Summarizing the Best #NECMBB Players of the 2018-19 Season

With the 2019-20 college hoops season behind us, I wanted to get out one last post before we fully descend into baseball season. Most of you have already moved onto the offseason, scouring Verbal Commits daily for the latest transfer and commitment news. Nevertheless, I was hoping to put the final bow on the season even if it’s a little late. (Hey, I needed to finish my taxes on time!)

It’s been a terrific year of NEC hoops from my vantage point, one that culminated with the tandem of Darnell Edge, Romone Saunders, Sean Hoehn and Mike Holloway making the league extremely proud. The senior foursome reached the semifinals of the 3 on 3 national championship in Minneapolis, finishing with 4 victories and earning a collective $2,000. To finish fourth overall among a 32-team crowd – defeating the Atlantic 10 and SEC in the process – was quite impressive given the roster’s effective height and stiff competition they were facing.

Watching the seniors make plays in the open floor and assume roles – Saunders as the playmaker, Hoehn and Edge as the heady shooters and Holloway as the paint presence keen on setting up his teammates – got me thinking about the NEC’s best from the past season. It made me want to hand out my unofficial awards throughout the league, because why not?

Most Difficult to Contain

Romone Saunders, Wagner – If you watched any of the 3 on 3 national tournament, you’d know Saunders was difficult to contain. In the NEC’s first two victories in Pool C over the Big West and Atlantic 10, the graduate senior made 9 of 19 (47.4%) from behind the arc. When he’s on a roll like that, good luck and God speed, as it’s going to be a long night. Throughout the real season, Saunders size, strength and offensive instincts made him one of the most difficult players to contain. His game winner at the Mount in February perfectly encapsulates his “bull in the china shop” type of game when he’s heading downhill toward the basket.

Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn – Everyone knows Clark is driving to the basket, but the thing is, he’s still impossible to stop. His 201 free throw attempts led the league by a mile. He took 71% of his shots near the rim, according to Hoop Math, and still made 59.2% of those attempts. Currently, Clark is petitioning the NCAA for a fifth year as he only played one game as a walk-on freshman under Jack Perri. If he’s granted the extra season of eligibility, NEC coaches will be groaning at the thought of containing Clark once again.

Most Gritty/Competitive

Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – This was easy, as no one exhibited the fire and drive that McConnell showcased for 30+ games in a Colonials uniform. There are some who believe he was most deserving of the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and yet, it was McConnell’s maturation on the offensive end that help mold him into one of the most respected players the league has seen in recent memory. As a senior he posted career highs in KenPom offensive rating (105.5), free throw rate (35.6% FTA/FGA) and 3-point percentage (34.0%), while anchoring a Colonial defense that led the league in efficiency. He’ll be missed in Moon Township.

Jamaal King, Saint Francis – King’s competitiveness was a sight to behold, even if Rob Krimmel at times tried to rein in his talented guard’s on-the-court fire. From a fan’s perspective, however, King cared deeply about his program and how the Red Flash performed by wearing his emotions on his sleeve.

Best Stat-Stuffers

Keith Braxton, Saint Francis University – There really isn’t much else to say about Braxton, because it’s already been said on numerous occasions (I especially like Ron Ratner’s write-up here), now that the junior has a NEC Player of the Year trophy to flaunt. His innate ability to impact the game without dominating the ball it is a special trait that few possess.

Tyler Kohl, Central Connecticut – In Kohl’s first game as a junior at Hartford, then ESPN broadcaster referred to Kohl as “the old man at the YMCA.” Trust me, that’s a complement, as Kohl’s ability create opportunities for himself and his teammates, grab rebounds, and effectively freelance on defense made him a complete player.

Best Leader

Sean Hoehn, Sacred Heart – Hoehn’s assortment of stutter steps, pump fakes and hesitation dribbles also peg him as a future champ at the Y, when a 55-year-old version of himself is schooling high school and college players in rec leagues. In all seriousness though, the senior guard had a wonderful final season, improving exponentially from Cane Broome/Quincy McKnight sidekick to a full-fledged top 5 NEC player and demonstrated leader. Only a player who has worked extremely hard evolving his game could exhibit that kind of improvement. It’s been a great template for the Sacred Heart freshmen guards to follow in their future seasons.

Best Sharpshooter

Darnell Edge, Fairleigh Dickinson – There wasn’t anyone better from long distance than Edge, who shot an obscene 54.2% in the final season against NEC competition. A former free throw percentage champion who’s made 91.8% of his freebies on 268 career attempts (just stop and think about that for a second), Edge led all NEC guards with an effective field goal percentage of 58.1%. He’ll go down as one of the most accurate shooters in league history.

Best Teammate

Mike Holloway, Fairleigh Dickinson – I know, I’m heavy on the seniors from the 3 on 3 national tournament team, but you simply can’t overlook the fact that Holloway lead the ENTIRE tournament field with 14 assists. For the big man to embrace his role as a facilitator surrounded by long distance savants speaks to Holloway’s unselfishness. Also telling is the fact that Holloway consistently deferred to his teammates over the course of FDU’s season, posting very good numbers (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 51.0% FG), but statistics that he easily could have beefed up if he was more selfish with the ball.

Best Athlete

Jalen Jordan, St. Francis Brooklyn – With all due respect to the Red Flash’s Isaiah Blackmon, Jordan is a site to behold, a fluid athlete standing at 6-foot-3 who can drain triples as well as create shots for himself. His athleticism translates up to a higher level and his size makes him a difficult match-up, particularly when Glenn Braica trotted out a 3-guard lineup of Jordan, Glenn Sanabria and Chauncey Hawkins 21% of the time over the Terriers’ final five contests. I’ll leave you with this Ron Ratner tweet below. Good luck to the rest of league containing Jordan as an upperclassman…

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Best Rookie

Vado Morse, Mount St. Mary’s – It’s obvious Morse was the best rookie in the league. He won the league’s rookie of the week honor six times and posted double figures in scoring in 16 of 18 NEC games. But to really drive home the type of year Morse had, I put his advance statistics up against some of the best freshman guards the conference has seen in recent memory:

  • Morse, 2018-19: 101 ORtg, 49.4% eFG%, 21.7% assist rate, 38.4% FTA/FGA, 8.0% def rebounding rate
  • Cane Broome, 2014-15: 102 ORtg, 49.7% eFG%, 15.0% assist rate, 31.3% FTA/FGA, 11.6% def rebounding rate
  • Marcquise Reed, 2014-15: 104 ORtg, 53.1% eFG%, 18.6% assist rate, 32.6% FTA/FGA, 7.9% def rebounding rate
  • Kyle Vinales, 2011-12: 100 ORtg, 47.0% eFG%, 24.1% assist rate, 23.7% FTA/FGA, 5.6% def rebounding rate
  • Shivaughn Wiggins, 2012-13: 115 ORtg, 51.0% eFG%, 17.1% assist rate, 60.6% FTA/FGA, 6.0% def rebounding rate

More or less, Morse stacks up against some fantastic guards, considering that the other players mentioned above had far more experience around them compared to Morse. Case in point: Wiggins had a pair of NEC top 10 players in Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack flanking him, Reed was next to Lucky Jones and Rodney Pryor and Broome had an elite facilitator in Phil Gaetano setting him up. This makes Morse’s past season accomplishments all the more exceptional surrounded by one of the youngest teams in the nation. He’s easily a NEC top 10 playing entering his sophomore season.

A Quick Look Into the Future

I’ll leave you with a little prognostication into what the NEC Preseason First Team might look like come October. I think 3 of these names are locks to appear on the list with the final spot or two up for grabs. We’ll see!

  • Jahlil Jenkins, FDU – If the coaches leave Jenkins off the preseason first team after his omission from an all-conference team for the 2018-19 season, then I give up.
  • Keith Braxton, SFU – Well, of course.
  • E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart – For those of you who didn’t follow the league five years ago, Anosike has a similar game to NEC great Jalen Cannon. That tells you the path Anosike is heading toward: greatness.
  • Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn – I’m assuming he’s granted another year of eligibility and therefore making Derek Kellogg’s third year a lot less stressful.
  • Jalen Jordan, St. Francis Brooklyn – This was a tough call between Jordan and Isaiah Blackmon. Also Adam Grant and Bash Townes may be deserving.

Enjoy the offseason and I’ll talk to you along the way!

One in Four ISC Qualifiers Hail from NEC

Northeast Conference athletes make up 25 percent of the field at the United States Bowling Congress’ Intercollegiate Singles Championship (ISC).

The annual tournament features a 24-player women’s bracket comprised of collegiate competitors from across America and six NEC-based bowlers have earned entry into the championship event.

Fairleigh Dickinson sophomores Aimee Sherman and Amanda Chrzanowski along with FDU alumna Karsyn Lukosius are half of the NEC’s contingent. LIU Brooklyn senior Kayla Johnson, Duquesne sophomore Olivia Farwell and Mount St. Mary’s freshman Rebecca Dodson also advanced out of regional qualifying rounds and into the ISC bracket.

Farwell (2019) and Lukosius (2018) are the two most-recent recipients of the NEC Bowler of the Year award.

All 24 ISC competitors will begin by bowling six traditional games for seeding purposes. The top-eight finishers (in terms of pinfall) will receive a bye during the first round of head-to-head bracket play. The remaining 16 players will contest first round matches with the winners advancing into the Round of 16.

Qualifying athletes hail from NCAA programs as well as college club teams.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s Morgan Brown advanced all the way to the ISC women’s final in 2016. After defeating Stephen F. Austin’s Stephanie Schwartz in the semifinal round, Brown finished on the short side of a 227-222 championship match against Hastings’ Emily Eckhoff.

 

BRACKET FLASHBACK (2016)

 

TWEET SHEET

Pioneer Becomes First in #NECBOWL History to Spare the 7-10

The first 7-10 split conversion in NEC Tournament history belongs to Sacred Heart’s Tori Boughton.

The third-year Pioneer pulled off the unlikely feat during the traditional team portion of SHU’s championship round mega match with Mount St. Mary’s.

After filling six frames in a row, Boughton’s string appeared to reach an end when her first ball of the eighth frame left the dreaded 7-10 split.

The improbable spare was one of numerous SHU-produced highlights throughout the weekend. Proceeding to win the mega match against the Mount, the Pioneers secured the fourth NEC Tournament title in program annals.

 

 

 

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!

 

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