conference championships. She’s chosen to stay in this league and continue to coach at Bentley. We’re talking about some of the best coaches in the country that we are competing against at least twice a year. There’s some great history and tradition in this conference. There are 15 teams in this conference, it’s a big conference, strong top to bottom, and every game you have to be ready to go. The level of play is really high, there is a really high talent level in the league, and the level of coaching is really good. With all of that, we feel ready to compete. We have the mindset that going into the NEC we’re going to be competing against great players and great coaches, and that’s already been our life here. So we feel ready in that regard.

CD: How would you describe your team’s style of play to NEC basketball fans?

ML: I think they are going to see a team that plays really hard. I think that’s always been the way people describe us, that we compete and play really hard. The type of team we are this year…we press a lot and we play a lot of aggressive zone defense. Offensively, I think the trend everywhere is ‘we want to play fast, we want to push.’ But we also want to work for great shots. So we’re not ‘play fast at all costs,’ But comparing what we currently have to what we are going to be going up against next year, are we going to be a 100% press and zone team next year? I don’t know. But that’s what we’ve been for the last few years.

CD: What have been some of the highlights of your season this year?

ML: A big highlight is our mental toughness and how we’ve played down the stretch. We started conference play 0-4, playing against four very good teams right off of the bat. Our team had higher hopes for the season and that was a little bit of a crossroads, getting over seeing yourself as a last place team at that moment. Knowing that we still had a lot of games to go, staying tough, and continuing to focus on getting better every day, I’m really proud of that. When we finished the first round of divisional play we were 2-5. Since then, we went 10-4. So I think that’s been a highlight for us. We certainly didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we felt that we were playing really good basketball and just a couple of possessions away in every game.

CD: Finally, looking ahead, what is the plan for taking the necessary steps over the next few years to make sure that you’re are ready to compete the first year you are eligible for the NEC Tournament?

ML: We’re going to spend four long years competing hard and still trying to position ourselves to say at the end of the season ‘if we could have been eligible we would have been in there.’ That will be the immediate goal to put ourselves in the position where we feel like we could have been in that mix. After four years of working towards that, I know we’ll be chomping at the bit to be part of it. There will be a lot of emphasis on recruiting, and making sure that we are attracting the level of student athlete that we need to find ourselves in that spot. Hopefully we’ll find ourselves in that mix year one when we are eligible.


Prior to taking the court against Northeast Conference competition next season, NEC women’s basketball fans will have a chance to meet Coach LeBlanc and the Warriors as a part of NEC Social Media Day in October.  


*COMLY REACHES 1,000: The latest to join the NEC’s 1,000 career point club is Fairleigh Dickinson senior Madelynn Comly. With the Knights visiting Emmitsburg, MD and the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon, Comly was able to make history just across the border (about 20 miles away) from her hometown of Littlestown, PA. Comly reached the 1,000-point plateau on a late third-quarter three ball, becoming the 18th player in Fairleigh Dickinson women’s basketball history to reach the milestone. The senior guard entered the day at 991 career points. She would finish by leading the Knights with a game-high 20, in a 62-57 loss to the Mount. 

After the game, Comly spoke with fduknights.com on her incredible career accomplishment, “It’s amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to do it. All my family and friends, high school friends, even kids I grew up with were here, so it’s amazing I could do it here and before I graduate. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, teammates, family, friends, and everyone who supported me. I’m very grateful.”

Comly joins fellow NEC 1,000 point scorers from this season: Kiana Patterson, Sydney Holloway, Katherine Haines, Maria Palarino, and Jade Johnson.

Two other senior guards in the NEC are closing in on 1,000, however unless they produce some big scoring games and their teams make deep runs into March, it appears they will fall just short. Mount St. Mary’s guard Juliette Lawless has 915 career points, 85 shy of 1,000, and Sacred Heart grad student Erin Stork is at 894 career points, 106 shy of 1,000.


*400 WINS: The NEC’s longest tenured head coach achieved a historic milestone on Monday night, as head coach Mary Burke recorded her 400th career victory as a result of Bryant’s 69-54 win over LIU Brooklyn. Ironically, Burke’s 300th career win was also in a game against LIU Brooklyn back in January of 2013.

Coach Burke joined Bryant as an assistant back in 1987 and took over as the head coach in the summer of 1991. Now in her 28th season as head coach, Burke helped transition Bryant from the Northeast 10 into Division 1 back in 2008-09. The Bulldogs have qualified to the Northeast Conference tournament every season since they were first eligible in 2013, reaching the semi-finals four times, and the NEC Championship Game in 2017.



A LOOK AHEAD


Thursday, March 7, 2019
Saint Francis at Robert Morris, 6pm
Sacred Heart at Mount St. Mary’s 7pm
Wagner at Bryant, 7pm
St. Francis Brooklyn at Central Connecticut, 7pm
LIU Brooklyn at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm


The final five games of the 2019 regular season will commence on Thursday night to complete the playoff picture. The first game to tip off, SFU at RMU at 6pm, is another rematch of last year’s championship game. While this game won’t have any impact on the Colonials in the standings (their place at the top spot is already locked in), it could serve as a tremendous confidence boost going into the tournament. RMU will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 54-45 defeat at Sacred Heart on Monday night, and they will be looking to avoid taking a two game losing streak into the NEC Tournament. Meanwhile, the Red Flash have plenty at stake, as a win would assure SFU of the #3 seed, and thereby avoiding having to play the Colonials again until the Championship Game round.

The remaining four games will all tip at 7pm. The Wagner at Bryant game holds significant interest, as the Bulldogs can wrap up the five spot with a win, however a Bulldog loss and all eyes will turn to Emmitsburg to see if the Mount or Wagner jump up to the five. The Knights play their regular season finale on their home court against LIU Brooklyn, controlling their own destiny. A win and the Knights are in the tournament, however the Blackbirds, playing in their final game of the season, will look to play spoiler and take some momentum into the 2019-20 season. 



THREE STARS

*For the games of March 2-4, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Madelynn Comly, FDU…Nneka Ezeigbo, RMU…Ebony Horton, SFBK… Jessica Kovatch, SFU…Candice Leatherwood, SHU…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Erin Storck, SHU… Brandy Thomas, LIU…   


THREE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): It was quite the weekend for our featured player in this week’s Fast Break column, as the Terriers rebounded from being swept last weekend in Pennsylvania, to recording a sweep of their own back on home soil against Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s. O’Neill’s weekend started by being honored at the Terrier’s Senior Day ceremony on Saturday, which included the special moment of getting escorted out by her mom, who flew halfway around the globe from Australia to be there in person. O’Neill scored a career high 28 points on 8 for 10 shooting, and a perfect 4 for 4 from downtown, to go with 6 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. On Monday night, once again, the ‘triple-double alert’ was in full effect, as O’Neill finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. The pair of wins helped secure a first round playoff home game for the Terriers in the upcoming NEC Tournament.


TWO: Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): With the Bryant Bulldogs in the midst of a big game on Monday night at LIU Brooklyn, in regards to their playoff positioning, they needed to get a big game from their top player. Holloway delivered, with a season high and a career high-tying 29 points to go with 9 rebounds, falling just shy of her 18th double-double of the season. Holloway had managed to pick up a double-double two days earlier, 19 points and 10 rebounds, in a loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. From January 28th through February 16th the Bulldogs took a tumble down the standings, dropping five games in a row. During that stretch, Holloway averaged 16.4 points and 10 rebounds. In the five games since, where Bryant has won four out of the five, the Bulldog junior has been on a scoring surge, averaging 20 points per game.


ONE: Katherine Haines, GR (SHU): With the Pioneers fielding a thin roster due to injuries, Haines stepped up this week with a pair of double-doubles to help lead Sacred Heart to a sweep of the Keystone State clubs and help boost her late season run towards a potential ‘Player of the Year’ honor. On Senior Day, Saturday against Saint Francis, Haines made a ton of noise with 18 points and 15 rebounds, in a head to head showdown with Jess Kovatch, another top Player of the Year candidate. On Monday, after being limited to just 7 points on 2 for 10 shooting in the first go-around against Nneka Ezeigbo and Robert Morris, Haines turned the tables with a 15 point and 11 rebound outing. Haines now has recorded a total of 13 double-doubles on the year. Since their three game skid in late-January into early-February, the Pioneers have won seven out of their last eight games, with Haines recording numbers off the charts. Over her last eight games, the Sacred Heart grad student averages 18.9 points and 9.9 rebounds, with a 55.8% shooting percentage, including 51.9% from three point range.



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Mount St. Mary’s holds the NEC record for most all-time appearances in the 33-year history of the NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. This season, Mount will be making their 27th tournament trip, returning to the postseason after missing out by a single game last year. The Sacred Heart Pioneers have been to the NEC Tournament 20 straight seasons, every year since they joined the NEC. The Saint Francis Red Flash are the reigning NEC champions, and hold the record with 12 overall tournament titles.   

Here’s a look at how many times each team has qualified for the NEC Championship and each team’s current qualification streak…


Times Qualified for the NEC Tournament
27: Mount St. Mary’s
24: Robert Morris
24: Saint Francis U
21: Wagner
20: Sacred Heart
14: St. Francis Brooklyn
7: Bryant


Consecutive NEC Tournament Appearances
20: Sacred Heart
7: Bryant
6: Robert Morris
4: Saint Francis U
3: St. Francis Brooklyn
1: Mount St. Mary’s
1: Wagner


Thank you to Linda Cimino, Amy O’Neill, and Monique LeBlanc for taking the time to chat with us for this week’s column. Our NEC WBB post-season coverage tips off on Friday, March 8th for a special quarter-final playoff edition of the NEC WBB Fast Break column. We’ll recap the final day of the regular season, preview all four quarter-final playoff matchups, look back at the five year anniversary of the epic 2014 quarter-final playoff game between Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart, and highlight 2019’s top award candidates. Be sure to follow us all post-season long on the road to the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship here on the NEC Overtime! Blog.

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