Bring the NEC Flavor to Your Next Virtual Meeting

March Madness took on a brand-new meaning this year and our world has changed.

You’re likely doing less work on the go and more work from home.

Let Overtime! Blog help decorate your virtual home office with these Zoom Meeting Backdrops.

It’s the perfect way for NEC fans to add some swag to their online meetings.

 

RUNNIN’ WITH THE COLONIAL CRAZIES

2020 #NECMBB Championship Game

DAWGS’ CELEBRATORY DIP

2020 #NECSWIMDIVE Champs

BALLIN’ WITH BRAXTON 

 

SPRINTING TO THE FINISH

2020 #NECTRACK

WE NEC YOU ON THE PHONE

NEC Pregame

 

Download and save one or all of these images. Then, add to your Zoom account by following the steps below. For more information from Zoom, click here.

To add to Zoom:

  • Log into the Zoom desktop client
  • Go to Settings, then Virtual Background
  • Select ‘+’, then Add image.

 

 

20 Years Later – The Mount’s Magical Run

This article was featured in the 2019 NEC tournament program to celebrate, at the time, the 20-year anniversary of Mount St. Mary’s 1998-99 season.

Sometimes all it takes is a song to bust out of a slump.

Mount St. Mary’s came into the 1999 NEC tournament reeling, defeated in four of their last five games, with the latter three setbacks occurring in their friendly confines. The incoming #6 seed slumped to a 10-10 finish in the conference’s regular season – a “mediocre season” in head coach Jim Phelan’s words. On the heels of a lost campaign, expectations weren’t high as the Mountaineers entered the single elimination tournament.

But then something happened in the tunnel of Wagner’s newly erected Spiro Center, the site for the NEC Tournament, prior to the Mount’s quarterfinal game versus #3 seeded Robert Morris.

“There was a song out that, you know, kind of had a catchy tone,” Gregory Harris, the Mountaineers’ leading scorer and passer, recalled. Harris started to sing along to the song. Then senior guard Eric Bethel joined in, and soon more teammates followed it up with singing of their own. Before they knew it, the majority of the team was making melodic noise in the tunnel.

“I remember we got really, really excited,” Harris said of the moment. “And we came out on Robert Morris with all that excitement and jumped out on (them).”

Prior to the contest, then Mount assistant coach Milan Brown recalled Phelan imploring his players to put the disappointing regular season in the rear view mirror. “I don’t know if it was the stress of them understanding the talent that we had and we should’ve been better, but I remember Coach (Phelan) talking to the guys about just going out and having fun and just playing basketball,” Brown said.

Already energized from their pre-game impromptu sing-along, the team heeded the legendary coach’s advice, coming out scorching hot against the Colonials. Harris scored the majority of his points in the first half – he finished the game with a sensational line of 19 points (on 9 shots), 9 assists and 4 rebounds – guiding the Mountaineers to a 17-point advantage at the half. The Colonials never recovered in the next 20 minutes to make it a game, losing 80-63 after the Mount held them to 35% shooting while extracting 18 turnovers.

After edging a very good 20-win St. Francis NY squad in the tournament semifinals thanks to a go-ahead driving layup by Bethel in the final moments, the Mountaineers caught a bit of a break. Their nemesis, the NEC regular season champion UMBC Retrievers, were upset in the other semifinal by a young, upstart Central Connecticut State program, coached by Howie Dickenman. The #4 seeded Blue Devils surely wouldn’t be a pushover, however, especially after their 15-win improvement compared to their prior season. They had a collection of impressive talent, led by All-NEC second teamers Rick Mickens and Charron Watson and freshman star Corsley Edwards.

It was Edwards’ post presence that provided a major challenge for NEC squads, but the Mount had an imposing figure patrolling in the paint too. That was 6-foot-10, first year center Melvin Whitaker. And Whitaker’s impact in the NEC Tournament final against Central Connecticut State may have given Dickenman nightmares soon thereafter.

“You ask me what I remember, I remember Whitaker had 8 blocks. That’s enough of a memory,” Dickenman deadpanned when asked for his recollections of the championship game that occurred approximately 20 years ago. 

Whitaker’s eight rejections were pivotal in holding Edwards to just 12 points on 12 shots. “Basically Melvin was able to cancel (Edwards) out,” Brown said when describing the shot blocker’s impact that game. “He was alert; he was so active.”

Harris and Bethel had noteworthy performances in their own right, combining for 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. The three headed monster of Whitaker, Harris and Bethel, along with a stout defensive effort that held the Blue Devils to a field goal percentage of 29%, were enough to push the Mountaineers to their second ever NCAA Tournament appearance. 

Harris, who currently stands second in career assists (529) and sixth in points (1,760) in Mount St. Mary’s history, deservedly was named NEC Tournament MVP. Whitaker was an All-NEC Tournament selection himself after amassing 21 rebounds and 16 blocks in the Mount’s three consecutive victories.

Moreover, the victory was the 800th of Phelan’s distinguished career and it came on the biggest stage before a nationwide audience on ESPN2. He became only the fourth coach in NCAA Division I history at the time to reach the 800-win plateau.

The sheer delight of another NCAA appearance and milestone victory didn’t mean Phelan was going to change the way he approached coaching for the first 45 years of his incredible 49-year career at the Mount, though. The family man’s level-headed nature was on display during the ceremonial net cutting after the championship game. Phelan calmly cut the final nylon strand of the net, barely raised his left fist in the air, and then just as quickly made his way down the ladder.

“Coach Phelan was the type of coach that he never really got super excited about wins and if we lost he wouldn’t let us get too down,” Harris said, further explaining that the long-time coach simply was happy for his players who realized their potential. 

Picking up victory 801 would prove to be more daunting, at least during the 1998-99 season. The Mountaineers drew #1 seeded Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Under the direction of four-year head coach Tom Izzo, a future Hall of Famer, the Spartans had just won the Big Ten Tournament after going 15-1 during the conference’s regular season. They were led by All American point guard Mateen Cleaves.

It was David versus Goliath in the truest sense, a Cinderella 16 seed versus one of the best teams in the country, but Phelan and his staff had a plan. Under the advice of Brown and his other assistants, Phelan’s game plan focused on double teaming and crowding Cleaves every opportunity they could.

“They ran their transition, it was so heavy on getting the ball to Mateen Cleaves,” Brown confirmed. “Almost 90% of the time on a made or missed basket, they threw the ball onto him to push the ball up the floor.”

The astute plan of jamming one of the nation’s best point guards allowed the Mount to hang around for 15 minutes of the opening half. Whitaker and Harris scored the team’s first 16 points and the Mount even enjoyed a 14-11 lead early. Michigan State ended up committing 19 turnovers over the course of the contest, a team high for them in that NCAA Tournament.

But the bigger and more athletic Spartans proved to be too much in the long run. The Mountaineers missed some easy shots early, and thanks to a late first half run, Michigan State pulled ahead by 14 points at the break. A 8-0 Spartan run to begin the second essentially sealed the deal, and they won going away, 76-53.

It was a sobering defeat, one you’d expect when a #16 seed challenges a #1 seed, yet the loss did little to sour anyone on the Mount’s improbable dominance through the NEC Tournament two decades ago. The Mountaineers have since been to the NCAA tournament three more times (one under Milan Brown, two under Jamion Christian), but 1999 will always hold a special place in the program’s history. It was the last time Phelan made it to the Big Dance in a decorated career that included 830 victories.

Bethel fondly recalls Phelan’s lessons of teaching his players grit, toughness and perseverance. Those teaching moments surely came in handy in the team’s magical run in the NEC tournament. “It’s not about what you bring to the table, it’s about how tough you’re willing to be, how much resolve you can have and I think our championship team was a clear example of that,” he said.

Brown wholeheartedly agrees, and jokingly doesn’t rule out that divine intervention possibly played a part in the Mount’s success that season. “Because how Coach Phelan had lived his life not just on the court but off the court and being the good Catholic man that he is, (God) definitely looked down and said ‘I’m going ahead and letting my guy get his three.’”

Whatever the reason, the 1998-99 season certainly was something the Mountaineer coaches, player and fans will never forget.

 

The Ties That Bind: Krimmel’s Life & Legacy In Loretto

This story was featured in the Northeast Conference Tournament program.

The small-town community of Loretto isn’t for everyone. Nestled on the western edge of the Appalachian Mountain trail that carves vertically through central Pennsylvania, the isolated, pine tree lined town of approximately 1,200 people can be a shock to the system of a high school athlete considering Saint Francis University as their next home. That much seemed apparent for the 17-year old Rob Krimmel, who at the time had a bevy of quality college institutions – Bucknell, Navy and Cornell, to name a few – vying for his talents on the hardwood.

Krimmel’s initial visit to Loretto in the spring of 1995 left much to be desired. As a high school basketball star who lived about one hour northeast in State College, Loretto was the polar opposite of a town that was home to a massive football school known as Penn State University.

“Truth be told, my first trip to Loretto I didn’t like,” Krimmel, now arguably the face of Saint Francis, ironically said before admitting, “but I was looking at all of the wrong things at that time.”

Tom McConnell, the Saint Francis head coach at the time, laughs at the notion of Krimmel coming away unimpressed with the small, private university that bestows Franciscan values. McConnell was recruiting Krimmel hard back then, given his need for a sharpshooter well versed in a Princeton style offense. But in the midst of watching the high-motored Krimmel light up the high school circuit – he finished with 1,698 career points and 164 triples at State College High – McConnell couldn’t find a single negative associated with the humble kid who came from a great family.

“He had the entire package,” McConnell said glowingly of Krimmel. “He was committed to the classroom, and just had a work ethic and sincerity about him.”

The rest, of course, was history with Krimmel committing to Saint Francis shortly after his official visit later in the fall. Tom Fox, the student-athlete who hosted Krimmel and entertained him that evening with a Rocky III viewing, vividly remembers Krimmel’s visit. It was the start of a close friendship that continues strong to this day after more than two decades. Krimmel even named his second son Thomas after McConnell and Fox.

Back then, Fox and Krimmel’s blue collar and uber competitive personalities were a natural fit. “We used to run Cresson Mountain in the preseason with Tom McConnell and my freshman year before Rob came, I broke the record,” Fox recalled of conquering the unforgiving, 2.2 mile course that ascended straight uphill. “Well then Rob Krimmel and his ten lungs show up and he just destroyed my record, it didn’t even stand for a year.”

It was this competitive mentality, as well as a close knit family atmosphere that McConnell championed, that would later serve Krimmel for years to come. As a freshman, Krimmel also met junior frontcourt star Eric Taylor, which, unbeknownst to either party at the time, was the beginning of a partnership that would be critical in restoring Saint Francis basketball.

“My relationship with Eric was I thought I worked hard when I got to college and then I met him, Sotiris Aggelou and Tom Fox and those guys and my idea of hard work was completely changed,” Krimmel said of his teammates and Taylor, a three-time NEC all-conference selection as a player.

Through humility, dedication and perseverance, Krimmel eventually earned a spot onto McConnell’s starting rotation as a sophomore and was elected co-captain as an upperclassman. Given Krimmel’s on and off-the-court attributes, it didn’t come as a surprise to his coach that he stood out as a leader among student-athletes.

“He was like a sponge and he was always the hardest worker on the floor,” McConnell, now a prominent women’s basketball coach at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said. “He just would literally run through a brick wall for his team.”

Those upperclassmen seasons became more fruitful statistically for the 3-point marksman, as he averaged 9.3 points per game while draining more than 40 percent of his long distance attempts. As a senior, Krimmel’s 3-pointer in the final moments of the regular season’s second to last game at LIU helped the program clinch a spot in the 2000 NEC tournament.

“He hit this triple that basically won the game for us,” Fox reminished from that pivotal moment, of which he set a high ball screen for Krimmel, freeing the senior up for the open look. “I just remember us (afterwards in the locker room), tears of joy.”

But despite Krimmel’s on-the-court achievements and the litany of student-athlete awards he received during his playing days – the NEC’s 2000 Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athlete of the Year and the university’s Mr. Frankie Award perhaps as the most impressive – the shooting guard looks back most fondly on the comradery he developed over his four seasons in Loretto.

“The big thing that I remember are the relationships that I had with my teammates,” Krimmel answered when asked about his greatest memories as a player. “The atmosphere created by Coach McConnell was one that was very embracing, very family oriented.”

Little did Krimmel know that this family atmosphere, one that promoted togetherness, community service and rich Catholic values, would serve as the backbone of his recruiting philosophy in the years that followed. 

In the meantime, the central Pennsylvania native graduated with a nearly perfect grade point average – Krimmel admits to getting a “B” in two classes – and would immediately take to assistant coaching after McConnell’s successor, Bobby Jones, offered him a job.

———-

It had been several years since the Saint Francis men’s basketball program operated near the top of the Northeast Conference. The program missed out on the NEC tournament altogether in five of the previous seven seasons, a far cry from the university’s glory days in the 1990s. 

As a result, the university’s leadership was eager to shift the program in a different direction in the spring of 2012. When Dr. Frank Montecalvo, Jr., a key decision maker in selecting the Red Flash’s next head coach, was brainstorming candidates with colleagues, long-time player and assistant Rob Krimmel jumped out as an obvious fit.

“He was someone we knew right away that had the background and the depth to make a difference in that program,” Montecalvo, now a Vice President for Student Development at Saint Francis, said. “He brought integrity, he brought wisdom, he brought character into our program that leached its way into every aspect of the game.”

Internally, elevating Krimmel from assistant to head coach was an easy decision, and one the Saint Francis hiring brass made swiftly. The rapid transition, however, along with the fact that Rob’s father, Bob Krimmel, was the Red Flash athletic director at the time, opened up the university to criticism within the central Pennsylvania community, particularly in the local media. 

For everyone that personally knew Krimmel and the values he stood for, they understood it was only a matter of time before the media would fully appreciate why Saint Francis went in the direction that they did.

Meanwhile, Krimmel was steadfast in attempting to solve the puzzle of bringing a Saint Francis program back to prominence coming off two consecutive 20-loss seasons. He naturally reverted back to the community and faith based model that McConnell had implemented years earlier.

“When I got the job I was trying to find something that I thought I could control right off the bat, and I thought we could build relationships better than anybody else,” Krimmel said of his initial recruiting approach. “I knew I wasn’t going to out X and O Howie Dickenman or some of the guys that were in the league at the time, so I had to find a way I think to create our niche.”

Krimmel’s first call after procuring the head coaching gig was to Taylor, who at the time was in Bonn, Germany attempting to get his player agency off the ground after a successful 12-year professional career overseas. For Taylor, dropping everything in Germany and heading back to Loretto gave him no hesitation whatsoever. The phone call was, in a way, meant to be.

“It was like a dream come true to come back and coach,” Taylor said when asked about that phone call. “It was something that I never thought I’d do after leaving Saint Francis in 1998, but the fact that me and Rob stayed in touch, it was almost like something that was developing over the years.”

Despite the new coaching staff’s tenacity and optimism, things remained rough in the early going, exacerbated by a couple of high profile players transferring out of the program in Krimmel’s first two offseasons as the program bearer. Losses continued to pile up – there were 39 setbacks in Krimmel’s first 47 games to be exact – yet everyone stayed the course, using their gym rat mentality and love and knowledge of the Saint Francis community to their advantage.

Eventually, the closely knit Red Flash squad turned things around, concluding the 2013-14 campaign by winning 7 of their last 13 contests. Of the triumphs, there was none bigger than the program’s road win in the NEC tournament quarterfinals over Bryant, the number-3 seed rife with accomplished veterans such as Dyami Starks, Alex Francis and Corey Maynard. The victory, widely considered to this day as one of the biggest upsets in NEC tournament history, turned heads and got the Red Flash noticed.

“It’s such a powerful emotion when you get a locker room to believe in each other, to believe in the coaches,” Krimmel said of his feelings after the victory. “That emotion is hard to describe and don’t know that there’s any formula for it.”  

That pivotal season was also highlighted by the Red Flash’s commitment to community outreach and service which provided examples for the players to live by. Krimmel is clear in crediting Jorden McClure, a “signee” to the program as part of the university’s Team IMPACT initiative, for providing inspiration and hope for his team starting in what turned out to be a critical second season.

Since that fateful night in Smithfield, the Red Flash have continued their linear progression to the point where they are an annual league contender. Even more so now, the coaching staff is loaded with people who had prior ties to Saint Francis basketball, such as former all-conference guard Umar Shannon, Tom McConnell’s son and former Red Flash football player Luke McConnell and, of course, Taylor. Employing a staff that intimately knows the specifics of the Loretto community has been critical toward creating an atmosphere that players from all walks of life can fall in love with.

“We come from very different backgrounds,” Krimmel said of himself, Taylor and Shannon. “We come from very different high school situations. We come from very different parts of the country, but we all fell in love with this place.”

In building a squad that values the community in every sense, through athletics, academics and community outreach, Loretto has also become a bastion for the alumni to come back to. Fox, who lives nearby in Altoona and is a social studies teacher for its high school, is one of the regulars who frequently makes his way back to campus.

“I’ve had a lot of friends that played Division I ball, and not many of them have that sense of community,” Fox said. “(Saint Francis does) the alumni newsletter, we’ve done alumni get-togethers and Rob is very much in tune with that and that comes from Coach (McConnell).”

It also helps to recruit talent, which is something Krimmel and his staff has mastered exceptionally well. His coaching counterparts within the conference are fully cognizant of this. 

“He’s done a great job evaluating talent,” Anthony Latina, the Sacred Heart head coach and friend of Krimmel, said. “Whether it was Jamaal King, or (Keith) Braxton, or (Isaiah) Blackmon, those guys are really buying into the team concept and I think that is a credit to him and how he has built his program.”

A lot has been accomplished by Krimmel and company in his eight seasons leading the Red Flash, and there’s still work to do, with the team eying the NCAA tournament as its ultimate on-the-court goal. But the relationships and sense of community Krimmel has been able to garner, as well as developing young men into graduates, has been something that gives the Saint Francis coach tremendous pride.

“I want our guys to be remembered as great players, and that’s our challenge we are basketball coaches we want to develop great players, but at the end of it I want them to be remembered as even better people,” he said, before adding, “It’s been a fun ride so far and it’s been neat to see the program go in the direction that we all want it to go and keep it going in that direction.”

And to think that the kid from State College needed time to warm up to Loretto. Now, he’s Mister Saint Francis University.

Recapping a Sensational Night in the NEC Tournament Quarterfinals

Wow!
That was something!

For a while there it appeared that three of the four NEC tournament quarterfinal games – Mount/Sacred Heart not included – would go quietly into the night. Saint Francis was up big. Robert Morris extended their first half lead to double figures. And on the backs of crisp passing and timely shooting, LIU was pulling away from Fairleigh Dickinson, the defending champions. Other than what was transpiring in Fairfield, the NEC seemed to have a ho-hum night coming.

Not so fast.

Allowing me to recap the sensational action that occurred yesterday.

Sacred Heart Finding a Way to Win Despite Poor Shooting

It had the feel of deja vu all over again.

The Pioneers had been here before – twice actually – where they were the #3 seed hosting a quarterfinal game in the NEC tournament. And cruelly, at least to Anthony Latina and company, they had lost those games in excruciating fashion to LIU. In both of those single elimination setbacks (2016 and 2019), Sacred Heart shot a combined 5 of 39 from 3-point range, while LIU made a collective 16 of 40 from long distance. Guys like Eral Penn, Jashaun Agosto and Iverson Fleming, all players who previously struggled to be consistent from behind the arc, were draining those attempts with ease.

Now a similar fate was staring at the Pioneers point blank. Here were the pesky #6 seeded Mountaineers knocking the Pioneers down after every counter punch. For a sizable stretch in the second half, the Mount was seemingly in control, handling a one or two possession advantage much of the way. They led for more than 26 minutes in the contest and converted 9 of 19 takes from 3-point range.

It certainly didn’t seem like Dan Engelstad’s team had gone 2-9 to close out this regular season, nor did it feel like his young team was 3-14 on the road coming into the Pitt Center. The team that had Sacred Heart on the ropes looked like the squad that beat the eventual regular season champions in Merrimack in the Knott Area. This looked like the team that started the NEC campaign by winning five of their initial seven.

On the other end, Sacred Heart had a lid on the basket, bricking free throws, missing semi-easy looks near the basket. For the game, the Pioneers shot an underwhelming 37.1% from the floor and an unfathomable 50% (9 of 18) from the charity stripe. From my biased, alumni perspective, it just didn’t feel like the Pioneers night.

The one thing that was going right for Sacred Heart was their unstoppable tenacity on the offensive glass. This SportsCenter Top 10 putback by E.J. Anosike (who else) closed the Pioneers gap to 2 points with around 5 minutes to play and gave the team some momentum.

To the Mount’s credit, they didn’t wither away, especially after Aaron Clarke made a driving layup to tie the game with 4:34 remaining. Engelstad’s group, led by the impressive Damian Chong Qui with game highs in points (18) and assists (7), extended the lead back to 3 points after a Bryon Leftwich free throw with 3:24 left.

At that point, maybe the writing was on the wall, but the resilient Pioneers continued to claw away. The aforementioned Clarke was terrific in creating offense off the dribble drive – his two layups in traffic down the stretch was the perfect antidote to the Pioneers inability to make a major dent from the 3-point line (6 of 19, 31.6%). As were the offensive rebounds – 24 of them to be exact – leading to 19 second chance points, with 2 of those coming at one critical moment.

Quite simply, the Pioneers found a way to win a game that wasn’t trending in their favor. Clarke did his job as a playmaker down the stretch. Ozier made some tough buckets early in the second half. The defense did just enough late, holding the Mountaineers to 2 points on their final 5 possessions. Anosike (16p, 15r) grabbed a boatload of rebounds. And Jare’l Spellman, in his biggest moment as a Pioneer, secured a loose ball on the floor after a fortuitous bounce and converted it into his only two points of the night. After experiencing the brutal headwinds of just getting out of the NEC tournament quarterfinals the past five seasons, the Pioneers caught a break and took advantage.

According to BartTorvik.com, Sacred Heart played their worst game (game score of 18) of the season in a winning effort, but a win is a win. Sacred Heart was victorious in the NEC playoffs for the first time in 11 years, and Anthony Latina got his first career playoff victory as the program’s head coach (now 1-4). It wasn’t easy and it certainly was ugly, but sometimes the ugliest of wins can be beautiful too.

They live to see another day.

Game recap from Dan Gardella of College Hoops Digest: https://ncaahoopsdigest.com/2020/03/05/sacred-heart-advances-in-a-thriller-over-mount-st-marys/

Red Flash Coast in NEC Tournament Opener

If there was any doubt with the Saint Francis Red Flash coming out nervous as the #2 seed, that certainty was removed virtually right after the opening tip.

Right away, two Randall Gaskins jumpers in the corner and an Isaiah Blackman long two off a ball screen gave the Red Flash a 7-0 advantage. Eventually others got into the act and before Jared Grasso knew what hit him, the Bulldogs were on the mat trailing 22-4. Saint Francis scored on 9 of their first 12 possessions (1.83 points per possession!) while holding the Bulldogs scoreless in their first five times with the ball and on 9 of their first 11 possessions (0.37 ppp).

Bryant never got the deficit back to single digits – once early in the second half they cut the lead to 11 points – and the heavily favored Red Flash played the part of the championship contender with ease. Game. Set. Match.

Keith Braxton continued his mastery in the NEC tournament. After scoring a game-high 22 points in Wednesday’s victory, he finished with 24 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and four steals on Wednesday. The senior now has averages of 17 points, 9.6 rebounds and 4 assists per game in eight career NEC playoff games, impressive numbers when you consider the pressurized nature of these contests. His partner in crime, NEC Player of the Year Isaiah Blackmon, uncharacteristically had an off night (5p, 3r, 1a), but it didn’t matter for Rob Krimmel’s squad. They still scored 1.23 ppp and made 64% of their 2s!

When you have five players register at least 8 points while shooting 57% from the floor against the league’s fourth best defense by efficiency in the regular season, you’re doing something right. They’ve now scored at least 1.00 ppp in 12 straight. With Merrimack out of the picture, the only team to evidently slow the Red Flash’s offensive attack (and that was without Blackmon and Ty Stewart), good luck holding down this well oiled machine on offense.

In improving to 12-2 on the season in Loretto, and 9-1 in league play, the Red Flash moved into the NEC tournament semifinals for the third time in four seasons. And they didn’t have to sweat it out, like the other three favorites, to move on.

Game recap in the Altoona Mirror: https://www.altoonamirror.com/sports/local-sports/2020/03/no-doubt-about-it-flash-cruise-from-start-to-finish-in-victory/

Robert Morris Wins by a Hair

Picture this scenario: your squad dominates an opponent over 40 minutes by 26 points, mainly because you outscored said counterpart 39-22 in the second half. Fast forward to two weeks later as you travel to the opponent’s home gym. This time around, however, you lay an egg on the road, falling 78-57 thanks in large part to being outplayed soundly (41-25) in the first half. 

Rarely do you ever see 2 games played within 2 weeks turn out to be lopsided affairs for each team, yet that’s exactly what transpired this season with Robert Morris and St. Francis Brooklyn going into their quarterfinals showdown. Take a look at the contrast behind the split series.

RMU O-PPP RMU D-PPP RMU eFG% SFBK eFG% SFBK A/TO
RMU beats SFBK, 78-52 1.18 0.79 61.9% 39.7% 0.64
RMU loss to SFBK, 78-57 0.84 1.15 41.3% 58.9% 1.64

What would transpire the third time around? Well, the basketball gods certainly weren’t on St. Francis Brooklyn’s side given recent history and the fact that the Colonials were hosting the #8 seeded Terriers at the UPMC Center. Andy Toole’s squad was 9-3 in their brand new and friendly confines this season. Home record aside though, consider each team’s NEC tournament record over the past decade:

  • SFBK: 2-8 overall, 1-7 in the NEC tournament quarterfinals
  • RMU: 13-8 overall, 9-1 in the NEC tournament quarterfinals

Despite the history, the Terriers were competitive in the second half to the point where they held a 4-point lead with seven minutes remaining. The Colonial crowd was uneasy to say the least, but then a 13-2 run which included 8 points from NEC all-conference second teamer A.J. Bramah extended the lead out to a seemingly comfortable 7 points with just over a minute to play.

Ironically, St. Francis Brooklyn found themselves in a similar position in last season’s NEC quarterfinal showdown at Robert Morris, leading 55-45 with 4 minutes remaining. That time, Robert Morris on the back of Matty McConnell pushed the game into overtime before eventually dispatching Glenn Braica’s crew back to Brooklyn. 

With the roles reserved this time around, St. Francis Brooklyn almost finished off a furious comeback, but two missed drives by Chauncey Hawkins and Unique McLean in the lane on the final possession gave the Colonials a heart wrenching victory.

The #1 seed had advanced. 

Game Recap by Pittsburgh Sports Now: https://pittsburghsportsnow.com/2020/03/04/robert-morris-holds-on-to-defeat-st-francis-brooklyn-59-58/

Game Recap by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: https://www.post-gazette.com/sports/rmu/2020/03/04/robert-morris-nec-quarterfinals-basketball-aj-bramah-st-francis-brooklyn/stories/202003040171

Julian Batts Saves the Day

Greg Herenda is one difficult out in the NEC tournament. The two-time league tournament champion (2016 and 2019) came into tonight’s contest with a 7-3 mark in the conference’s playoff single elimination format, with two of those losses coming by a combined 3 points. 

Derek Kellogg was surely cognizant of this, yet even he had to feel good with six minutes left and a 15 point advantage. At that point LIU had played solid basketball, maintaining a comfortable lead (and a win probability north of 92%) for a vast majority of the second half. They had 19 assists on 28 made baskets (67.9%), and were shooting 56% from the floor. It was, for an intents and purposes, a workmanlike effort that surely gave momentum to a veteran Sharks squad hungry for a championship.

At the point it was nearly a facsimile to the first time these two programs met at the WRAC this season. In that Sharks victory, BartTorvik.com called it the team’s second best performance of the NEC season with a game score of 73. Overall, LIU has shot 23 of 56 from deep (41.1%) in the two victories over the Knights.

Time to pack up the bus and head to western PA, right?

This is where Herenda’s team came back. What ensued was a timely 17-2 run where the Knights actually lead 72-71! Elyjah Williams was fantastic with 21 points and 12 rebounds and it was his 3-point play late that gave the Knights their first lead since the score was 20-18 midway through the first half. Luckily for LIU, a heady, veteran guard, one who’s made 110 career starts for the Sharks over four years, came to the rescue.

In all, Kellogg’s constricted rotation – he only played seven guys and six players 18 or more minutes – got the job done with four scoring in double figures. Batts was one of those players with 13, but his final bucket kept the Sharks alive in the NEC tournament. What a night as Nelson summed it up best!

I don’t know about you, but I’m still exhausted one day later. Time to rest up and onto the semifinals this Saturday!

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