#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 1/2/19
STARTING LINEUP: HAPPY NEC NEW YEAR!
Non-conference play came and went (with the exception of one last non-conference tilt on Wednesday night between Mount St. Mary’s and Radford), the holiday breaks are over, and, now, the NEC New Year is finally upon us!
The road to the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship officially hits high gear on Saturday afternoon with the first of 10 consecutive conference play weekends, which lead right into March and the eventual crowning of a league champion on St. Patrick’s Day.
If we are going to be honest, NEC teams missed on some opportunities during non-conference play in 2018.
Collectively, the league racked up 25 victories over Division 1 opponents, which included teams from the America East, Ivy League, Mid-Eastern, Atlantic Sun, Colonial, Patriot, Big South, Atlantic-10, Metro Atlantic, Western Athletic, and Ohio Valley conferences.
There weren’t any Power 5 wins such as Sacred Heart over SEC member Auburn in 2010 or LIU Brooklyn over the Big 12’s Oklahoma State in 2012, but all NEC teams managed to produce some noteworthy highlights as they put in the preparations for the upcoming conference season.
Here is a brief glance at each team’s non-conference accomplishments and where they stand going into the 2019 conference season…
BRYANT: Things started out well for the Bulldogs with back to back wins in early-November, a one point win against UMass-Lowell and a win against Brown which featured a 20-20 game from Sydney Holloway. However, the Bulldogs haven’t seen a victory since, playing seven straight road games before a three-week break from December 9 to December 30.
“It was definitely a little bit of a tough stretch for us,” said Bulldog head coach Mary Burke, “We’re hoping to get it going in the NEC.”
As far as what the Bulldogs need to improve on going into conference play, Coach Burke mentioned that it fluctuated from game to game, “Early on it was free throws, then it became defensive issues, then it was a rebounding issue, then it was taking care of the ball. It’s been these little things that we constantly need to continue to address, and we tried to do that during that little gap we had off.” During that three week gap, the Bulldogs played an inter-squad scrimmage before taking time off for the holidays, and then reconvening to host Holy Cross last weekend. The Bulldogs hope to have the rust shaken off in time to open up conference play at home this weekend against the league’s two Brooklyn based schools.
CENTRAL CONNECTICUT: After going winless in non-conference play a year ago, the Blue Devils have shown the improvement of a veteran team that returned 86% of their offense from last year. Central proved they could fight through and pull out a tight game when they came back with a 21-9 fourth quarter to defeat Albany 60-53, in a game they didn’t have a lead until 3:34 left. The Blue Devils possess a stout defense, standing third in the league in scoring defense and first in field goal percentage defense.
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON: The Knights won a league high eight non-conference games last year, although their strength of schedule was not great. This year the Knights have three non-conference victories, however only one (November 20th against NJIT) came against a Division 1 opponent. FDU’s strength has been protecting the basketball, committing only 141 turnovers, 2nd fewest in the NEC. The Knights also have had the opportunity to go deep with their roster, getting at least 12 players involved on the court in every game except one.
LIU BROOKLYN: The Blackbirds lost 4 of their top 5 scorers from last year and struggled at times to find consistent offense with a young group learning how to play and gel with one another. The 10 game losing streak to start the season was their first double-digit skid since the final 10 games of the 2004-05 campaign. The Blackbirds came through in their final non-conference test against Lafayette, holding the Leopards to 1-19 from three. The win has to be extremely promising for LIU going forward into NEC play, as the Leopards had previously defeated fellow conference members Wagner and FDU this season. Freshman guard Brandy Thomas has been a great, early, bright spot, averaging a double-double with 11.9 points and 10.9 rebounds.
MOUNT ST. MARY’S: With still one non-conference game to go, the Mountaineers lead the NEC in RPI at #210, 13 spots ahead of Sacred Heart. Their five non-conference wins mark the most in the program since they won five in 2013-14. The early returns have shown the Mount are not only taking more threes, but making their threes at a higher percentage as well. Last year, 35% of Mount’s points came from three. So far this year, it has jumped up to 42.5%. Their three point shooting percentage is two points better than last year. The Mount are led by four players, Juliette Lawless, Daly Sullivan, Michaela Harrison, and Jatarrikah Settle all averaging in double figures scoring.
ROBERT MORRIS: Over the last two seasons the Colonials have set program records as they have led the league in scoring defense. That trademark has continued in 2018-19, as RMU tops the pack so far, only allowing 59.8 points per game. Among their defensive highlights in the first two months of the season: RMU held La Salle to 39 points, Rhode Island to 46 points, they held Kent State to 26.5% shooting, and forced 25 turnovers against Pitt-Johnstown. In addition, the Colonials recorded perhaps the most exciting NEC non-conference victory this year, a buzzer-beater by Irekpitan Ozzy-Momodu on December 18th for a 64-63 win against Delaware State. The win was also the 50th career win for head coach Charlie Buscaglia in his 76th game, becoming the quickest RMU head coach to reach the 50 win milestone.
SACRED HEART: The Pioneers have a veteran roster poised to win in 2018-19. They have no freshmen, three graduate students, and a redshirt senior on their roster, with their lone newcomer being a junior transfer. To match the experience, they are also very well balanced. Four players, Erin Storck, Katherine Haines, Adrianne Hagood, and Candice Leatherwood, average double figures in scoring, and the team has committed the fewest turnovers in the league. SHU picked up solid non-conference wins against MAAC members Siena and Manhattan.
ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN: It didn’t take long for the Terriers to get accustomed to their new up-tempo system under new head coach Linda Cimino. They scored 100 points for the first time in program history in their opener and then went on to return to the century mark in two out of their next four games. The Terriers lead the NEC in scoring, field goal percentage, three point shooting percentage, and assists. SFBK posted some signature non-conference moments with a 16 point comeback win against Morehead State, a 3OT win against Loyola (MD), and a four point win against St. Peter’s that featured a clutch, tie-breaking bucket in the final minute by Dominique Ward.
SAINT FRANCIS U: Perhaps no team had to go through more adjustment on the fly these first two months than the Red Flash. Not only were they already trying to figure out how to move on this year without three key starters from last year’s title team, and incorporate a bunch of new players to their program, but their head coach took an unexpected leave of absence just weeks into the season (not to mention a pair of games in Seattle where their interim coach was ill, leading to a third different voice taking the helm this year). However, since their trip to the Pacific Northwest, the two games the Red Flash have played have been their most promising. In an 89-83 win over Morehead State, SFU shot over 40%, 50% from three, and dished out 15 assists on 22 field goals. The Flash also did their part to efficiently close the game out, going 11-12 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Then, in a narrow 78-75 overtime loss to ACC member Pittsburgh, SFU had a one point lead in the final minute, had a chance from the free throw line and had a chance at a final possession to win at the end of regulation, and then still had a chance to tie and extend the game at the end of overtime. There is no “almost” column in the win-loss record, but the Red Flash certainly have some momentum brewing going into conference play.
WAGNER: The Seahawks had quite the adventure at the TD Bank Classic in Vermont where they played overtime games on consecutive days. First, Wagner erased a nine point deficit midway through the fourth quarter, and managed to force OT on a Khaleah Edwards buzzer beater against the hosting Catamounts, before eventually falling short 56-54. Then about 24 hours later, the Seahawks were edged 74-71 in double overtime against Siena. Wagner made up a six point deficit with 1:24 left in the fourth quarter to force overtime and then had a chance to win with the final possession at the end of the first OT. The Seahawks finished non-conference play just before the holidays with an 86-59 victory over the College of Staten Island
#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES
*KOVATCH WATCH: History was made back on Sunday, December 16 in Seattle as Saint Francis senior guard Jess Kovatch became the NEC’s all-time leading scorer. Kovatch drained a three pointer from the right corner with 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter to net her 2,339th career point, surpassing NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile as both the Red Flash’s and the league’s leader in career points.
“Going down as the all-time leading scorer in school history when you have a couple of 2,000 point scorers (Zinobile, Alli Williams, and Beth Swink) is quite impressive,” said interim Red Flash head coach Susan Robinson-Fruchtl. “She has no fear and she has a short memory, and that’s a good thing as a scorer…that’s what you need.” There is no stopping in sight as Kovatch will enter the conference season with 2,399 career points. We’ll have more on the reigning NEC Player of the Year, with a feature article next week here on the NEC Overtime! Blog.
*1,000 POINTS: Congratulations to Bryant junior Sydney Holloway for becoming the 25th Bulldog to reach 1,000 career points. Holloway reached the mark from the free throw line in the fourth quarter of Bryant’s 81-62 loss to Holy Cross on December 30th. Holloway becomes the fastest Bulldog to reach 1,000, the first Bryant 1,000 point player since Breanna Rucker in the 2015-16 season, and the 5th 1,000 point scorer during the Bryant Division 1 era.
Looking ahead, several NEC women’s basketball players are on track to possibly reach 1,000 points later on this season, including SFBK’s Maria Palarino (64 points away), SHU’s Katherine Haines (120 points away), FDU’s Madelynn Comly (188 points away), SFBK’s Jade Johnson (235 points away), and SHU’s Erin Storck (272 points away).
*ALL IN, BALL OUT: As part of the new All In, Ball Out NEC branding campaign, gyms around the NEC are set to celebrate the first of three theme nights for the opening weekend of conference play. According to the All In, Ball Out press release sent out by the NEC back in October, “The opening weekend of conference play is designed for children and families to experience NEC basketball and give them a memorable gameday experience, including the opportunity to interact and build bonds with men’s and women’s student-athletes.” Look out for such experiences and interaction opportunities out at the games this weekend!
*FANTASTIC FOUR: Over the summer, if you had gone over to the Robert Morris website and took a peek at their women’s basketball roster, one of the things that may have immediately stood out was that the team re-issued the #4 jersey for the first time since the graduation of one of the program’s all-time greats Anna Niki Stamolamprou back in 2017.
Stamolamprou sent out a tweet back on November 2 talking about the re-issuing of the RMU #4, saying, “This jersey has been through everything. It’s gone through winning streaks, heartbreaking losses, comebacks and blowouts. This jersey has literally been with me through blood, sweat and tears. It was more than a jersey to me. #4”
“This jersey has been through everything. It’s gone through winning streaks, heartbreaking losses, Comebacks and blowouts.This jersey has litetally been with me through blood, sweat and tears. It was more than a jersey to me.— Anna-Niki Stamola (@StamolaNiki) November 2, 2018
Colonial freshman guard Isabella Posset has done that number proud so far in her young career, working her way into the Colonial starting lineup and winning consecutive NEC Rookie of the Week honors in December. Posset is a local product, from nearby Beaver, PA, and is the first player from the Pittsburgh area to play for the Colonials in five seasons. Posset becomes the fifth player in program history to wear the number four, however the last two scholarship players to begin the season with RMU wearing the #4 have both gone on to win NEC Player of the Year honors in their career: Stamolamprou and Angela Pace. Much like the #10 jersey in soccer, the #4 for RMU comes with a rich legacy and perhaps a few expectations. If you haven’t checked it out already, take a moment to read Chuck Curti’s great article at the link below for more on Posset and the RMU #4.
*MOVING ON UP: Congratulations to new SHU associate head coach Dave Scarborough, who was promoted in mid-December. Scarborough is in his third season on Jessica Mannetti’s staff and handles the post player coaching as well as a host of other important tasks.
A LOOK AHEAD
Saturday, January 5, 2019
Mount St. Mary’s at Robert Morris, 1pm
LIU Brooklyn at Bryant, 1pm
Central Connecticut at Sacred Heart, 1pm
Wagner at St. Francis Brooklyn, 1pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at Saint Francis, 4pm
Monday, January 7, 2019
LIU Brooklyn at Sacred Heart, 6pm
Mount St. Mary’s at Saint Francis, 7pm
St. Francis Brooklyn at Bryant, 7pm (ESPN3)
Wagner at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at Robert Morris, 7pm
Conference play officially tips off on Saturday afternoon, marking the first of 10 consecutive weekends of regular season NEC women’s basketball action. Saturday’s slate includes a marquee matchup in Moon Township as one of the league’s top scoring offenses, Mount St. Mary’s, visits the #1 NEC scoring defense in Robert Morris. Looking further ahead, Monday night will have our featured game of the week, and the very first NEC WBB TV broadcast of the season, as St. Francis Brooklyn takes on the Bryant Bulldogs at 7pm. Myself and Pam Roecker will be on the call from the Chace Center in Smithfield. Here is a little sneak peek at the top five storylines we’ll be keeping our eye on during the broadcast…
GAME OF THE WEEK PREVIEW:
1/7/19 – St. Francis Brooklyn at Bryant, 7pm (ESPN3)
1. HEAD COACH HOMECOMING: 28 years ago, back in the summer of 1991, Mary Burke took over as the 4th head coach of the small D2 women’s basketball program at then-Bryant College in Smithfield, RI. Meanwhile, at the same time, just a stone’s throw down the road in Lincoln, RI was pre-teen Linda Cimino who was playing hoops for Sean Reddy at Lincoln Junior High, and would go on to become an all-state hoops star 3 miles from the Bryant campus at North Smithfield High School. She would play against Coach Burke and Bryant several times as a member of the Adelphi basketball program in the late 90’s, and then go on to coach against Coach Burke and the hometown Bulldogs, as recently as last year, when she led her Binghamton Bearcats into Smithfield and came away with a 55-47 win. “You can see some similarities (in St. Francis) to Binghamton in the sense of, good athletes, running up and down the floor, with a high level offense,” said Coach Burke. On Monday night, Coach Cimino heads back to the Ocean State and her hometown area for the first time as the coach of a conference rival. It will be a matchup between the league’s longest tenured coach and the league’s newest head coach. Coach Burke gave out some great compliments towards her coaching counterpart, “Linda (as a player) was very similar to her personality, tough, aggressive, played hard, and I think that’s why she’s such a successful coach because those characteristics carry over.” By the way, fun fact from Coach Cim, her twin sister Kelley played softball at Bryant from 1997-01.
2. TERRIER PACE OF PLAY: Coach Cimino made it no secret that in her first season with the Terriers they would be looking to pick up the pace on offense. Back at NEC Social Media Day in Brooklyn she told the Terrier Sports Network, “We like to play a fast, up-paced tempo, run quick in transition, score quick in transition, and score within the first 12-15 seconds of the shot clock. I think we have a lot of different pieces this year and we can do some great things, and play in different ways depending on who is on the court.” To back those words up, the Terriers came out to start the season with 102 points in their opener and over 100 points in three out of their first five games (all this after never having reached 100 points before in their program’s history). While the gaudy scoring and shooting numbers have tapered off a little bit from our last column during their three game skid to finish up non-conference play, the evidence still shows the Terriers this year are moving quicker on offense than they have before. Last year, St. Francis averaged 68.4 possessions per 40 minutes, ranking them 257th out of 349 teams, while scoring 62.9 points per game, 209th in the country. This year, the Terriers are averaging 77.1 possessions per 40 minutes, 30th best in the nation, and about 9 possessions more than last year. The extra possessions have resulted in more shot attempts, which the Terriers make the most of as one of the best shooting percentage teams in the nation. St. Francis Brooklyn leads the NEC, and is among the nation’s leaders in both field goal percentage and three point field goal percentage. So it’s quite simple, the faster pace has resulted in more possessions, which has led to more shot opportunities, which statistically they make a high percentage of, which has led to more points. The Terriers stand atop the NEC and are in the top 40 of the nation in scoring at 78 points per game, 15 points more than they averaged during the 2017-18 season.
3. BATTLE OF THE BOARDS: For years, Bryant’s calling card under Mary Burke has been their rebounding ability. In recent history, the Bulldogs have led the NEC in rebounding rate two out of the last three seasons (and they finished a close second that third year). Currently, Bryant paces the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage to go along with a 50.4% rebounding rate. However, what’s interesting about Monday night’s matchup is that the Terriers are very close behind in the rebounding department. Bryant’s ability to handle their business on the boards should be a major x-factor. If the Terriers, who, as mentioned above, shoot at a high percentage and don’t miss much anyway, can hang with the Bulldogs on the boards and give themselves a bunch of second and third opportunities, it would be a huge swing in their favor.
4. POINT GUARD PLAY: Monday night’s game will feature’s two of the league’s most-accomplished point guards going head to head as Bryant’s Kierra Palmer matches up against St. Francis’ Amy O’Neill. Palmer has either led the league in total assists or assists per game average in all three of her prior seasons with the Bulldogs. She is on her way to reaching rarefied air in the league record books, as the senior stands 43 assists away from 500 for her career. Only six players in league history have been able to reach 500. Palmer has had issues with turnovers in the past, however, she has been a starter since her freshman year and does a great job in using that experience to run the offense. On the other side, Amy O’Neill finished second in the NEC with 5 assists per game last year and led the league in assist to turnover ratio. Under Coach Cimino and the new fast paced Terrier system, O’Neill has thrived. She stands fourth in the country, dishing out 7.9 assists per game, four assists more than Palmer, her next closest competitor on the assist leader board within the league.
5. STAR WATCH: A pair of preseason all-conference selections as juniors, and two of the top players in the league, will take the court on opposing sides Monday night as Sydney Holloway and the Bryant Bulldogs host Jade Johnson and the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. We’ve already mentioned Holloway’s impressive resume in the “News and Notes” section as she netted her 1,000th point last weekend. She’s coming off of a first team all-conference campaign last season, where she finished as the only player in the league to average a double-double, finishing 19th in the nation with 17 double-double outings. She already has recorded eight this year going into conference play. In three home games, she’s been virtually unstoppable, averaging 23 points and nearly 16 rebounds, an average that includes a monster 27 point, 20 rebound game back on November 8th against Brown. In fact, Holloway collected 20 rebounds in both games against Brown this season (they met a month later in the Ocean State Tip-Off Tournament). “Syd is continuing basically right where she left off,” said Bulldogs head coach Mary Burke, “She’s having a great year and putting up some very dramatic numbers. She’s obviously our anchor and does a great job even though she’s double or triple teamed. She still tries to produce and carry us as much as possible.” Holloway accounts for 30% of the Bulldog’s rebounding and 31% of their scoring this season. At her pace, Holloway is on track to join Naana Ankoma-Mensa as the only to Bulldogs in their school’s D1 era to record both 1,000 career points and rebounds.
Jade Johnson’s first nine games of the season for the Terriers were among the best starts to a season for a single player in recent memory. In our last column we mentioned how she was shooting 50% from three and leading the league in scoring at 18.8 points per game. Those numbers took a hit when she struggled by shooting 3-13 and 1-7 from three against Albany, but she rebounded with 31 points on 9-20 shooting, 6-13 from three, against Princeton right before the holidays. Johnson still has a solid effective field goal % at 57.3%, and averages 1.25 points per scoring attempt and 1.01 points per play, all improvements from her numbers in those same categories last season. Johnson has already produced six 20+ point games this year after recording nine all of last season. In addition to scoring and shooting at a high percentage, she is also heavily involved in the Terriers rebound game and has found herself at the free throw line at a higher rate this year, where she is nearly automatic, converting at 90%, best in the NEC.
It should also be noted that both Holloway and Johnson log among the most minutes played in the league, currently both ranking in the top four. So, minus any foul trouble, they are sure to see a lot of each other on the court, at the Chace, on Monday night.
Monday night will mark the 20th all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and the Terriers, with Bryant leading the all-time series 14-5. Since the 2014-2015 campaign, the series has been pretty even as the teams have split their season series each of the last four years. Last year, each team won on their home court as the Bulldogs won 73-63 in Smithfield while the Terriers returned the favor in Brooklyn Heights 66-60 in the regular season finale. Before they get together on the 7th, the Bulldogs will try to end their nine game losing streak on Saturday afternoon as they open up conference play against LIU Brooklyn while the Terriers will start the NEC New Year off at home against the Wagner Seahawks.
*For games from December 15-December 30, 2018
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kiana Patterson, CCSU… Lauren Francillon, FDU…Madison Stanley, FDU… Brandy Thomas, LIU…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Ire Ozzy-Momodu, RMU… Jade Johnson, SFBK… Dominique Ward, SFBK
THREE: Isabella Possett, FR (RMU): The Pittsburgh-area native has made quite the impact on the Colonials since being inserted into the starting lineup back on December 15th against Pitt-Johnstown. Possett netted a career high 16 points on 5 for 8 shooting (4-7 from downtown) against the Mountain Cats, and followed that up with a 10 point performance in a winning effort against Delaware State. The RMU freshman point guard also claimed back to back NEC Rookie of the Week awards, becoming the 10th Colonial to win consecutive rookie honors, and the first since Artemis Spanou collected three straight back in 2011.
TWO: (tie): Katherine Haines, GR (SHU) & Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): Haines collected a pair of big games right before the holiday break, en route to being named NEC Player of the Week on December 17th. Haines recorded back to back double-doubles, with 19 points & 10 rebounds at Manhattan and 18 points, 10 rebounds vs. St. Joe’s. While she only went 1-8 from the floor with 4 points against nationally ranked, SEC power, Kentucky, she did record her third straight double-digit rebound game, a streak which she’ll take into the start of conference play.
On the other side, while the Bulldogs only played one game during this 15 day stretch, it was a productive and historic game for Sydney Holloway. She became the 25th, and the fastest, Bulldog to reach 1,000 career points, notching her 11th double-double of the season with 26 points and 13 rebounds, in Bryant’s 81-62 loss to Holy Cross on December 30th. Holloway is the league’s leading rebounder and one of two players in the league currently averaging a double-double. She was just honored as the NEC’s Player of the Week for the second time this season.
ONE: Jess Kovatch, SR (SFU): One of my favorite fun fact nuggets so far this year has been that it’s now 11 games into SFU’s season and Jess Kovatch’s scoring average has increased at least .1% every single game. Kovatch has found that magical scoring touch, producing 20 or more points in eight of the Red Flash’s last nine games. During these last 15 days, Kovatch played four games, scoring 24, 20, 28, and 26 points respectively, an average of 24.5 points per game. She also shot 50% from the field in those four games with 19 made threes. Oh, and by the way, Kovatch set the NEC’s all-time scoring record in the December 16th game against Montana and was named the NEC’s Player of the Week on December 24th. Kovatch’s pre-holiday hot streak vaulted her back to the top of the NEC scoring leaderboard as the Red Flash prepare to open conference play on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Since the year 2000, 17 of the 19 eventual NEC champions have won their conference openers. The only two teams since the turn of the century to start 0-1 in conference play and come back to cut down the nets in March were the 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers and the 2017 Robert Morris Colonials.
Enjoy the first weekend of the NEC New Year! Don’t forget to join myself and Pam Roecker as we wrap up the opening NEC weekend on Monday night for the first NEC TV game of the season, St. Francis Brooklyn at Bryant at 7pm on ESPN3. Also be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, January 9th for the next “Fast Break” column which will include a feature on the NEC’s all-time leading scorer Jess Kovatch and a complete recap of the opening NEC weekend.