Author Archives: Craig D'Amico

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 2/20/19

Wagner head coach Heather Jacobs


STARTING LINEUP: WAGNER SEAHAWKS


“We talk about progress. A lot of progress, a lot of process, getting better in the moment, winning every day, getting one percent better…all of that. In turn, the returners, they know and they remember. We were in a lot of close games (last year) and those moments have not been forgotten.”


That was Wagner head women’s basketball coach Heather Jacobs back at NEC’s Social Media Day in October answering a question from former Seahawk head coach Pam Roecker as to whether or not she thought this was the year the Seahawks could make the jump back into the NEC’s postseason for the first time since 2014. Jacobs’ team had just been selected last in the annual coaches’ pre-season poll, an unfortunately familiar place for Wagner women’s basketball, as the program had ended up at the bottom of the standings in each of the last four straight seasons and six out of the last seven.

But this year is proving to be different. Something special is in the process of happening on Staten Island as the Wagner College Seahawks are beating the odds, the prognostications, and a lot of other NEC teams as well. The Seahawks have surged out to a 7-6 start, their best NEC record after 13 games since 2004. How long has that been? Well, consider that in February of 2004 the iPhone didn’t exist, Facebook was only weeks old, many of the current group of players were in preschool or kindergarten, and Coach Jacobs was halfway through her college playing career at Franklin Pierce.

With a win on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson, Wagner would secure their first playoff berth since 2014 and only their fourth playoff appearance over the last 15 years.

Wagner was once a very strong and very proud basketball program in the late 80’s, throughout the 90’s, and into the beginning of the new century. Wagner was an original NEC women’s basketball institution, and for the first 18 straight years, they were staples in the women’s basketball tournament. During that 18 year stretch from 1987-2004, the Seahawks were coached by Gela Mikalauskas (1979-90), Pam Roecker (1990-98), and Tara Gallagher (1998-05). They would reach the tournament semi-finals nine times and appear in four NEC Championship Games. The crown jewel would come in 1989 under Mikalauskas, when league MVP Maureen Coughlin paced the team to a 22-win campaign and a 66-60 victory over Robert Morris in the final, to earn the program’s first and only NEC Championship.

From 1996-2003, under Roecker and Gallagher, Wagner would go on a run of eight straight seasons of double-digit conference wins. The 87 wins during that period was third best in the league behind only NEC super-powers Saint Francis U and Mount St. Mary’s. In the middle of an era where Saint Francis and Mount St. Mary’s were dominating the league, the Seahawks were able to hold their own and be perennial contenders. Both Roecker and Gallagher agreed that the key was in the players they recruited to the program, some of the school’s all-time greats, such as Nia Ryan, Amanda Young, Susan Moffat, Meredith Kearns, Carrie Walker, Joy Gallagher, Patti Winterfeldt, and Brenda Milano.

“One of the first memories I had was walking into the student center and seeing the Verrazano Bridge and knowing we could recruit kids there,” replied Roecker. “Over my time we had students from 11 different states and we always sold the connection to New York City and that the campus was 100 acres in a very self-contained environment. It was a beautiful atmosphere, very peaceful and safe, with access to the greatest city in the world.”

“At that time we had a great group of players that just loved to play the game,” said Gallagher. “You have to have the players that want to put the time and effort into it and that have the skill as well.”

In 2004, the team finished 8-10, a down year by their standards, but still enough to qualify for the NEC tournament as the number six seed. The team was slowed by the loss of their All-Conference senior Carrie Walker. Walker missed 11 conference games in January and February due to injury, where the team went 4-7. Walker returned right before the start of the playoffs, but the Seahawks were upended on their home court by the Monmouth Hawks. “We were picked to be pretty good that year, and although we did okay, it wasn’t, obviously, the year we wanted to have,” recounted Gallagher.  

Following that season, Wagner lost a ton of firepower, including three starters: Walker, Vanessa Wyffels, and Ashley Linscott, which equated to 40% of their offense. In 2005 the Seahawks would finish 2-25 and 2-16 in NEC play, missing the NEC Tournament for the first time ever. “It was hard, it was tough, but the kids still worked hard. Your heart breaks for the kids more than anything,” said Gallagher.

Little did anyone know at the time, but that would end up being the first of a rough 14 season stretch for the Seahawks, which saw them make the playoffs only three times while finishing in last place nine times. “I don’t think it was just one thing. I think obviously when you don’t win it’s tougher to recruit,” noted Gallagher. “Between myself and when Gela (Mikalauskas) was there and then Lisa (Cermignano), there have been some great players, don’t get me wrong. But it’s been a thing where unfortunately once you start to slide and don’t have winning seasons, the confidence level has to be there, and it’s tough to come back from.”

Enter Heather Jacobs, who was hired in April of 2016 as the program’s ninth head coach. Jacobs was no stranger to turning around programs. In 2007-08 she took over a Daniel Webster program that won only 10 games in her first season, finishing 2-11 in conference. By year three, the Eagles won 20 games, were 15-1 in conference, and regular season champions. Jacobs would then head to Adelphi where it would be a similar story. The Panthers finished in 14th place during her first season, but would end up 14-5 and make the Northeast-10 playoffs in her third campaign.

Now in her third season on Grymes Hill, Coach Jacobs’ building process is starting to show major results once again. “It’s a process that I think is behind the scenes and in the locker room. We knew we were making progress even though last year we didn’t really win as many games as we wanted or hoped,” said Jacobs. “We knew that there was progress there and whether or not it was player development, in the locker room, the culture, standards, expectation…it was happening and people couldn’t see that necessarily.”

In her office, underneath her desk, Coach Jacobs has a wall of bricks. Bricks decorated in the official Seahawks colors: green, black, white, and silver. Written on the bricks are team and individual accomplishments dating back to her first season on Staten Island. Accomplishments such as Team GPA’s, Rookie and Player of the Week honors, and Jacobs’ first NEC win, 58-45 over St. Francis Brooklyn back in January of 2017, just to name a few. The brick wall symbolizes building the program, brick by brick, while recognizing the key moments along the way. 

“Ultimately, we focus on standards, expectations, and small successes. That’s what that little thing is behind you (the brick wall). We really focus on that, because if you lose sight and get really stuck on the end and the result, there is a lot of good along the way, and I think it’s important to stop and recognize that. We might have lost the game, but we did A, B, and C way better than we did before and we really try to be intentional of recognizing that. It is hard when you are losing because everyone is competitive and wants to win, but when you do that it allows you to hold steady on the course of where you want to be and keep the bigger picture in mind.”

For the current group of Seahawk players, it isn’t about dwelling on the past or a 14 year ‘losing culture’. No player was a part of the roster prior to Coach Jacobs’ arrival, so to them, the only things they know and that matter are the steps of progression made over the last three years, or in other words, the bricks that they’ve had a hand in building.

Redshirt sophomore Taylah Simmons is the Seahawks leading scorer and has been a force since the start of conference play, averaging 19 points per game. Over the last five outings, in which Wagner has won four out of five, Simmons has put up 20.8 points per game and has netted a Player of the Week honor. For Simmons, she was excited to come over from Australia to be a part of the building process at Wagner. “I liked how it was a small school, so it was kind of like a small community, like a family. I don’t have family here, so it’s nice to have a sense of community and family. Coach Jacobs had just got in, and I knew she was building up the team, and I was excited to be a part of the building process. It was definitely hard at some points last year, but I try to be as positive as I can every moment of the day. We saw such good glimpses of us last year during practice. I held on to that, because I knew we had so much potential.”

Simmons, along with her teammates, are finally finding that potential this season. Wagner’s signature “we’ve arrived” moment might very well have been a thrilling 87-85 win over St. Francis Brooklyn on February 11th. In a game that featured multiple swings of momentum, Wagner pulled it out in the end on a Taylah Simmons game winning jumper in the lane in the final seconds. “I think this year everyone’s role is super important. We’re playing all together. Everyone knows their spots, everyone knows their roles, and it’s more of a team dynamic,” noted Simmons. “I feel like now that we’ve got a couple of wins under our belt, we know what we have to do and we know what it’s like to win, so we want to keep it up.”

“I’m just really excited for the program,” expressed Roecker. “I think it’s a combination of she’s a really good coach, she has a system in place, she’s stayed patient, she’s stuck to her philosophy, and she recruited some really good players. That’s the whole secret. In our success in the 90’s when you talk about players like Brenda Milano, Patti Winterfeldt, Alicia Conquest, Susan Moffat, Nia Ryan…the better players, the better you look as a coach. When you have the combination of both, it can really set you up for success.”

“I’ll look on the program every now and then,” said Gallagher. “I met Coach Jacobs when I inducted Meredith (Kerns) into the Hall of Fame (in 2017), and she was unbelievable. I really liked her and her staff was awesome. They came in and some of her players as well. They came in and congratulated Meredith and talked with us. I am so thrilled that she is having a really, really good year because she deserves it. You can tell how much passion she has for the game and she absolutely loves Wagner and you can see how much the kids love and respect her.”

While the excitement continues to grow as the wins start to pile up, Coach Jacobs and the Seahawks are quick to point out that the job isn’t nearly finished yet and that there is still plenty of work to do. “We have to come every day. The ability to stay present, focus on one game at a time, and continue to play hard for 40 minutes. If we do that, we’ll be in a good spot,” commented Coach Jacobs. “It’s crazy to think about where we were, just from the beginning of the year to now. We’ve learned so much and we understand from a preparation standpoint, to a practice standpoint, to gameday…everybody understands. We know what we need to do. It’s locking in to make sure we take care of business. It’s easy to get distracted when everybody is so excited. It’s nice that you want to celebrate that and be excited for where you are, but stay grounded in the sense that you have to keep working every day and every moment.”

“Keys will be staying consistent, not letting up, and keeping that foot on the accelerator,” added Simmons. “We have ups and downs, but we have to try to get as many ups as we can.”

Following our sit-down interview for this feature, Coach Jacobs handed Simmons a blank brick for the Melbourne native to mark to recognize her recent Player of the Week honor. It will be the latest brick to be added to Coach Jacobs’ wall as the Seahawks continue their process of building themselves back into contention in the NEC.

“For me it’s one game at a time, be in the moment. There is still a lot of basketball left to play,” said Jacobs. “We can still continue to get better individually and collectively. There are teams that are fighting for survival, there are teams dominating, and there are teams that are really trying to establish their identity. Everyone is on their own unique journey and we’re just trying to steer our course, run our race, and play our best basketball at the right time.”


The Wagner Seahawks will have a chance to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2014 with a win on Saturday at Fairleigh Dickinson. If Wagner can pick up two more wins over their final five NEC games, they will assure themselves of their first .500 season in conference play since 2003.  



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: Half of the 2019 playoff field has been decided, as Saint Francis U, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis Brooklyn all clinched playoff spots this past weekend to join Robert Morris in the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The Colonials suffered their first league setback on Saturday, falling to Mount St. Mary’s 61-55 in Emmitsburg. But RMU would manage to rebound on the road in Loretto two days later, winning a rematch of last year’s NEC Championship Game against the Red Flash 66-60. With the win, Robert Morris maintains a three-game lead over second place in the race for the regular season championship and the tournament’s #1 seed. With another win or a Seahawk loss, the Colonials can wrap-up a first round home playoff game in the North Athletic Complex, a place where Robert Morris has defeated their last 21 straight conference opponents. 

The reigning NEC champion Saint Francis Red Flash assured a return trip to the postseason for a 24th time, and 10th time in the last 11 years, with a 77-65 win in New Jersey over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday. The win coupled with the Colonial loss had the Flash in a position where they controlled their own destiny. Had they defeated RMU on Monday they would have been one game back with still another game against the Colonials to go, putting them in the driver’s seat in the race to the #1 seed. Instead, SFU now find themselves three games out of first and in a battle for the #2 seed.

Sacred Heart will be appearing in their 20th straight NEC Tournament, the longest active streak in the NEC. They opened up a season long four game NEC road trip by splitting a pair of games against Bryant and LIU Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers took advantage of losses by Saint Francis and Sacred Heart, returning into a three-way tie with the Pioneers and Red Flash for second place. By sweeping their games against the Blackbirds and Blue Devils, the Terriers officially wrapped up their third straight playoff berth and 14th in school history.

The Wagner Seahawks, winners of four out of their last five, fell a game off of the pace for a top four spot and a first round home playoff game position after splitting games against Central Connecticut State and Mount St. Mary’s. At 7-6, the Seahawks own a winning record after 13 NEC games for the first time since 2004 and have a hold on sole possession of fifth place. After four straight years of finishing in last place, and predicted to finish last by the NEC coaches again this season, Wagner’s magic number to clinch their first playoff spot since 2014 is down to one.

Mount St. Mary’s made up some lost ground this weekend by knocking off previous NEC unbeaten Robert Morris and following that up by handing the Wagner Seahawks their first defeat in the month of February. The Mountaineers are one game behind Wagner and two games out of the top four. The Bryant Bulldogs stand at 5-8 and in seventh place with a big game against the team directly above them, Mount St. Mary’s, coming up on Saturday.

The bottom of the standings certainly got more interesting this weekend following LIU Brooklyn’s 69-64 win at the Barclays Center over Sacred Heart. After starting the year 0-10 in league play, the Blackbirds have won two out of their last three and are only one game behind Central Connecticut State and Fairleigh Dickinson for the eighth and final playoff spot. In fact, the Blackbirds will play both the Blue Devils and Knights during the final week of conference play, games that could have major implications as to who makes the postseason and which two teams will be left on the outside looking in.


*KEYSTONE STATE COLLISION: 345 days after meeting at DeGol Arena to decide the 2018 NEC Championship, the Robert Morris Colonials returned to Loretto for the first time since last March to take on the reigning NEC champion Saint Francis Red Flash.

The game would come down to the fourth quarter and see the Colonials outscore SFU 11-4 over the final three minutes to come away with a 66-60 victory, their 12th win in their last 13 games. The game featured several eye popping surprises, first of which was the RMU defense holding Jess Kovatch to a career low six points on 1-9 shooting. Kovatch, who had averaged 25.4 points on 42.3% shooting in seven prior career games against the Colonials, became the sixth straight opposing team’s leading scorer to be held to single digit scoring against RMU.

“It’s a team effort. It’s not just that matchup, but the team energy to talk,” said Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia in his post-game interview on ESPN3 with Pam Roecker. “Our five, Nneka Ezeigbo, was great with talking and continuing to stay to the next play. It was a team effort, (Kovatch) is a great player, she’s a great offensive scorer, and we had to be really good today to stop her.”

The Red Flash, one of the top free throw shooting teams in the league, uncharacteristically left a lot of points off the board due to missed free throw opportunities, going 16 for 26 from the charity stripe on the night. Robert Morris also dominated the boards with a 48-34 advantage, and a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass, leading to 17 Colonial second chance points. RMU also hoisted up a season high 39 three point attempts. Six of those three point attempts were successfully converted by sophomore guard Nina Augustin, leading to a career high 18 point outing. Nneka Ezeigbo finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds.

The teams will meet up again in the regular season finale on Thursday, March 7th in Moon Township. Check out highlights from Monday night’s prime-time President’s Day showdown below…


*HISTORY FOR THE DUO FROM DOWN UNDER: St. Francis Brooklyn’s ‘Duo from Down Under’ had themselves a weekend as the Terriers welcomed in LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut State for games at the Pope PE Center. On Saturday, senior guard Amy O’Neill recorded her second triple-double of the season with a 16 point, 10 rebound, and 11 assist afternoon against borough rival LIU Brooklyn. O’Neill recorded the lucky 13th triple-double in NEC history and joins RMU’s Chinata Nesbit from 2008 as only players in league annals to have multiple triple-doubles in a single season. All this coming just two weeks after O’Neill recorded her first triple-double, and the first in program history, with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in 44 minutes against Sacred Heart. The Melbourne native is one of only six players in the nation to have multiple triple-doubles on the season. Also during the game against the Blackbirds, an O’Neill dish to Johnson on a made jumper would give O’Neill the school’s single season assist record, which previously stood for 28 years. The senior’s tally now stands at 207 helpers, and counting, in 2019.

“Amy is an amazing player, and definitely the heart and soul of this team,” St. Francis Brooklyn head coach Linda Cimino commented during her post-game press conference. “She’s such a great playmaker for us and I’m really proud of her and happy for her.”

Join us next week here on the #NECWBB Fast Break, where we will sit down and chat with the NEC’s Triple-Double Queen.  

Meanwhile, O’Neill’s tag team partner, Jade Johnson, was also busy making history of her own on Saturday afternoon, netting her 1,000th career point in the first half of the game against LIU Brooklyn. Johnson reaches the milestone as a junior, and becomes the 18th member of the St. Francis Brooklyn 1,000 point club, joining teammate Maria Palarino who eclipsed 1,000 points earlier this year at Mount St. Mary’s. Johnson and Palarino join Central’s Kiana Patterson, Bryant’s Sydney Holloway, and Sacred Heart’s Katherine Haines, as players who have reached 1,000 career points this season.

“To score 1,000 points is a great accomplishment, but to do it as a junior is really tremendous,” said Coach Cimino. “I’m really happy for her. She needed 20 points going into today’s game, I didn’t realize she was going to get it in the first half! She was on today. It was a great day for the Aussies today.”

With only five regular season games to go, plus any playoff games her team plays, Fairleigh Dickinson senior guard Madelynn Comly owns 958 career points, 42 shy of 1,000. Comly would have to average 8.4 points over the last five games to get there.



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, February 23, 2019
St. Francis Brooklyn at Robert Morris, 1pm
Sacred Heart at Central Connecticut State, 1pm
Mount St. Mary’s at Bryant, 1pm
Wagner at Fairleigh Dickinson, 2pm
LIU Brooklyn at Saint Francis U, 4pm


Monday, February 25, 2019
LIU Brooklyn at Robert Morris, 7pm
Mount St. Mary’s at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Sacred Heart at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm (ESPN+)
Bryant at Wagner, 7pm
St. Francis Brooklyn at Saint Francis U, 7pm


With just five games, and two and a half weeks, remaining, the race towards March and the NEC Tournament is really starting to heat up. Looking ahead to this upcoming weekend, there are several games with major postseason implications…


*St. Francis Brooklyn’s Pennsylvania Road Trip: After last week’s loss to Wagner put them one game off of the pace for second place, the Terriers fought their way back into the pack with Sacred Heart and Saint Francis U by sweeping a pair of games against LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut. The Terriers chances for ending up with one of the tournament’s top seeds could very well rest on their performance in Pennsylvania this weekend against the Colonials on Saturday and Red Flash on Monday. St. Francis Brooklyn welcomed both of the NEC’s Pennsylvania institutions into Brooklyn back in mid-January and came away with a split. Robert Morris held the Terriers to just 56 points on 37.5% shooting, while forcing 19 turnovers in a Colonial 75-56 win, before SFBK bounced back 48 hours later with 78 points on 48% shooting in a 78-65 win over the reigning champion Red Flash, handing SFU their first conference loss of the season.

Since the year 2000, the Terriers have never swept both games of the Pennsylvania road trip, however they have won at both Moon Township and Loretto in the same single season before. In 2015 they won at SFU and lost at Robert Morris during the regular season, but returned to RMU several weeks later and defeated the Colonials at the Sewell Center in the NEC Championship Game.

St. Francis Brooklyn has already clinched a spot in the NEC Tournament for the third straight season and for the 14th time in program history, so now it is all about jockeying for position. The Terriers are battling to finish in the top four and clinch the program’s first ever home playoff game. A win in one or both of the games out in the Keystone State would go a long way to boosting their chances here in the waning stages of the regular season.


*Sacred Heart at Fairleigh Dickinson: The Pioneers will travel to the Garden State to meet the FDU Knights on Monday night at the Rothman Center. The game will be broadcasted live at 7pm on ESPN+ with myself and Kim Adams on the call. Sacred Heart is in a second place stalemate with St. Francis Brooklyn and Saint Francis U. The Pioneers would love to reach one of the top two seeds, which would ensure that a potential semi-final game would be played at the Pitt Center. The road to a postseason at the Pitt Center will ironically have to be earned on the road, as the Pioneers are in the midst of a season high four game road trip, playing five of their final seven regular season games on the road. Meanwhile, the Knights are fighting for their postseason lives. Fairleigh Dickinson has been to the NEC Tournament each of the last four seasons, with the last two years coming as the #8 seed. To make it back in 2019, the Knights will have to fight off both CCSU and LIU Brooklyn, in a situation where there are three teams likely battling for just one spot.  

The Pioneers and Knights met just two weeks ago in Fairfield with the Pioneers coming away with a 68-62 victory. SHU led by 18 points with just over seven minutes remaining, only to see the Knights stage a 19-4 run to pull within a single possession inside of two minutes to go. Sacred Heart managed to hold on for the win, led by Candice Leatherwood’s 19 points and Kat Haines’ double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacred Heart has dominated the all-time series, sporting a 30-5 advantage. However, while the Pioneers are 18-0 all-time against FDU at home, they have tasted defeat four out of their last five trips to the Rothman Center.


*The Mount/Bryant Rematch: In one of the most memorable NEC games of the year so far, Bryant staged an epic fourth quarter comeback at the Mount back on January 12th. Trailing by 11 points going into the fourth quarter, and by as many as 14 points within the final quarter itself, Bryant went on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 64 with 2:49 to play. The Bulldogs would outscore the Mountaineers 9-4 the rest of the way to pull off the improbable win, holding the Mount without a field goal for the final 6:09. It was a game that left Mount St. Mary’s frustrated that they let get away. Now six weeks later, they will meet in Rhode Island for the rematch, in a game neither can afford to lose. With just one game of separation between the two schools in the NEC standings, Bryant would be eliminated from top four, and first round home playoff game, contention with a loss, while Mount would slide down to seventh place and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bulldogs.



THREE STARS

*For the games of February 16-18, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Nneka Ezeigbo, RMU…Khaleah Edwards, WC…Katherine Haines, SHU…Jeydah Johnson, LIU…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Rebecca Lee, MSM…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Hannah Scanlan, BRY…Jatarrikah Settle, MSM…Brandy Thomas, LIU


THREE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): Two weeks after her first triple-double, and first triple-double in program history, O’Neill once again reached the historic milestone, this time in regulation. O’Neill filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists against the borough rival Blackbirds. O’Neill is one of just six players in the nation to have recorded multiple triple-doubles this season. Two days later, O’Neill would flirt with the mark once again, with an 8 point, 8 rebound, and 8 assist game against Central Connecticut, helping the Terriers to clinch a third straight trip to the NEC Tournament. The senior point guard is the only player in the NEC to rank top 20 in scoring and top 10 in assists and rebounds. O’Neill also stands second in the nation in assists per game and 10th in minutes played.


TWO: Nina Augustin, SO (RMU): Nina Augustin was our ‘Player of the Game’ during Monday night’s ESPN3 broadcast, and is now our #2 Star of the Week. The box score will show that Augustin had a career offensive night on Monday night against the Red Flash, with a career high 18 points on six made threes. However, what the box score won’t necessarily show is her outstanding effort on the defensive side of the ball. Augustin played a large hand in the Robert Morris defense limiting the nation’s eighth ranked scorer, Jess Kovatch, to just six points on 1-9 shooting, the lowest single-game point total of her career. The sophomore from Finland started both games this weekend, making her first appearances in the starting five since December 7th against Kent State.


ONE: Jade Johnson, JR (SFBK): Johnson had a historic weekend with her family in town all the way from Australia, pouring in a total of 52 points over the course of games against LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut State. Included in the 52, was her 1,000th career point, scored during the second quarter of Saturday’s showdown with the Blackbirds. Johnson would finish the day with 31 points on 13-21 shooting, making it the fourth time this year she has reached 30 points in a game, and the second time this year she’s done it against LIU Brooklyn. Also during that contest, Johnson would score the historic bucket that allowed Amy O’Neill to break the school’s single season assists record. Two days later, against the Blue Devils, the junior guard was right back at it. Johnson led the team with 21 points on 9-21 shooting against CCSU. On the season, Johnson ranks second in the league in both scoring and made threes. During the month of February, Johnson is averaging 22.6 points per game on 45% shooting and 39% from beyond the arc. 



STAT OF THE WEEK


*The greatest one-year turnaround in NEC history was the 2004 to 2005 Robert Morris Colonials. In their first season under Sal Buscaglia, the Colonials finished in last place, going 3-24 and 2-16 in NEC play during the 2004 season. Led by RMU Hall of Famer Sugeiry Monsac, the 2005 Colonials would go on to finish 17 games better overall and 11 games better in conference play, ending up a with a 20-10 overall and 13-5 NEC record, advancing all the way to the NEC Championship Game.


Some of the other top one-year turnarounds in NEC play:

-LIU: 4 wins in 2009 to 14 in 2010 (+10)
-LIU: 2 wins in 1999 to 11 in 2000 (+9)
-CCSU: 5 wins in 2014 to 14 in 2015 (+9)
-RMU: 6 wins in 2013 to 14 in 2014 (+8)


A very special thank you this week to Wagner head coach Heather Jacobs, redshirt-sophomore Taylah Simmons, and former Seahawk head coaches Tara Gallagher and Pam Roecker for sitting down with us to talk about the great tradition and the current rise of Wagner women’s basketball. Be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, February 27th for a unique WBB Fast Break column. First, we’ll check in with the NEC’s triple-double queen, St. Francis Brooklyn senior point guard, Amy O’Neill. Then, we will take you behind the scenes of the Saint Francis/Robert Morris ESPN3 broadcast from this past Monday night and show you what it takes to put on a basketball national broadcast. We’ll show you all of the preparation involved in the days leading up to the game. Plus we will give you a glimpse at the gameday production, meet the crew that helps make the broadcast possible, highlight some of the production decisions that helped shape what you saw on TV, and discuss what stories and information didn’t make the broadcast and why.

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 2/13/19


STARTING LINEUP: JUJU ON THAT BEAT


Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time – Thomas Merton


After her first two seasons in a Mountaineer women’s basketball uniform, Juliette Lawless had very little to show for it. Sitting behind a very deep roster of talented guards, Lawless only played a total of 167 minutes during her freshman year, an average of less than seven minutes per game. As a sophomore, while her playing time doubled, Lawless didn’t quite have the freedom or the confidence she was looking for. As a result, with half of her Mount basketball career already behind her, not many people knew who she really was or what she was truly capable of.

Finally last season, with a new head coach and a new appreciation for the game she loves, Lawless burst onto the scene in a big way, winning the 2018 NEC Most Improved Player award and getting selected to the All-NEC third team. The jump from her sophomore to junior year included a seven point improvement in scoring average (up to 11.1 points per game), an increase from 15 minutes per game to 33, and a 46% shooting percentage, good for top 10 in the league.

“The first two years I was very meek. I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself as a player,” said Lawless. “I think I was just intimidated because I didn’t think I had natural ability or something. I was just like ‘I don’t know how I ended up here, but somehow I’m here playing college basketball.’ And it was frustrating too because I didn’t have the green light to shoot. My freshman and sophomore year I’d go out there, turn the ball over, and go right back out.”

“Last year I finally started really having fun with it and being able to play freely. Playing is very fluid for me. Being able to do that and re-finding my love for basketball and being able to perform and show that felt really good. It is hard to be fully invested in it when you are not out there making plays for your teammates, actually on the floor. Once I finally got the opportunity to do that, I’m like, ‘I’m not going to mess this one up.’”

While her passion for the sport was revitalized last year, The Mahopac, NY native first fell in love with basketball back when she was in elementary school. “I started playing basketball in second or third grade on this little local MSA (Mahopac Sports Association) team. It was my favorite thing ever. I remember I would get into the car after every game and be like, ‘Mom, I’m in love with basketball!’ Even when I’m struggling now my mom will be like, ‘Remember when you used to get in the car after your games and tell me how much you love basketball?’ That’s kind of when I fell in love with it. Then I started playing competitively, the summer after sixth grade, in AAU. And that’s when it was like, ‘This is it for me, this is serious, and I’m in it.’”

Lawless would star in basketball at the Pomfret School in Connecticut, earning significant interest from Mount St. Mary’s. “Mount was actually one of the most avid letter senders before you could actually make calls. So I would get a lot of letters from them, and I was always like, ‘Mount…I’ve never heard of that.’ Then they really started to show an interest. Brittany Pinkney, on the old staff, reached out a lot to me when you could finally start making phone calls. She drove all the way up to Connecticut, to my boarding school, to watch my games. Then I came on the visit. I wanted to be relatively close to home, I didn’t want it to be a plane ride, and it just seemed like a really good fit for me.”

It was during her official visit that Juliette, known to everyone close to her as JuJu, earned her nickname. “On my official visit, everyone on my team had nicknames, and they were like, ‘Juliette is three syllables, that’s way too long in basketball when passing it.’ So they were like, ‘What type of nicknames do you have before?’ I was always ‘J’ or my family calls me ‘Baby J’ because I’m the youngest. But there was already a ‘J’ on our team, so I was like, ‘My grandma used to call me JuJu, and they were like ‘JuJu!’’ and it’s stuck ever since. My professors call me JuJu, everyone calls me JuJu, and I just introduce myself as JuJu now because it works, and it’s easier to remember. It has a little ring to it.”


Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up – Pablo Picasso


While in the middle of rediscovering her passion for basketball, JuJu was also simultaneously trying to find her passion off of the court as well. “I’ve always kind of been art oriented. In my life, my family is very artistic, my brother is music, my dad is music, my sister is artistic as well, and my mom did art in high school. I always had the interest, but coming into college I just didn’t take art as a serious major because everyone was like, ‘Business…accounting…numbers…writing essays!’ So I tried psych at first and didn’t really like it. Then I was doing comm, and I was actually going to duel major in communications and art. But then I just fell in love with my studio classes, so I ended up taking a lot of studios. Then I met with my advisor and I was like, ‘I don’t have time for a comm major.’ So I’m minoring in comm now and majoring in art, almost on accident. But it’s worked out for me and definitely the right fit, something I enjoy doing a lot.”

“I think JuJu is misunderstood in a lot of ways because she’s such a competitor on the court but she’s also the most laid back person you’ve ever met,” says Mount St. Mary’s head coach Maria Marchesano. “She just goes with the flow. She’s an art major and if you know JuJu that makes 100% sense. She comes into practice a lot of days with paint all over her legs. Very laid back person, but she’s such a competitor out on the floor.”

The creativity and vision that Lawless plays with on the basketball court are the same traits that help lead to her success on canvas and in sketchbooks. “Right now I’m in senior sem, which is you have two gallery shows, you meet twice a week and you basically have to have two conceptual pieces for the two gallery shows. And I’m in figure drawing, which is my first figure drawing class I’ve ever taken, and I love it. So right now we’re just working on technique stuff, it’s all just kind of sketchbook work. I never liked working with charcoal, but ever since taking figure drawing, I love it. I love drawing the human form, and that’s probably my favorite class I’m in right now.”


The best way to predict the future is to create it – Abraham Lincoln


Self-described as a player who drives hard to the rim, almost completely finishes right (even when on the left), can spot up shoot, knock down the open three, and pass relatively well out of the paint, Lawless is currently in the middle of her most outstanding basketball season yet. She stands third in the league in scoring and field goal percentage and fourth in assists and three-point shooting. Her Mountaineers are 4-7 in NEC play, and will go into the final month of the regular season looking to book a return trip to the playoffs after missing out last season.

“She didn’t play those first two years, so really when you look at JuJu, this is really her sophomore campaign in a lot of ways,” said Coach Marchesano. “She didn’t play hardly any minutes at all as a freshman or sophomore. So when you talk about JuJu being the Most Improved Player last year, and then coming into this year, I think the biggest improvement she made has been letting the game come to her and understanding where her moments are to score, where her moments are to shoot the three, and where her moments are to attack.”

As the only senior on a team that is composed of almost entirely underclassmen, JuJu has taken on the leadership role, and has performed quite well in that spot according to her head coach. “She’s having an unbelievable season. She’s done her best to lead this young crew with poise. Being able to lead has been a huge improvement. Handling the ball, getting us organized, and still looking for her own points along the way, has been a huge improvement for JuJu as well. That was tough for her last year, to balance ‘well I’m really good at attacking, but I also need to run the point, so where is my balance?’ This year she has that figured out.”

The next item for JuJu to figure out will be her future plans for after graduation. “I think I’ll end up going back to school to maybe take some education classes to be an art teacher,” said Lawless. “I also do landscaping over the summer, so I was thinking maybe landscape design or something because I have some prior knowledge. So I’m not sure…but definitely something involving art!”

When asked what she hopes her teammates remember of her and what she hopes to leave behind with the program, JuJu was quick to point to her work ethic and the labor that went in to getting her to this point. “I’m someone that I just love physical labor. I love just being on that grind and being exhausted after a workout. Hard work can get you really far. Our senior last year, Caroline Hummell, would always say ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,’ and it’s corny, but it’s true. Just to work hard and be disciplined, but also having fun while doing it and keeping a positive mindset.” 

Over these last two seasons, Mount basketball fans and Northeast Conference basketball fans have had the pleasure of watching the artist known as JuJu Lawless create masterpieces on the court on a nightly basis. However, it’s her signature work ethic which she hopes to be remembered for, and which she hopes to leave behind with her teammates, that could very well end up being her pièce de résistance in Emmitsburg.


Mount St. Mary’s will hope to get Juliette Lawless back on court this weekend as the Mountaineers continue to make a push towards the postseason. The Mount returns home for games against two of the hottest teams in the NEC, Robert Morris on Saturday at 1pm and against Wagner on Monday at 7pm. 



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: The first ticket to the NEC’s annual playoff party has been punched as the Robert Morris Colonials officially clinched a spot in the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament with wins this past weekend against Bryant (59-56) and Central Connecticut State (60-40).

The Colonials are a perfect 11-0 in league play, their best start to a conference season in program history, and the fifth best start in league history, since the year 2000. This week RMU can tie, and perhaps surpass, the 2003 Red Flash, who started 12-0, for the fourth best start on that historic list. Their current 11 game win streak is tied for the third longest in the school’s record books.

Just like they’ve been a mainstay atop the league standings this season, the Colonials have also practically been mainstays in the NEC Tournament. Robert Morris has now qualified for six straight, and 14 out of the last 15, NEC Tournaments. RMU has advanced to the championship game in each of the last five seasons, resulting in three tournament titles during this stretch.

Up next, Robert Morris will hit the road for games at Mount St. Mary’s and Saint Francis U. RMU will have a chance to wrap up a first-round home game this weekend based on their own results, as well as outcomes from other games around the league.

Sitting three games behind the Colonials are Sacred Heart and Saint Francis U. Both teams are 8-3 in NEC play and tied for second place. At the moment, the Red Flash hold the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage, but these two teams still have another game against each other coming up. SFU will have an opportunity to further their tiebreaker strength over Sacred Heart by securing a win over the NEC’s first place team, when they host Robert Morris on Monday. The reigning champions can clinch a playoff berth this weekend with a pair of wins, while the Pioneers can clinch their 20th straight postseason appearance with wins and some outside help.

St. Francis Brooklyn’s 87-85 setback to Wagner dropped them out of the second place tie with Saint Francis and Sacred Heart, and into sole possession of fourth place. The Terriers are still in a ‘first round home game’ position, but now are only one game clear of the Seahawks. Wagner stands at 6-5, over .500 in league play after 11 games for the first time since 2003-04. After four straight years finishing in the basement of the NEC standings, Wagner has made a strong push forward in 2019, and find themselves in serious contention for a first round playoff home game. Wagner hasn’t hosted a playoff game since hosting the entire NEC Tournament quarter and semifinal rounds back in 2004. The Seahawks are looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.  

Mount St. Mary’s, which has dropped its last three in a row, and Bryant, which has dropped four straight, have slid down the standings and into a tie for sixth place. Central Connecticut State and Fairleigh Dickinson remain tied for the eighth and final playoff position, while LIU Brooklyn, fresh off of its first NEC victory of the year, were able to make up some ground on Monday night, and now find themselves only two games out of the top eight.


*LOVE, MARRIAGE, & BASKETBALL: Earlier this season, a six part video series on St. Francis Brooklyn’s associate head coach Chenel Harris-Smith and assistant coach Sean Smith was released. The Smith’s, both first year assistants with the Terriers under Linda Cimino, met through coaching in 2014, were married in 2017, and now for the first time work on the same coaching staff. The videos documenting their unique love story were conducted by Andy Lipton and released on Twitter back in the fall by Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame writer and reporter Mel Greenberg. With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, it’s the perfect time of year to check out this series if you haven’t seen it yet, or to watch it again even if you already have…


*SHU BACK ON TRACK: Going into this past weekend’s games, the Sacred Heart Pioneers had gone from winning six straight to dropping three in a row. In speaking with Pioneers head coach Jessica Mannetti last week, in advance of Sacred Heart’s game against Mount St. Mary’s, she highlighted several areas that needed to improve: pace of play, shooting/scoring, turnovers, and rebounding. All of those boxes were checked, and then some, during SHU’s 76-41 victory on Saturday over the Mount on ESPN3.

The Pioneers raced out of the gate at a blistering pace, shooting 15-27 and 8-13 from three, in the first half. They would finish the afternoon shooting 47% overall and 13-26 from downtown. The 13 made threes would set a new high-water mark for their most in a single game this season, and the 76 points would serve as the second most posted in a single game this year. The Pios also won the rebounding battle, 40-33, and committed fewer turnovers, 19-16. All five Pioneer starters finished in double-figures scoring.

“When I looked at the amount of possessions we had per game, and that we had the lowest in the league, I was mad. This is not how our offense is supposed to run,” said Coach Mannetti in her ESPN3 post-game interview with Pam Roecker. “We need a higher sense of urgency, urgency to rebound, urgency on defense, and urgency on offense. So we really worked on pace, and man it paid off for us today.”

On the defensive end, Sacred Heart was able to lock down the third highest scoring offense in the NEC, holding Mount to 41 points and just 28% shooting. It was the fewest points allowed by the Pioneers since they allowed only 39 point to Central Connecticut State back in February of 2013.

Just 48 hours later, Sacred Heart would keep the momentum rolling with a 68-62 win over FDU. The Pioneers would shoot 49% for the game, converting on 11 threes, which make a grand total of 24 triples for Sacred Heart over their last two outings.


*BLACKBIRDS BACK IN THE WIN COLUMN: For the first time since December 29th against Lafayette, and for the first time this year in conference play,  LIU Brooklyn reached the win column, following a 71-61 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Monday night. The Blackbirds, who trailed by two at halftime, managed to pull away with a 17-7 run to start the fourth quarter, opening up a double-digit lead. Freshman Brandy Thomas produced a monster game, recording a career-high 36 points, to go along with 19 rebounds. The 36 points is the first 30-point game for LIU-Brooklyn since 2015 and the highest scoring game for an individual player in the entire NEC this season.

The Blackbirds will next head a couple of subway stops over to Brooklyn Heights on Saturday, where they will play St. Francis Brooklyn in a rematch of last month’s “Battle of Brooklyn” showdown, before they play host to Sacred Heart at the Barclays Center on Monday afternoon in a President’s Day matinee.  


*CHAOS ON THE HILL: In a game that featured more twists and turns than the Space Mountain ride in Disneyland, the Wagner Seahawks outlasted the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers 87-85 on a Monday night thriller atop Grimes Hill. It was a game that featured seven ties, six lead changes, and several dramatic swings of momentum along the way. Each team would manage to hold a double-digit lead, with St. Francis Brooklyn leading by as many as 15 points in the third quarter.

Down 83-82 with 1:23 to play in regulation, Wagner’s Janelle Mullen stepped to the charity stripe and converted on a pair of free throws to give the Seahawks their first lead since the final seconds of the first half. Then with 11 seconds to spare, Terrier junior Jade Johnson drove the baseline, came off her dribble, and stepped through the defender to give her team back the lead, 85-84.

Following a timeout, the Seahawks inbounded and got the ball to their leading scorer, redshirt sophomore Taylah Simmons, who connected on a shot from the lane to put the Seahawks up for good. Simmons and Johnson each produced 30 points for their respective teams, while Seahawk redshirt junior Janelle Mullen added a career high 20 points off of the bench.

The Seahawks own a record over .500 in NEC play after 11 games for the first time since 2003-04 and find themselves sitting at fifth place in the NEC standings, just one game outside of the top four. After four straight years finishing at the bottom of the league, and forecasted to finish in 10th place once again in the preseason coaches poll this year, the Seahawks continue to open eyes, turn heads, and win games.

Stay tuned for a special feature on the Seahawks next week here in the #NECWBB Fast Break column on the NEC Overtime! Blog.     


*SFU’S MEGA-POWERS MEET: Here is a fun exchange between myself and my broadcast partner Pam Roecker during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s ESPN3 broadcast…


Craig: I saw Saint Francis U, they tweeted out a picture of Jess Kovatch and Jess Zinobile sitting and talking to each other, I can only imagine…

Pam: That’s almost 5,000 career points

Craig: Yeah, I can only imagine what that conversation was like

Pam: Probably a one-on-one challenge knowing Zinobile


For the first time ever, the top two scorers in NEC history converged in the same place and at the same time on Saturday afternoon as NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile returned home to Loretto to be honored as part of SFU’s “Legends Night” and 50 year celebration of women’s athletics at Saint Francis. Zinobile’s 18 year NEC scoring record of 2,338 career points was surpassed this past December by current SFU senior Jess Kovatch. In a special on-court ceremony prior to Saturday’s game against Central Connecticut State, Zinobile was honored with a tribute video and the unveiling of her #22 jersey proudly hanging on the wall of DeGol Arena.


For more on Zinobile, the ceremony, and some striking similarities between Zinobile and Kovatch’s respective roads to Loretto, check out this article written by Cory Giger in the Lock Haven Express

http://www.lockhaven.com/sports/local-sports/2019/02/lock-haven-high-school-grad-jess-zinobile-honored-by-saint-francis-for-brilliant-career/



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, February 16, 2019
LIU Brooklyn at St. Francis Brooklyn, 1pm
Central Connecticut at Wagner, 1pm (ESPN+)
Robert Morris at Mount St. Mary’s, 1pm
Saint Francis U at Fairleigh Dickinson, 2pm
Sacred Heart at Bryant, 3pm


Monday, February 18, 2019
Central Connecticut at St. Francis Brooklyn, 1pm
Sacred Heart at LIU Brooklyn, 2pm
Wagner at Mount St. Mary’s, 7pm
Robert Morris at Saint Francis U, 7pm (ESPN3)
Fairleigh Dickinson at Bryant, 7pm



GAME OF THE WEEK PREVIEW:
2/18/19 – Robert Morris at Saint Francis U, 7pm (ESPN3)


In a rematch of last season’s NEC Championship Game, the Robert Morris Colonials are set to return to DeGol Arena in Loretto for a sure-to-be-epic showdown with the Saint Francis Red Flash. The President’s Day marquee matchup will tip at 7pm on Monday night on ESPN3 with myself and Pam Roecker on the call.

In 2018, the Keystone State rivals first met up in mid-January, with both still unbeaten in conference play. Megan Smith connected on a three pointer as time expired to give the Colonials a momentous win. Three weeks later, in the rematch, Jess Kovatch caught fire in the third quarter with six made threes, to lead the Red Flash to a 68-47 win. The season would finish with both teams tied at 16-2 atop the league standings. After all of the tiebreakers were exhausted, the final regular season RPI rankings ended up deciding the top seed in last year’s NEC Tournament, with the Red Flash just edging out the Colonials.

When they eventually met up for a third time, in the deciding Championship Game, the Red Flash used the home court to their advantage. They slowly pulled away in the second half, on their way to a 66-56 win and their record 12th tournament title.

Fast forward to the present day, both teams lost key components from the squads that met up in last year’s final, but both teams still find themselves operating at a championship level in 2019. Robert Morris has won 11 straight to start conference play, and has already wrapped up a postseason berth.

We’ve been talking about RMU’s defense all season, and just like a boa constrictor coiling around its prey, the Colonials defense has gotten more and more suffocating over time. Robert Morris stands top 20 in the nation in scoring defense (55.3ppg allowed), top 30 in turnovers forced (20.5 per game), and top 60 in field goal percentage defense (37.1%). RMU boasts the sixth best turnover rate in the country, turning opponents over at a 25.4% clip. With just league games serving as the sample size, RMU has been even more impressive, allowing only 49.5 points per game and 32.9% shooting, while forcing 20.1 turnovers per game.  

Robert Morris will need to rely heavily on their defense going up against a Red Flash team that can score and shoot very well. In NEC play, SFU leads the league with 77.2 points per game and is third at 43.8% shooting.

Offensively, while the Colonials are balanced, they are not that explosive. There was a four game stretch at the start of conference play where RMU reached 70 or more points four straight outings, including a season-high mark of 89 points against LIU Brooklyn. However, since that game, the Colonials have not scored over 70, and have only averaged 62.7 points per game.

They do shoot at a high percentage, thanks to what can be a dominating post game with Nneka Ezeigbo, Nadege Pluviose, and Ire Ozzy-Momodu. Over the last seven games, RMU has been either been very close to, or over, 40% shooting for the game with 29.4 points in the paint. SFU’s improved zone defense and Courtney Zezza trying to defend the paint will be an interesting matchup to watch on Monday.  

For Saint Francis, they’ve been a team in flux most of the early season, but it appears they’ve finally figured things out. The reigning champs once again look like the team that cut down the nets at the end of last season, coming into the weekend having won their last five in a row.

After Joe Haigh look a leave of absence two games into the season, which resulted in Susan Robinson-Fruchtl taking over the reins, SFU went through a series of abrupt changes, such as slowing down their offensive tempo a bit. Last season, the Red Flash averaged 79.8 possessions per 40 minutes (3rd in the nation), which led to 79.3 points per game (17th in the nation). This season, the numbers have taken a small dip, 75.8 possessions per 40 minutes and 73.6 points per game, however SFU is just as, if not more, efficient. Their shooting percentage and effective FG% have both increased and the team is sharing the basketball much better and more balanced, highlighted by 31 assists in a single game against Wagner back on January 28th.  

The team has also pulled back on their pressing with more of zone defense. These tweaks are changes that usually would take much of an entire offseason or pre-season to implement, but the Red Flash have had to pick them up on the fly. During their current five game win streak, SFU’s offensive numbers have been stellar: 145-298, 48.7% FG%…57-145, 39.3% 3pt%…87.2ppg.

Finally, we come to Jess Kovatch, who will always be a factor and draw a ton of attention, as she leads the league and stands eighth in the country in scoring, at 22.1 points per game. While RMU has shut down some fantastic scorers, they’ve had trouble locking down Kovatch in year’s past. In seven career games against Robert Morris, Kovach averages 25.4 points on 42.3% shooting. Last year, in particular, RMU didn’t have an answer for Kovatch, as she went off for 34.3 points over the three meetings. For the most part, RMU would start with Jocelynne Jones on Kovatch and eventually they would bring Nina Augustin and other guards on her as Kovatch started to heat up. It will be interesting to see how Coach Buscaglia and the Colonials decide to match up against Kovatch this time around.   

It will once again be the irresistible force going up against the immovable object in a key Keystone State collision on Monday night. The Colonials will first travel to Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon, looking to equal the 2003 and 2004 Red Flash, the 2009 Pioneers, and the 2013 Quinnipiac Bobcats as NEC teams since 2000 to start a conference season 12-0. Meanwhile, in a little bit of a scheduling quirk, the Red Flash will have to trek all the way down to the Garden State for a one-game road trip, a Saturday afternoon game against FDU, before taking the long bus ride back up to Loretto to prepare to host RMU.

A win over Saint Francis would get Robert Morris one step closer to assuring that this time around, any postseason meeting would take place in their own gym. Depending on how Saturday goes, a win could also open up a three, four, or five game edge over the Red Flash in the standings. For Saint Francis, they will look to stay hot on the trail of the Colonials for the regular season title race and also keep pace with Sacred Heart for the #2 spot in the standings. A SFU win could also possibly clinch a playoff spot for the Red Flash for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. These two teams will meet up again in Moon Township to close out the year on the final day of the regular season on Thursday, March 7th.    



THREE STARS

*For the games of February 9-11, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Haley Connors, BRY…Olivia Dabney, SHU…Kat Haines, SHU…Adrianne Hagood, SHU…Michaela Harrison, MSM…Jade Johnson, SFBK…Ally Lassen, SFBK… Candice Leatherwood, SHU…Amy O’Neill, SFBK…Courtney Zezza, SFU


THREE: Jess Kovatch, SR (SFU): Jess Kovatch keeps doing Jess Kovatch things. Coming off back to back Player of the Week honors, the reigning NEC Player of the Year recorded a total of 57 points in her two games, her highest scoring conference weekend of the season. Kovatch is second in the nation in three point field goals made per game and is second in NCAA history in career made threes.


TWO: Taylah Simmons, R-SO (WC): Simmons and Kovatch swap places this week in my ‘Three Stars’ with Simmons moving up to number two thanks to a monster game on Monday night that saw the Seahawks upend the Terriers. After 22 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday at LIU Brooklyn, Simmons recorded a season high 30 points, along with 12 rebounds against St. Francis Brooklyn. Her bucket in the lane with eight seconds to go would prove to be the game winner, leading the Seahawks to their first three game win streak since 2014-15. The redshirt sophomore has strung together three straight double-doubles to increase her total up to six on the season.


ONE: Brandy Thomas, FR (LIU): The initial reaction from her head coach, Stephanie Del Preore, who was caught on audio talking to herself while first catching a glance of the stat sheet prior to the start of her post-game interview on NEC Front Row, pretty much said it all: “Holy crap, 36 and 19, Brandy had a day!” On Monday night against Mount St. Mary’s LIU freshman Brandy Thomas had one of the most impressive outings in the entire conference this season. Her 36 points and 19 rebounds not only established personal career highs, but was the top individual scoring game this season in the league, helping lead the Blackbirds to their first conference win of the year. Thomas recorded double-doubles in both games played this past weekend, her ninth and tenth double-doubles of the season.



STAT OF THE WEEK


*On Monday night, SFU’s Jessica Kovatch is set to play in her 11th, and what could end up being her final, ESPN3 NEC game. Kovatch has risen to the occasion and put on a show just about every time the national broadcast cameras have come her way. In her career, Kovatch averages 28.1 points per game on 44.7% shooting and 43.2% from behind the arc in ESPN3 broadcasted conference games. Just as impressive, is her team’s 9-1 record and current eight-game NEC on ESPN3 win streak, with the Red Flash’s last ESPN3 loss against a league opponent coming back in Kovatch’s freshman year, a 92-71 semifinal setback against Sacred Heart.


A very special thanks this week to Mount head coach Maria Marchesano and senior guard Juliette Lawless. Be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, February 20th for a brand new WBB Fast Break column, as we sit down with the Wagner Seahawks and discuss their surprising start and run towards a playoff berth for the first time since 2014.

#NECWBB FAST BREAK 2/6/19

STARTING LINEUP: MID-SEASON AWARDS


Nine games of league play have come and gone and now just nine games remain until we get to the “Madness” that is the NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament coming up in March. As teams prepare to return to the courts this weekend for the first time in a week to begin the second half of their conference schedule, we wanted to take a moment to look at the landscape here at the halfway point and try to narrow down some of the top candidates for the end-of-the-year awards. Not necessarily to pick out specific mid-season winners, but to shine a light on the few players who we should be talking about and keeping an eye on, for each category, here in the second half.

With about a month to go, and still plenty of basketball left to play until the NEC coaches officially cast their ballots to make the final decisions, here are some players who, based on their first half play, probably should be in the conversation for the NEC awards come season’s end…


BRENDA REILLY NEC WBB COACH OF THE YEAR

At this rate, Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia is going to need to get a whole new wing built onto his house just to store all of his Coach of the Year awards. In two years as the Colonials head coach, Buscaglia took home Coach of the Year honors both seasons, becoming the third coach in NEC women’s basketball history to win the award in consecutive campaigns. In 2017, RMU won 22 games and the NEC Championship. In 2018, Buscaglia led RMU to a program record 25 wins and an appearance in the WNIT. While no coach has ever won the honor three straight years, Coach B is making an incredible case to be the first. In 2019, his team has been focused, consistent, balanced, and especially dominant on the defensive side, on their way to a perfect 9-0 league start.

Also to be strongly considered should be St. Francis Brooklyn’s Linda Cimino. In just her first season, Coach Cim has St. Francis Brooklyn at 12 wins overall (One win shy of matching their total from all of last year), and 6-3 in conference, which is good for a share of second place. She successfully inserted her up-tempo system, leading the Terriers to stand atop the league in scoring. She took a solid core group of returning players and have them putting up their best numbers. In addition, her arrival to Brooklyn Heights helped lead Ebony Horton and Dominique Ward to the program, who have both been key contributors to the Terriers 2019 success.

Finally, a third mid-season contender would be Jessica Mannetti, who won Coach of the Year back in 2016. Mannetti’s Pioneers burst out to a 6-0 start in league play before dropping their last three. It can be a blessing to have such a veteran roster at your disposal, but also a challenge to keep them learning and improving each day. After spending time with Sacred Heart for our column last week, I could see firsthand that Coach Mannetti has done a great job putting an emphasis on her players getting better each day and being great teammates, leading to very strong team chemistry and a great team culture.  


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

My mid-season All-Rookie Team, and the top five contenders for Rookie of the Year at the halfway point, would look like this (in no particular order):


-Michaela Harrison, MSM (12.4pts, 2.9reb, 2.4asst)
-Ebony Horton, SFBK (8.7pts, 3.4reb, 1.5asst)
-Brandy Thomas, LIU (12.1pts, 8.9reb, 1.5asst)
-Isabella Posset, RMU (7.9pts, 2.7reb, 2.7asst)
-Emilija Krista Grava, WC (11.1pts, 5.8reb)


LIU Brooklyn’s Brandy Thomas came out of the gate super strong, recording a double-double in her first seven straight games to start her career, and averaging a double-double for most of the season. Thomas currently leads the Blackbirds in rebounding and is second on her team in scoring behind a Rookie of the Year contender from a year ago, Jeydah Johnson.

While Emilija Krista Grava has missed the last three games for the Seahawks, her numbers from the entirety of the first half of the season give her a well-deserved seat at the mid-season All-Rookie table. The Wagner freshman won an early-season Rookie of the Week honor back in November and has averaged 12 points over her last eight games played, including a career high 19 points on January 14th against FDU.

When RMU sophomore Megan Callahan went down earlier this season due to injury, freshman Isabella Posset stepped up into her place and the Colonials haven’t missed a beat. Since entering the starting lineup in mid-December, Posset is second on the team, averaging 8.8 points per game. The Beaver, PA product is a three-time NEC Rookie of the Week, and leads the 9-0 Colonials in minutes played and assists, while standing second in steals and blocks.

Finally, Mount’s Michaela Harrison is a four time NEC Rookie of the Week, and leads all freshmen in scoring this year with 12.4 points per game.  After hitting a small “freshman wall” in December, Harrison made the proper adjustments, and has been on a tear. Harrison reached the halfway mark in NEC play riding an eight game streak of games with double-digit scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game during that run, and is coming off of an afternoon in which she tied a program record with eight made threes in a single game.

Harrison holds a four to three lead over Posset in Rookie of the Week’s this season. Keeping an eye on the weekly honor over the next month could end up providing a major clue as to who will end up with this award at season’s end. The last time a player had the most Rookie of the Week nods during the season but did not win the Rookie of the Year award was in 2013 when Wagner’s Jordyn Peck tied RMU’s Ashley Ravelli for the most, and Ravelli ended up taking home the honor.


MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Most Improved Player is the NEC’s newest award, first awarded during the 2015-16 season. It’s also one of the most difficult to forecast at the halfway point, since there could be a chance that the outstanding improvement that would merit winning this award is either in the process of happening or hasn’t fully materialized yet. However, three players who we can point to at this time who are almost assured of at least being in the final discussion are SFU’s Haley Thomas, St. Francis Brooklyn’s Ally Lassen, and Wagner’s Taylah Simmons.

Simmons enjoyed a solid redshirt-freshman campaign last year, finishing third on the Seahawks in points and assists. This year Simmons has stepped up to take over the lead role, leading the team with 14.4 points per game. In league play, she has been even better. Simmons ranks third in the league with 18.9 points per game against NEC foes, with only Jess Kovatch and Jade Johnson ahead of her.

Lassen played in 23 games last year as a freshman, but only averaged five minutes a game and scored 11 total points for the entire season. This year, Lassen has contributed 8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, making the most of her increased opportunities under Coach Cimino, averaging 17 minutes more court time. The Point Pleasant, NJ native was a frequent target for Amy O’Neill to feed in the post and lead to the basket back on January 21st in the Battle of Brooklyn, where Lassen netted 16 points.

Last year, Haley Thomas played 22 games with 14 minutes per game off of the bench for the NEC champion Red Flash, averaging 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds. Thomas has grown in confidence with a larger role this year and has been a versatile weapon for interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl, joining the starting lineup back on December 15th and averaging 11.6 points per game since. Thomas exploded for a career high 23 points against LIU back on January 12th, and over the last four games, she has been a double-digit scorer, averaging 15.8. Not to mention, Thomas has been nearly automatic from the free throw line this year, going 50-52 (96.2%), which would be second best in the country, however she falls just a few attempts shy of qualification.

One other interesting case to explore would be Sacred Heart’s Kat Haines who already won Most Improved Player and was in the Player of the Year conversation back in 2017. Last year, Haines battled injury and saw her level of play take a small dip from the outstanding year prior. However, as Coach Mannetti told us last week, this year Haines has stepped out of her comfort zone more than ever, been more vocal, and mentally tough. The SHU grad student is producing the best numbers of her career with 15.9 points and 9.1 rebounds. You could make the case the jump from where she was last year to the level of play she has been at this season is definitely ‘most improved’ worthy, however I’m not sure how receptive voters would be to vote for the same person to be Most Improved Player twice in a three year span. It would be an interesting conversation to have nonetheless.    


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Defensive Player of the Year is always a difficult award to forecast, since it all depends what you are looking at. Steals? Blocks? Rebounds? On the ball defensive skills that don’t show up in the stat sheet? Looking at each one of those categories could produce a different name.

To start, without question, Robert Morris has been the best defensive team, however the whole team can’t win the award. The best defensive player on the best defensive team is quite possibly Nneka Ezeigbo who leads the team in rebounding, blocks, and steals. If you look elsewhere, FDU’s Natalie Zamora, Wagner’s Nakylia Carter, and St. Francis Brooklyn’s Amy O’Neill are among the league leaders in steals, while SFU’s Courtney Zezza and SHU’s Katherine Haines top the leaderboard in blocks.

After speaking with several coaches over the last two weeks about the best defensive player(s) in the league, this seems to be the most ‘up-for-grabs’ award going into the second half of the season, with no clear consensus as there has been the last two years with Ace Harrison.  


PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Selecting the first team All-NEC and the top five candidates for Player of the Year through the first half of conference play seem to be a pretty easy choice. As always, someone else (like a Nneka Ezeigbo, for example) could enter into the discussion with an incredible second half run, but for the most part, these are your top contenders for the NEC’s top individual honor so far (in no particular order):


-Jess Kovatch, SFU (22.1ppg, 3.5reb, 1.7asst)
-Jade Johnson, SFBK (18.8ppg, 5.1reb, 1.1asst)
-Katherine Haines, SHU (15.9ppg, 9.1reb)
-Sydney Holloway, BRY (17.7ppg, 12.2reb)
-Juliette Lawless, MSM (18.2ppg, 4.4reb, 3.5asst)


If the middle of the conference season was two weeks ago when Sacred Heart was 6-0 and Kat Haines was coming off a triple-double and her 1,000th career point, she would have been the leader in the clubhouse, however her and her team’s struggles over the last three games have allowed other candidates to step up and state their case. This fluidity over just the last two weeks perfectly illustrates how up-for-grabs this award will be in the second half, possibly coming down to the final weekend of games.

One such candidate who has improved their case over the last two weeks is the reigning NEC Player of the Year Jess Kovatch. With Saint Francis operating a slightly different tempo on offense than last year, Kovatch’s numbers aren’t as strong, however numbers not as strong for Jess Kovatch are still pretty outstanding when compared to others. The NEC’s all-time leading scorer has led SFU in scoring the last 16 straight games, and over the last two weeks has averaged 29 points per game, including back to back 30 point performances. While winning consecutive Player of the Year honors is rare, it has happened three times, most recently in 2013-14 with Artemis Spanou.

Jade Johnson stands second in scoring, behind Kovatch, but has been more efficient, making 44% of her field goals and 45.5% of all threes. Holloway is the only NEC player currently averaging a double-double, while leading the NEC in rebounding with 12.2 per game. Finally, Lawless has been a top three scorer, while guiding a young Mountaineer team to their greatest start to a season in quite some time.


The second half of conference play gets underway on Saturday afternoon, February 9th. The actual NEC award winners for 2019 will be announced prior to the start of the NEC Tournament in early March. Still plenty of basketball left to decide who will be #NECElite for 2019 and walk away with the official hardware! 



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: The Robert Morris Colonials became the ninth NEC team since the turn of the century to start a conference season 9-0 when they defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 63-43 last Saturday. The Colonials are the second NEC team to begin 9-0 in back to back seasons, behind the Saint Francis Red Flash who started three straight seasons 9-0 from 2002-04.

The Colonials, who are in search of their third straight regular season championship and fourth in the last six years, have opened up a three game lead at the top of the standings. Believe it or not, Robert Morris will already have a shot to become the first team to officially punch their ticket into the 2019 Northeast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament this weekend based on their results against Bryant and Central Connecticut, as well as other results from around the league.

With their overtime victory at Sacred Heart last weekend, St. Francis Brooklyn forced a three way tie for second place in the standings, with the Terriers, Pioneers, and Red Flash all even at 6-3 in league play. The Red Flash have won three straight to make up ground, taking advantage of a Pioneer three game slide.

Two games outside of the top four, sit Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant, and Wagner, who are all tied at 4-5. The trio is only game ahead of Central Connecticut and Fairleigh Dickinson, who are tied at 3-6 for the eighth and final playoff position.


*THE ONE AND ONLY: On Saturday afternoon in Emmitsburg, MD, Saint Francis Red Flash senior Jessica Kovatch collected the only real notable Northeast Conference scoring record that was still left out there for her to achieve. With her fourth point of the game, coming in the first quarter on a free throw, Kovatch surpassed former Wagner men’s basketball star Terrance Bailey as the NEC’s all-time leading scorer.

Bailey, who played for Wagner from 1983-87 and earned a place in the NEC Hall of Fame, recorded 2,591 career points, holding on to the top spot in the league record books for the last 30-plus years. Kovatch now has accumulated 2,622 career points, more than any student-athlete who has suited up for a Northeast Conference basketball game over the last 38 years, and still has (at least) nine games in her career left to play.

The Red Flash will return to action coming up on Saturday at home against Central Connecticut State. The game will feature the special jersey ceremony honoring the former top scorer in NEC women’s basketball history, 2010 NEC Hall of Famer, Jess Zinobile. The ceremony will be part of SFU’s ongoing celebration of 50 years of female athletics at Saint Francis.   


*TERRIER TRIPLE-DOUBLE: On Saturday afternoon, Amy O’Neill helped lead St. Francis Brooklyn to an overtime win at Sacred Heart by recording 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in 44 minutes of action – recording the first triple-double in St. Francis Brooklyn women’s basketball history. The senior point guard has flirted with the feat on several occasions this year, including: 9pts/11reb/8asst vs. LIU, 20pts/9reb/9asst vs. SHU, 15pts/8reb/8asst vs. Albany, and 12pts/11reb/9asst vs. Loyola.

O’Neill’s triple-double becomes the 12th in league history, and the second recorded this season. Ironically, it was in the previous Terrier/Pioneer game back on January 19th when Sacred Heart grad student Katherine Haines had 25 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 blocked shots, recording the first triple-double in Pioneer history.

2019 becomes the second season in NEC history which has seen multiple triple-doubles. The first, back in 2008, saw Robert Morris’ Chinata Nesbit record both of the triple-doubles herself, including one in the NEC Tournament.


*BLUE DEVIL BUZZER BEATER: Central Connecticut State won their second straight game and third game in their last five, in thrilling fashion on Saturday with a buzzer-beating 66-65 victory against Bryant. Trailing by double figures entering the fourth quarter, Central managed to chip away at the deficit and find themselves tied at 61 with two minutes to play. Thirty seconds later, senior Kiana Patterson would give the Blue Devils their first lead since early in the third quarter with a jumper to make the score 63-61.

Bryant ended a six minute field goal drought with a Kiera Palmer three pointer to stun the Detrick Gym crowd and give Bryant back control with 18 seconds left to spare. After a Sydney Holloway steal, she was intentionally fouled. Holloway made one of two from the line to give Bryant a 65-63 advantage. Hannah Scanlan was then fouled with five seconds left, but she came up empty on a pair of free throw attempts, keeping Central alive, and setting the stage for the game-ending dramatics.

Following a timeout, Blue Devil senior Andi Lydon inbounded to Kiana Patterson in the left corner, whose three-ball was off the mark, but caromed hard off of the rim and back out to the top of the key, back to Lydon. Lydon quickly flipped the ball over to her right and junior guard Bruna Vila Artigues, who banked in the trifecta as time expired, giving the Blue Devils the 66-65 win.

Artigues scored a career high 13 points on 5-7 shooting, and 3-4 from beyond the arc, with six rebounds and four assists. The Blue Devils will look for their first three game win streak of the season when they travel to Pennsylvania to meet the reigning champion SFU, a team they beat by 11 points last month.

For more on Artigues, and her journey from Spain, to Wyoming, and now to New Britain, CT, check out this great article and video feature from NBC CT’s Gabrielle Lucivero…



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, February 9, 2019

(4-5) Mount St. Mary’s at (6-3) Sacred Heart, 12pm (ESPN3)
(3-6) Fairleigh Dickinson at (6-3) St. Francis Brooklyn, 1pm
(4-5) Wagner at (0-9) LIU Brooklyn, 2pm
(3-6) Central Connecticut at (6-3) Saint Francis U, 4pm
(4-5) Bryant at (9-0) Robert Morris, 7pm (ESPN3)


Monday, February 11, 2019

(3-6) Fairleigh Dickinson at (6-3) Sacred Heart, 6pm
(4-5) Bryant at (6-3) Saint Francis U, 6pm
(3-6) Central Connecticut at (9-0) Robert Morris, 7pm
(4-5) Mount St. Mary’s at (0-9) LIU Brooklyn, 7pm
(6-3) St. Francis Brooklyn at (4-5) Wagner, 7pm


GAME(S) OF THE WEEK PREVIEW:
2/9/19 – Mount St. Mary’s at Sacred Heart, 12pm &

Bryant at Robert Morris, 7pm (ESPN3)


For the first time in a week, Northeast Conference women’s basketball teams will return to the hardwood on Saturday to tip off the second half of the league schedule. Saturday’s slate will feature a national broadcast double-header, starting in Fairfield at noon with Mount St. Mary’s visiting Sacred Heart and finishing up in the Keystone State as Bryant meets Robert Morris at 7pm.

The Mountaineers and Pioneers will be a matchup featuring two teams who had a ton of momentum, lost it, and now will be trying to get it back. Sacred Heart had won six straight to start NEC play before dropping their last three in a row, including last weekend’s home overtime loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. Mount had won three straight, and four out of five, before falling to Saint Francis U at home last Saturday afternoon on ESPN3.

One fascinating element to watch for is with the pace of play. Mount averages the most possessions per 40 minutes in the NEC at 72.8, while Sacred Heart averages the least at 67.9. The Pioneers want to move faster and should have the opportunity on Saturday. The Pioneers have played smart and efficient, only turning the ball over 13.8 times per game (fewest in NEC) and are sporting the second ranked scoring defense in the league, only giving up 62.8 points per game. To contrast, the Mount score 69 points per game, while shooting at 40%. The Mountaineers, with their extra possessions gained by moving at their pace, also attempt 26.3 three pointers per game, which stands as second most in the NEC.

“They play really fast, and one of the things that we want to challenge ourselves to do is continue to play faster,” said Pioneers head coach Jessica Mannetti. “The more possessions we have the opportunity to have, the more we will be able to score.”

After averaging 68.3 points on 40.9% shooting during their six game run to start league play, the Pioneers have only managed 55.7 points on 33.1% shooting during their current three game skid.

Another noticeable difference is Sacred Heart boasting the experience factor of three grad students, two seniors, and no freshman, while the Mount is almost entirely made up of underclassmen. The major exception is Mount’s standout senior Juliette Lawless, who stands third in the league in scoring, and will look to bounce back after a disappointing eight point performance last week against SFU.

“Sacred Heart, in my mind, has all the pieces,” commented Mount head coach Maria Marchesano. “They have post players that can play inside and out, dynamic guards, shooters, and they have experience. There is a lot to look out for when you are playing Sacred Heart.” 

SHU’s overtime loss to the Terriers at the Pitt Center last weekend ended a run of nine straight home wins in conference play. Sacred Heart will enter the weekend holding a two game lead over Mount in the league standings. Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on ESPN3 beginning at noon with myself and Pam Roecker on the call from the Pitt Center.   

But the action doesn’t end there! To close out the evening, longtime rivals, the Bryant Bulldogs and Robert Morris Colonials, will renew acquaintances at the North Athletic Complex in Moon Township. 

This will be a rematch from a game back on January 19th in Smithfield, won by the Colonials 60-57. Leading by two, and with 33 seconds left, RMU’s Nadege Pluviose blocked Bryant’s Sydney Holloway’s game tying attempt. After RMU split a pair of free throw tries, Bryant had one final shot to extend the game and force overtime, but Holloway’s three point attempt swirled around the rim and just out as time expired.

The Colonials will be looking to match the 2016 Bulldogs with the fifth best start to a conference season since 2000 at 10-0. That 2016 season was the third year, in what would go on to be a four consecutive year stretch, where Bryant would have their season end at the hands of Robert Morris in the NEC Tournament.

Robert Morris continues to lead the league, and stand among the nation’s leaders, in scoring defense (55.9 points per game), field goal percentage defense (37.2%), and turnovers forced (20.4 per game). On offense, nine different Colonials have taken turns leading the team in scoring, however as of late, Nneka Ezeigbo has been a growing force. Going back to the previous meeting with Bryant, where she led the team with 12 points and eight rebounds, Ezeigbo has averaged 13 points and 9.6 rebounds over her last five outings.

“They always play hard and have some tough players to deal with,” said Colonial head coach Charlie Buscaglia. “But always when you know you’re going to play Bryant, you know they are going to be well coached, they are going to play hard, and they always have some pieces that are difficult to deal with.”

Bryant has suffered three single possession losses in league play this year, including a heartbreaking loss at the buzzer last weekend at Central Connecticut. Sydney Holloway has recorded three straight double-doubles, and 13 overall on the season, for the Bulldogs.

The veteran crew of Paul Dottino and Karen Hall will be on the call from Moon Township, with the tip time set for 7pm on ESPN3.



THREE STARS

*For the games of February 2, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Michaela Harrison, MSM…Sydney Holloway, BRY…Jade Johnson, SFBK…Candice Leatherwood, SHU…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Haley Thomas, SFU…Bruna Vila Artigues, CCSU


THREE: Taylah Simmons, R-SO (WC): Wagner redshirt-sophomore Taylah Simmons has been on a tear since the calendar turned over to 2019, averaging 18.9 points and 6.3 rebounds in league play. Simmons’ scoring average in NEC play ranks third in the league. After recording a career high 28 points two Saturday’s ago against Mount St. Mary’s, Simmons led the Seahawks with 27 points and 15 rebounds this week against LIU Brooklyn, with 19 of her 27 points coming in the second half.


TWO: Jess Kovatch, SR (SFU): Red Flash senior Jess Kovatch once again rose to the occasion in the ESPN3 spotlight on Saturday, scoring a season-high 34 points against Mount St. Mary’s. Kovatch struggled from the field early, but still managed to surpass Wagner’s Terrance Bailey for the NEC’s all-time scoring mark on a free-throw in the first quarter. Overall, Kovatch cashed in on 14 of her season high 16 free throw attempts. She would go on to shoot 7-17 from the field on the afternoon, with six of the seven made field goals coming from beyond the arc. Kovatch continues to pace the league, and sit top 10 in the nation, averaging 22.1 points per game on the year and 24.8 points per game in conference play.


ONE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): After several close calls earlier this year (9 points, 11 rebounds, & 8 assists vs. LIU…20 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists vs. SHU…15 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists vs. Albany…and 12 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists vs. Loyola) Amy O’Neill finally recorded a triple double on Saturday in the Terriers overtime win against Sacred Heart. O’Neill played 44 minutes and finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists, including the game winning dish to Dominique Ward in the final seconds of overtime. The triple double is the first in St. Francis Brooklyn history, 12th in Northeast Conference history, and second recorded in the NEC this season. 



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Three out of the last four years, a team that sported a sub-.500 NEC record at the halfway point of league play, managed to go on and advance to, at least, the NEC tournament semifinals: 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn, 2017 Bryant, and 2018 Sacred Heart


Join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, February 13th for a brand new WBB Fast Break column, featuring Mount St. Mary’s senior guard Juliette Lawless.

#NECWBB FAST BREAK 1/30/19


STARTING LINEUP: SACRED HEART




The Sacred Heart Pioneers women’s basketball team began NEC play this year at 6-0, one of their best starts in quite some time. One could make a case that the Pioneers are actually just picking up right where they left off last year.

Last season, the Pioneers brought six freshmen into the mix, and went through some early growing pains, getting off to a 3-8 start. However, after the first week in February, things clicked into high gear and Sacred Heart went on an incredible surge, winning six out of their final seven regular season games and advancing to at least the NEC Tournament semi-final round for the third straight season, and for the fifth time in the last seven years.  

As far as the experience factor is concerned, things have completely turned around. The Pioneers now boast one of the most experienced lineups in the NEC, with no freshmen, two seniors, and three grad students on their roster.

In the Northeast Conference, there are currently six women’s basketball student-athletes listed as graduate students. As mentioned, Sacred Heart features three out of those six, with Katherine Haines, Erin Storck, and Kiana Ye all having walked last spring and currently in the midst of their graduate school programs.

Last week we had a chance to catch up with Pioneers head coach Jessica Mannetti to discuss the advantages of having such a veteran group this season and each of her three graduate students on the Pioneers roster…

On the advantages of having a veteran roster in 2018-19: “Last year with six freshmen we made a lot of freshman mistakes. Just getting the flow of the system down and being able to know how everybody plays together was a challenge. This year, having that experience under our belt, having gone to Argentina, and having practiced with each other over the summer, they were firing on all cylinders, really connecting well.”

On Katherine Haines: “She’s really taken a lot of ownership. This is the first year I’ve seen her mentally be really, really tough. She was battling injury last year, was Most Improved Player of the league two years ago, so she works. She wants to get better, she wants to help her team, but she doesn’t ever really want to be in the spotlight. But this year, as a senior, she is like, ‘I’m not leaving here Coach without a banner, I’m not leaving here without a ring. I’m going to do it by stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit, being more vocal, being able to do the things that they know I can do to really help them. So, I think her mindset changed and that’s allowed her to do what she does. We all knew she was capable of this. She’s been fun to coach, and she’s excited for what she’s been able to do. I’m excited to see how she continues this season.”

On Erin Storck: “Erin is a really special kid. She graduated college in three years. She’s now getting her MBA in her fourth year. When she started as a freshman, she didn’t really have a large offensive presence. Over the last three years, she really has come into her own offensively. She’s really a complete player right now. She’s been a real special part of our program, just with how she works hard all of the time and she’ll never let anyone outwork her.”

On Kiana Ye: “Kiana has got some tough breaks. But the thing about her, which I admire so much, is that she’s always positive. She helps the team so much with her energy, she is such a great advocate for Sacred Heart women’s basketball. She really is a positive presence in our women’s basketball community. She’s going to be very successful in life. She’s a savvy businesswoman, really smart, and great with people. She has done such a great job of being a presence of positive energy, and I’m really proud of her and what she has done.”    


Last week, before the Pioneers embarked on their Pennsylvania road trip to Saint Francis U and Robert Morris, we had a chance to sit down for a special round table discussion with two of SHU’s grad students, Erin Storck (ES), a marketing major and in the MBA program with a concentration in visual marketing, and Kiana Ye (KY), a business management major and in the MBA program with a concentration in management, to discuss their academic career as well as Sacred Heart women’s basketball…

CD: What was the workload like over the years, taking on extra credits in addition to basketball and other responsibilities? What was it like having to manage all of that?

ES: We’re lucky that we get to take classes over the summer. So even incoming as a freshman, you get credits that transfer in from high school, but then we have those summer classes that we are mandated to take in the beginning, help push us along and get us ahead of the game. For me personally, it got me adjusted to the college life very quickly, which was nice. As a freshman you have to deal with the beginning of classes, basketball, all of that. It was nice to have basketball kind of under your belt a little bit and classes under your belt.

KY: I completely agree. The pace and everything coming in over the summer, it’s like a job. You have basketball and then you have online classes or in class for three hours a day, so it’s not bad. It benefits us in the long run.

ES: And the good benefit of academics and athletics is that we were able to build good relationships with our professors. I really feel like the professor relationships helped me. I was able to go to their office hours and get a better connection with them. Being a basketball player, several of our professors, like Professor Scarpati, always comes to our basketball games, and that kind of support is amazing. They understand the workload, but they also hold us to a high expectation.

CD: Do you think it is any benefit that you already completed graduation and are already in the graduate program, that those pressures are already behind you during this basketball season?

ES: The only sacrifice is that because of our time commitment, other people are able to get more internships and job experience at this point. We both have internships and jobs during our offseason, but that time commitment cuts us a little short.

KY: The journey leading up to grad school was long, but honestly it was amazing. Getting your masters paid for and getting it in five years is awesome to put on your resume, and the employers get to see that. I think everything will be worth it, and seem worth it, when I clinch my first job. So that’s been a little pressure lately, but honestly, we’re set up for success at Sacred Heart.

CD: What kind of internship experiences have you had?

KY: This past summer I worked with a graphic design internship in NYC, with the fashion industry. That’s where I’m heading for too, so it was a good experience.

ES: Mine was at home, it was a marketing company. It was cool because they worked a lot with packaged goods, displays, and a lot of it was in the cosmetic industry. For me it was exposure to a side of the industry that I didn’t even know existed. That kind of opened my eyes that there is a lot of opportunity out there that I didn’t even know exists.

CD: Switching gears to basketball, what has been the key to the team’s great start this year?

KY: We’re having fun. First game we won, second game, and now it’s a six game, and we’re like, ‘wow this is a lot of fun.’ And we’re really hungry. Especially being here for five years, being so close. But now we just want the ring. We want the banners, we want the ring, and with this group of girls, makes it real special.

CD: It does seem like you guys are having fun and there’s this special vibe with your team. Are you sensing that too?

ES: Absolutely. Obviously, we have our long-term goals that we’re all committed to. Coach has made an emphasis on the day to day, getting better every day, and a big emphasis is on being good teammates. When we are good teammates to each other, that is when we have so much fun with each other. That’s extra high fives, extra celebrations, our games are just more exciting to play when we are playing for each other.

CD: A few years back, you had the NEC championship game was right here at the Pitt Center. How much of that experience do you think about, especially now that it’s your last go around, to try and get back to that point and have a different outcome?

KY: I think about it every day. And it’s good that we experienced it, because now the younger girls, they see that we’ve been there and all the experiences that we’ve been through.

ES: It goes back to that ‘hungry’. Hungry is a big word for us, because we were so close. We saw it in front of us, and now with a whole new squad, we’re like ‘it’s go time.’

CD: What were some of your memories of going to Argentina with the team over the summer?

ES: The experience was unbelievable. Never in my life did I think that would be an opportunity. Then to share it with the people that I shared it with, with this team and the coaches, was unbelievable. Then having the basketball exposure, that was just an added benefit. We were able to play their national team, and all of it was kind of surreal, but I was happy we were able to do it with the people we did it with, because that made it so special.

KY: That’s the thing, basketball takes you to places that you would never expect. Argentina, the culture, and the people, and the food, it was all a great experience. And getting in the gym early gave us an advantage, we got to work together, play against national teams, so it was a great experience.

CD: Have you ever seen Kat (Haines) play as well as she has been playing over the last few weeks?

KY: I think it goes back to the hungry part. Even in the summer, we had internships in the city every day, so we took the train at 6am every day, and we had talks about ‘what do you want for the season?’ She’s hungry, she was hungry since the summer. That’s the attitude that’s not new for Kat, she’s always been so competitive, but this has been a whole new level.

CD: How do you plan on leaving the place better than how you found it, when your playing career with SHU is done after this year?

ES: A big thing the both of us have emphasized is the importance of team chemistry. Kiana specifically led the way with that, not just on the court but off the court. When we had six freshmen last year, she made sure to take them under her wing. I feel like leaving that mark will be important moving forward. The season is so long, we have to be a family in order to succeed. I know the girls under us will do the same thing moving forward because of the impact that we’ve had on them, and they will want to continue that.

KY: This year five seniors are leaving, and then we’ll have a whole new round of girls coming in. So we’re hoping, exactly what Erin said, that they are going to take them under their wing, spread the culture, and be like ‘we’re a family and we love each other.’ When Adaysha Williams, Hannah Kimmel, and Kelcey Castro were here they did the same for us, so that’s the culture and the history that Sacred Heart basketball brings. 

CD: Looking forward, where do you see yourself in 4-5 years?

ES: I always joke that I want to be retired

KY: Great question, I’ve been asking myself that every day. I’ve been applying to jobs every day. Right now, my goal is to get into the fashion industry and see where that brings me. I’m very ambitious and flexible, that’s what basketball taught me, so we’ll see.

CD: Finally, what does the team need to do or continue to do in order to win that championship this year?

ES: Stay focused on our strengths, on staying together, playing for each other, and being good teammates. The season is long and we’re expecting highs and lows. We just want to make sure that, at least if we can stay consistent on the things we can control, that will give us the best outcome.

KY: Stay confident, stay having fun, and look at it day by day. Long term goals are awesome, but we have to work hard 100% of the time and we can’t take a play off, because that play we take off, someone is going to punch us in the throat, so we just got to keep working.


Coming off of a tough Pennsylvania road trip, the Pioneers will return home for the start of a three game homestand on Saturday, February 2nd, when they host the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers.



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: For the second straight season the Robert Morris Colonials completed a perfect January and an 8-0 start in conference play, with victories this past weekend against Wagner (69-46) and Sacred Heart (64-46). The Colonials stand in sole possession of first place, two games clear of the Pioneers.

In Monday night’s victory over Sacred Heart, the Colonials dominated down low from the get-go, outscoring the Pioneers in the paint 36-14. RMU’s duo of Nneka Ezeigbo and Ire Ozzy-Momodu combined for 30 points and 22 rebounds, while holding the reigning Player of the Week, Katherine Haines, to just seven points and four rebounds on the night.

In his post-game NEC Front Row interview with Adam Gusky, Colonials head coach Charlie Buscaglia commented on the play of his centers, “They really controlled inside today. They were very good in the post, very strong. They played with a great pace, they weren’t going 100 miles an hour, but they were explosive and aggressive in the post. It definitely set the tone for the game.”

In conference play, RMU has allowed only 50.8 points per game, holding opponents to under 50 points four times. Their stingy defense has also held opponents to 33% shooting and has forced nearly 20 turnovers per game.

Robert Morris, who hasn’t lost a game in January since 2017, will hit the road to begin the month of February with a one-game road trip in New Jersey. RMU will look to equal last year’s 9-0 league start on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson. With a win, the Colonials would be the ninth team since the turn of the century to start at least 9-0 in NEC play, but the first ever to do it in consecutive seasons. 



Meanwhile, following a pair of losses in Pennsylvania, the Sacred Heart Pioneers slip down to second in the standings, one game ahead of St. Francis Brooklyn and Saint Francis U. The Pioneers will look to rebound and keep control of the #2 spot when they host St. Francis Brooklyn on Saturday. The Pioneers and Terriers just met nearly two weeks ago in Brooklyn, as SHU squeaked out a two point win with a pair of defensive stops in the final seconds.

Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant are currently tied for fifth place, one game back of the Terriers and Red Flash, while Fairleigh Dickinson and Wagner are sitting tied for seventh place. Central Connecticut picked up a huge win on Monday night against LIU Brooklyn 63-57 to stay one game out of the top eight.



*ANOTHER MOUNT MONDAY: Last week here in the NEC Overtime! Blog we brought up the interesting discrepancy between Mount’s numbers in conference games on Saturday compared to Monday. This week, the Mount kept that Monday momentum rolling with a thrilling 78-75 victory over St. Francis Brooklyn. The battle between two of the top shooting teams in the league was a back and forth tussle that saw nine ties, 13 lead changes, and the largest lead for either team stand at seven points. It would come down to the final eight seconds and a missed three by Amy O’Neill before the Mount could seal the win.

Four Mountaineers finished in double figures scoring, with senior Juliette Lawless leading the way with a 28 point effort on 11-19 shooting and 4-6 from three. Both teams shot over 40% for the game. Mount had the advantage from behind the arc, netting 12 made threes, but the Terriers cashed in at the charity stripe, going 14-18. A key difference was the Mount committing only nine turnovers, while forcing 19 Terrier miscues, and turning them into 22 points.

In her post-game interview on NEC Front Row, Mount head coach Maria Marchesano commented on the team’s victory, “I remember a lot of people saying ‘we can’t wait for these two teams to play’ and it lived up to its bill. I’m really proud of our team’s effort. They’re gassed, they left it all out on the floor. It was a hard fought battle, a typical conference game.”

Mount improved to 3-1 on Mondays since the start of conference play, with their Monday NEC numbers continuing to look more impressive than any other day of the week…


Mount Mondays: 104-248, 41.9% FG…37-114, 32.5% 3PT…72.8ppg…15 turnovers per game   


Unfortunately, next week’s schedule does not include a Monday game, so the Mountaineers will have to wait until February 11th to take the court again for another “Mount Monday” opportunity when they travel to LIU Brooklyn.


*HITTING THE CENTURY MARK: For the fourth time this season, a Northeast Conference team reached triple digits on the scoreboard, as the Saint Francis Red Flash defeated the Wagner Seahawks 107-70 on Monday night. The 107 points marked the second highest scoring total in the league this season (behind St. Francis Brooklyn’s 110 points back on November 16th) and the fifth highest point total for a single game in Red Flash history.

Among the impressive offensive numbers: SFU shot 60.9% from the floor, made a season high 18 three pointers on the night (second most for a single game in program history), and produced an incredible 31 assists on 39 made field goals (also second most for a single game in program history).

“Really great performance tonight. I’m really proud of these guys, particularly for the teamwork. We really shared the basketball,” said interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl in the post-game press conference. “We’ve seen a lot of improvement over this weekend and we have to continue that. We’re in February now, next weekend is February. We’re going on the road again to a real feisty Mount St. Mary’s team that I know will be ready for us, but we’ll take a lot of confidence into that game.”


*1,000 POINTS: Congratulations to the latest 1,000 point scorer in the Northeast Conference, St. Francis Brooklyn senior Maria Palarino. The Terrier senior became the 17th member of the St. Francis Brooklyn 1,000 point club, and the fourth NEC women’s basketball player to reach the 1,000 point mark this season. Palarino reached the milestone on a layup late in the second quarter of Monday night’s game at Mount St. Mary’s.

Looking ahead, there are four other NEC women’s basketball players on track to possibly reach 1,000 points by the end of the season, including: SFBK’s Jade Johnson (81 points away), FDU’s Madelynn Comly (114 points away), Mount’s Juliette Lawless (170 points away), and SHU’s Erin Storck (193 points away).



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, February 2, 2019
(4-4) Bryant at (2-6) Central Connecticut State, 1pm
(5-3) Saint Francis U at (4-4) Mount St. Mary’s, 1pm (ESPN3)
(0-8) LIU Brooklyn at (3-5) Wagner, 1pm
(5-3) St. Francis Brooklyn at (6-2) Sacred Heart, 1pm
(8-0) Robert Morris at (3-5) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2pm


GAME OF THE WEEK PREVIEW:
2/2/19 – Saint Francis U at Mount St. Mary’s, 1pm (ESPN3)


The NEC women’s basketball conference schedule enters February and hits the halfway point with a single game weekend. In a one week only break from the usual Saturday-Monday routine, teams will play on Saturday afternoon and then have a full week before they return to action again on Saturday, February 9th.

This week’s feature game will be our ESPN3 “Game of the Week” with the reigning champion, Saint Francis Red Flash visiting Emmitsburg, MD to take on the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers with Paul Dottino and Joe DeSantis on the call.

The Red Flash and Mountaineers will both come in with a ton of momentum. After starting 3-0 and then dropping three straight, SFU rebounded with a strong sweep this past weekend of Sacred Heart and Wagner. Saint Francis averaged 96 points on 55% shooting in the two games, while only allowing an average of 69 points. On the other side, after starting NEC play 0-3, and 1-4 in their first five, the Mount have won three in a row and four out of their last five. Senior Juliette Lawless has averaged 22.7 points on 54.8% shooting during their current three game streak.

Standing in the ESPN3 national broadcast spotlight will be the top two scorers in the NEC, SFU’s Jess Kovatch (21.5ppg) and Mount’s Juliette Lawless (18.7ppg). While these two top stars will certainly draw a ton of attention, there are several other notable standouts to pay close attention too. Mount freshman Michaela Harrison turned a lot of heads in non-conference play when she recorded a 30 point outing in just her fifth career contest back in November against Towson. While she struggled to maintain that level of play in the few games immediately thereafter, she has really turned it on as of late. Harrison made her way back into the starting lineup for the last four games, averaging 15ppg during that stretch. For SFU, Courtney Zezza is coming off perhaps her hottest shooting weekend of her career, connecting on eight threes over the two game span. Also, Red Flash sophomore Haley Thomas has been among the most improved players in the league this year. In conference play, the Hooversville, PA native is second on the team, averaging 12.3 points per game (up from averaging only 1.9ppg in NEC play last year). Thomas has also gone 39-40 on the season from the charity stripe, converting on 38 straight free throws since her last miss back in November against Seton Hill.  

In Saturday’s game, all eyes figure to be focused on the three point line, as Saint Francis U and Mount St. Mary’s are the top two teams in three pointers made and three pointers attempted in conference play. These two teams already met back on the opening weekend of conference play in early January, with SFU coming away with a 68-66 victory at home. In that game, both teams combined for 54 three point attempts. In fact, 45% of all shots taken in that game came from three-point land.

The game would feature plenty of drama, with five ties and 12 lead changes. With the game tied at 63 and a minute and a half showing on the clock, SFU’s Karson Swogger drained a three, followed by a pair of Kovatch free throws to put the Flash up five. Harrison answered with a three with 38 seconds to spare, to cut the deficit to two. Swogger appeared to make the game clinching three with six seconds to go, however after a video replay, a shot clock violation was called instead. Mount would receive one final opportunity, however Daly Sullivan’s three point attempt from the corner would fall short, as the Red Flash escaped with the win.

Historically, SFU has won three straight meetings and seven out of their last eight against the Mountaineers. This game will also include some very early postseason implications. The teams are only separated by one game in the standings, with the winner assured to finish the first half of conference play in the top four. A Red Flash win would also clinch the season series tiebreaker against Mount, which could come into play for seeding purposes and home court advantage, when we reach the conclusion of the regular season. 



THREE STARS

*For the games of January 26-28, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Michaela Harrison, MSM…Sydney Holloway, BRY…Jade Johnson, SFBK…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Ire Ozzy-Momodu, RMU…Maria Palarino, SFBK…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Hannah Scanlan, BRY…Taylah Simmons, WC…Haley Thomas, SFU


THREE: Courtney Zezza, SR (SFU): Zezza put together her most impressive weekend of the conference season, scoring 17 points on Saturday against Sacred Heart and 15 points on Monday against Wagner. Zezza shot 55% for the weekend, including a blistering 47% from beyond the arc. The Plum, PA native, recorded a career high five threes against the Pioneers, including three straight makes in the final minute of the third quarter.


TWO: Jess Kovatch, SR (SFU): The NEC’s all-time leading scorer recorded a combined 53 points on the weekend, while shooting a red hot 63%. Against the Pioneers, Kovatch scored 23 points on 7-11 shooting. Then on Monday night against Wagner, Kovatch recorded her second 30 point game of the season. In the first half against the Seahawks, she was nearly ‘can’t miss,’ with 18 points on 6-10 shooting and 4-7 from three. Overall, Kovatch would finish the night with 30 points on 10-16 shooting and 6-10 from downtown. Kovatch is a top 15 scorer in the country and stands third in the nation in three point field goals made per game.


ONE: Nneka Ezeigbo, JR (RMU): On a weekend where the Robert Morris Colonials looked pretty dominant in the post during victories over Wagner and Sacred Heart, Nneka Ezeigbo earns our top “Star of the Week.” Ezeigbo posted a pair of double-doubles with 13 points and a season-high 17 rebounds against Wagner on Saturday, and then followed that up with 16 points and 11 rebounds in a battle for first place against Sacred Heart. Ezeigbo partnered with sophomore Ire Ozzy-Momodu to firmly control the paint against the Pioneers. The duo combined for 30 points and 22 rebounds on the night, and helped lead the Colonials to a 36-14 advantage in points in the paint. Since the start of conference play, Ezeigbo has been amongst the league’s best in rebounding, steals, and usage rate, while leading the league in offensive rebounds.



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Saint Francis U senior guard Jess Kovatch has 2,588 career points, four points shy of surpassing Wagner’s Terrance Bailey (1983-87) for the most points scored in NEC men’s or women’s basketball history. Kovatch can become the leading scorer in all of Northeast Conference basketball on Saturday afternoon when the Red Flash visit Mount St. Mary’s on ESPN3.


Thank you to Sacred Heart grad students Erin Storck and Kiana Ye for taking the time to sit down with us this week for our feature round table chat. Join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, February 6th for a special edition of the NEC WBB Fast Break column. As teams hit the halfway point of the conference season following action on Saturday, we will roll out the red carpet and present the nominees for the Fast Break NEC Mid-Season Awards!

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 1/23/19

NEC double-doubles leader Sydney Holloway

STARTING LINEUP: SYDNEY HOLLOWAY


Under head coach Mary Burke, the Bryant Bulldogs women’s basketball program has developed a strong reputation over the years for producing extremely talented post players. In particular, over the last decade, Bulldog forwards Alex Klein, Breanna Rucker, Naana Ankoma-Mensa, and Kelsey O’Keefe have all earned all-conference honors. So too has current Bulldog, junior forward Sydney Holloway. Holloway was a first team all-conference selection in 2018 as a sophomore, scored her 1,000th career point earlier this season, reaching the milestone faster than any player in Bryant’s D1 history, and is also on track to join Rucker and Ankoma-Mensa with over 1,000 career rebounds.

But way before Holloway became a dominant force for the Bulldogs in Smithfield, she was a fourth grader in Morgantown, West Virginia, just starting to realize her true athletic talents. “I did all kinds of sports. I played a little bit of soccer and then I did swimming,” reflected Holloway, “I have two older sisters that are twins, Haley and Ashley, and they had done basketball too. I really looked up to them because they’re my same position as well. I just picked up tips and little tricks from what they’ve done and I’ve just kind of tweaked them and changed them into my own and how I play the game. My fourth grade game, I think I was pretty athletic. I felt that this is the game that I love and I want to do on a regular basis, and that I want to keep on growing and planning to be better in.”

When she was in middle school going into high school, Holloway’s mom took her to lessons, private coaches, and helped get her into different AAU teams. It was there, with her AAU coach’s connections, that she first was introduced to the Northeast Conference and Bryant University. Holloway played on the West Virginia Thunder for Coach Scott Johnson, on a team with a bunch of Division 1 talent. “My AAU coach was really familiar was Robert Morris. He said there are some really good schools in the NEC, so I had connections from that standpoint. Coach (Burke) called me and said ‘we’re really interested in you.’ Then Coach Parsons came down for a home visit and was telling me about Bryant.”

“We first saw her during the spring of her junior year,” said Bulldogs assistant coach Jonathan Parsons. “We had some interest because she reminded us of Bree (Breanna Rucker)…she played very much like Bree. (In AAU) she played around a lot of good players that made her look that much better. We really got into heavy recruiting her in August and Coach (Burke) did a lot of the phone communication. She came up to campus at the end of August, right before her senior year, her and her mom. We showed her around and she really liked it. She committed right before September and we were really excited because we knew Bree was going into her senior year and we had her replacement waiting in the wings.”  

“I was like ‘Smithfield, Rhode Island? I don’t know where that is! It’s going to be a different change,” said Holloway. “So I said ‘Ok, this is going to be something different, coming from West Virginia to go all the way up north.’ But I’m the type of person, I like change.”

“Come the fall, I was able to get down there during the contact period in September to do a home visit to reaffirm their commitment to us and our commitment to them,” said Coach Parsons. “I had a chance to meet the rest of her family, her two sisters, and her stepdad. I went to meet her high school coach and watched her in a high school open gym workout. So it was a cool experience to see where she grew up in Morgantown.”  

Going into her freshman season, expectations in Smithfield were high, as the Bulldogs were coming off of a 14 win conference season and a semi-final appearance in the NEC Tournament the year before. Bryant was selected third in the pre-season poll, and they hoped to take that next step towards a championship in 2016-17, also hoping that Holloway would be a key part of it. Looking back now, Holloway admits that there were some tough moments making the transition to the college game and meeting Coach Burke’s and the team’s high expectations, “It was hard to adjust at first, I’m not going to lie, but I had older teammates that I looked up to who told me ‘don’t worry about it.’”

In her first season, Holloway would play a “sixth man” role, seeing 18 minutes a game off of the bench, while averaging 8.3 points and 5.5 rebounds. The two post players in the starting lineup ahead of her, seniors Alex Kline and Morgan Olander, Holloway credits as mentors and a huge help to her making the transition to college basketball and making the adjustment to Coach Burke’s coaching style. The Bulldogs would make a remarkable run in 2017, all the way to their first NEC Championship Game, before falling to longtime nemesis Robert Morris 65-52. Holloway pulled down seven rebounds in 18 minutes of action in her first career final appearance.

“Alex and Morgan were both big time mentors to her, both being seniors,” said Coach Parsons. “You would notice in practice Syd get frustrated sometimes trying to do different things and Alex and Morgan kind of keeping her forward, keeping her confidence, to continue to grow into being a college basketball player. There’s no better example than watching somebody else who has been through it, do it. For Syd to watch Alex and to watch Morgan helped make her into the aggressive player she is.”

In 2018, Holloway earned a spot in the starting lineup and finished as the only player in the NEC to average a double-double, with 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds. As the season went along, opposing teams quickly realized what a dominating force she could be, so they tried to stop (and perhaps frustrate) her with double and triple teams. “I first started seeing that a little bit last season,” said Holloway, “So over the two seasons I’m like, ‘Ok, I’m going to be doubled, quite possibly tripled, so I have to find a different way to get around and score or find a way to pass outside and find some of our shooters.’ So at first, it was a little annoying and they tried to frustrate me, and that did happen for a couple of games. But then after a while you try to be like, ‘Ok, if I make a move fast before the double team happens, I can still get away and make my way to the basket to score before everyone collapses down, or I can pass it out.”

In addition to making her mark in the scoring column, Holloway has been a relentless rebounder, leading the league in boards last season. Standing at 5’10”, Holloway routinely fights off challengers that are several inches taller. A few weeks ago, in speaking with Coach Burke in advance of the Bulldogs’ game against St. Francis Brooklyn, she pinpointed what she sees that separates Holloway from other top rebounders in the NEC. “Well first off, she’s an elite athlete. She can really get off the floor. She goes and pursues the ball. I think a lot of the time people wait for the ball to come to them, but she really accelerates up to go get it. Sometimes when you talk about rebounding, it’s natural, people just know how to go and get the ball. We’ve had some very good post players over the years, and the elite ones have always had that tenacity of ‘I won’t be denied,’ and Syd has that.”

“Sometimes the ball just falls into my hands in the right time,” said Holloway, “I might have gotten pushed in the right direction and it falls into my hands. But most of the time, I see it coming off the rim, and I’m in the air while it’s coming off the rim. I don’t wait for it to come down. I know I am athletic, but I am smaller, but I try to work my way in there and hope for the best, that my speed and timing can help me get the ball over players 6’2” and above.”

Earlier this season, the Morgantown native had the opportunity to return home as the Bulldogs traveled down to ‘Almost Heaven’ West Virginia to play the nationally ranked West Virginia Mountaineers. In front of family and friends, Holloway struggled early due to foul trouble, but managed to finish with 16 points and four rebounds.   

Currently, Holloway is halfway through her junior campaign, leading the league again in rebounds at 12.3 per game and standing fourth in scoring at 16.8 points per game. This season she produced two monster games of 20 points and 20 rebounds, while currently standing seventh in the nation with 12 double-doubles on the year. “(This year) I’m going in with more power and more grit. My freshman year I was a little more timid. Now I’m more confident dribbling, taking it coast to coast, attacking off the dribble, and shooting a little bit more.”

With still a year and a half to go in a Bryant uniform, it’s quite a scary thought for the other nine (soon to be ten) NEC teams that Holloway’s best basketball is probably still ahead of her. She continues to improve and add new elements to her game to keep her Bulldogs in contention for that elusive championship ring and make her an even more unstoppable force in the NEC. “We go in every day and we practice hard and we have the goal that we can beat (any team). We have the tools, we basically have our entire team back from last year, so if we all go in there every day and work on little changes and little things we can do to increase our game, increase our game as a team, I think we’ll be okay.”
    



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: Robert Morris and Sacred Heart continue to pace the league with perfect 6-0 conference records. For RMU, it is the second straight season, and fourth time in program history, they are 6-0 in league play. Meanwhile, SHU starts 6-0 for the first time since their last championship season in 2012. More on these two teams, and their head to head matchup next Monday night, coming up later.

Two games back from the league leaders, and sitting in third place, are the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers at 4-2. This is extra impressive when you consider the Terriers first six league games have included the four teams picked ahead of them in the pre-season poll and the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year.

The Terriers find themselves one game clear of a trio of teams who are tied for fourth place at 3-3: Saint Francis U, Wagner, and Bryant. The Red Flash have lost three in a row since their 3-0 start. Wagner finds themselves at .500 in league play after six games for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Bryant has split each of their first three conference weekends and are coming off of a win on Monday afternoon against the reigning champion Saint Francis U, 66-63. Bryant’s three NEC losses have come by a total of just 9 points: a five-point defeat at home against St. Francis Brooklyn, a 1 point loss at Sacred Heart, and a three-point loss to long-time rival Robert Morris. This battle in the middle of the standings will be fun to watch going forward, as only the top four teams earn quarterfinal home games come March and the NEC Tournament.

As for the rest of the league, Mount and FDU are tied for seventh place at 2-4. Finally, Central sits one game back and LIU Brooklyn sits two back, out of the Top 8.

SCHOOL

NEC

PCT.

OVERALL

1.

Sacred Heart

6-0

1.000

 

Robert Morris

6-0

1.000

3.

St. Francis Brooklyn

4-2

0.667

4.

Saint Francis U

3-3

0.500

 

Bryant

3-3

0.500

 

Wagner

3-3

0.500

7.

Mount St. Mary’s

2-4

0.333

 

 

2-4

0.333

9.

Central Connecticut

1-5

0.167

10.

LIU Brooklyn

0-6

0.000


*PERFECT STARTS: As we approach the halfway point of the conference schedule, both Robert Morris and Sacred Heart are still sporting undefeated league records. One way or another that will change this week as they both play games on Saturday and then play each other on Monday. However, if one of these teams does make it through a fourth conference weekend still unblemished at 8-0, they would be entering some pretty impressive space in the league record books, sitting among the best starts in NEC history.  


*BATTLE OF BROOKLYN: A LOOK BACK: For the third straight year, and for the sixth time in the last seven years, borough bragging rights belong on Remsen Street, as the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers defeated LIU Brooklyn 79-67 on Monday afternoon to take the 26th annual Battle of Brooklyn.

In a game that featured six ties and six lead changes, the Terriers broke the game open in a third quarter that became the Jade Johnson show. The St. Francis Brooklyn junior recorded 15 of the Terriers 21 third quarter points. The key stretch started when LIU grabbed the lead 42-41 with 6:48 to go in the quarter. Johnson was fouled while shooting a three, then went to the stripe and knocked down three straight free throws. She followed that up with back to back threes from the corners, and suddenly, within the span of 1:43, the Terriers went from down one to up eight, and they never looked back.

Johnson would earn her second straight Battle of Brooklyn MVP award, scoring a Battle of Brooklyn record and personal career high 33 points. She went 8-10 from beyond the arc, setting a new program record for most threes in a single game.

While Johnson’s numbers will get plenty of attention, the job Amy O’Neill did of running the floor at the point, Ally Lassen’s continued improvement and presence in the post with 16 points and 5 rebounds in her second start of the year, and the team committing only 15 turnovers when they average nearly 19 a game, where all huge contributing factors to the victory as well.

With the win, the Terriers tie up the Battle of Brooklyn all-time series 13-13, forcing the series into deadlock for the first time since 2005. Already there is added historical intrigue to the 2020 Battle of Brooklyn in the Pope PE Center next year, as the Terriers will look to grab the series lead outright for the first time since 2000 and Jade Johnson will have a chance to become only the second woman ever to win three straight Battle of Brooklyn MVP awards.

 


*TRIPLE DOUBLE: Sacred Heart grad student Katherine Haines made history on Saturday afternoon, recording 25 points, 15 rebounds, and a school record tying 11 blocks in the Pioneers’ contest against St. Francis Brooklyn, recording Sacred Heart’s first ever triple-double. The triple double was the 24th in the NCAA this year, the 11th in league history, and the first in the NEC since Wagner’s Jasmine Nwajei had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in a December 2015 game against NJIT.

Haines’ triple double is just the second in league history to involve blocks, with the other coming back in February 2014 by Wagner’s Ugo Nwaigwe when she had 12 points, 19 rebounds, and 13 blocks in a league game against Fairleigh Dickinson. Entering this season, there were just 71 recorded triple-doubles involving blocks in NCAA history.

 


*1,000 POINTS: Congratulations go out again to Sacred Heart grad student Katherine Haines, who joined Central Connecticut’s Kiana Patterson and Bryant’s Sydney Holloway as the third Northeast Conference women’s basketball player to eclipse the 1,000 career point milestone so far in the 2018-19 season. Haines reached the mark on a fourth quarter layup on Monday afternoon against Wagner. She becomes the 20th player in Pioneer program history, and the 13th in the SHU D1 era, to reach 1,000 points.

Looking ahead, other NEC women’s basketball players on track to possibly reach 1,000 points later on this season include: SFBK’s Maria Palarino (16 points away), SFBK’s Jade Johnson (119 points away), FDU’s Madelynn Comly (131 points away), and SHU’s Erin Storck (218 points away).

 


*MOUNT MONDAYS: Monday’s are the one day of the week that gets very little love. Whether it’s back to school or back to work, it’s very rare that the mention of a Monday draws an immediate positive thought to someone’s mind. Even the Carpenters sang about how rainy days and Mondays always got them down. However, for Mount St. Mary’s, having a “case of the Mondays” has been quite a good thing. They have played some of their most efficient and inspired basketball during the first three Mondays of the conference season, all after coming off some less than stellar performances on the first three Saturdays.

Consider the following…Mount St. Mary’s was picked fifth in the pre-season poll and had one of their best non-conference seasons in recent memory, finishing over .500 in non-conference play for the first time since 1999-00. Going into their first conference game against Robert Morris (on a Saturday), the Mount stood second in the league in field goal percentage (41.1%) and third in scoring (68.7ppg). Against RMU, Mount shot 31%, 3-16 from three, and was able to muster only 58 points. The following Saturday, Mount had a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter against Bryant at home, but couldn’t finish, and saw the game slip through their fingertips. Finally, this past Saturday, Mount fell behind 25-7 in the first quarter to Wagner, trailed by as many as 33, and allowed a total of 92 points for the game.  

On the other hand, Mondays have been much kinder. Even the first one, a loss to Saint Francis, was a bounce back performance from their RMU game. Mount fought back in the second half and Daly Sullivan had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. The following Monday, following the Bryant disappointment, Coach Marchesano’s group played perhaps their best 40 minutes of basketball so far during conference season. They jumped out to a 26-5 lead after one quarter and led 49-15 at the half against Central. Mount shot a ‘lights out’ 51.6% for the game, and knocked home 11 threes. Finally, this past Monday, after allowing a season high 92 points to Wagner just 48 hours earlier, they allowed a season-low 47 points to FDU.

To Mount’s credit, after each miscue or disappointment from Saturday’s results, they have managed to come back to correct it in a big way 48 hours later. From the fourth quarter struggles against Bryant to perhaps their best shooting half against Central. Then from allowing a season high 92 points against Wagner to surrendering a season low 47 points against FDU.

It’s a weird pattern that, three weeks in, is starting to become a real thing to pay attention to. Perhaps changing all of the calendars in the building to Mondays will help? In all seriousness, Mount will be looking to change/end this trend when they host LIU Brooklyn, a team still in search of their first conference victory, this Saturday before welcoming in St. Francis Brooklyn to Knott Arena on Monday night.


A closer look at Mount’s Saturday/Monday splits in conference play…

Saturdays: 64-173, 37% FG…21-69, 30.4 3PT%…67.3ppg…18.7 turnovers per game

Mondays: 74-177, 41.8% FG…25-78, 32% 3PT%…71ppg…17 turnovers per game


*JERSEY RETIREMENTS: This season has been exciting with the announcements of numerous jersey retirements. Some elite NEC women’s basketball all-time greats will be receiving the ultimate honor of being permanently raised to the rafters at their respective schools this winter. Already this season, back on December 15th, St. Francis Brooklyn retired the #15 of Jeanne Zatorski. Zatorski was the first woman inducted into the St. Francis Brooklyn Hall of Fame in 1987 and stands third on the Terriers all time in points and rebounds.

The Terriers aren’t done yet though, as they will also retire the #40 of the program’s all-time leading scorer Karen Erving-Schiera. Erving is the Terriers all-time leading scorer and rebounder with 1,929 points and 1,049 rebounds. For most of the 1990’s, Erving was the leading scorer in league history. Erving will be honored at halftime of St. Francis Brooklyn’s February 9th game against Fairleigh Dickinson.

This Saturday, Mount St. Mary’s will retire the #24 of two-time NEC Player of the Year, and former head coach, Vanessa Blair. Blair was a member of the Mount’s first D1 recruiting class, won three regular season league titles as a player, and then returned a few years after graduation to serve as head coach from 1998-2007. She stands as the only person in program history to be named both NEC Player of the Year and Coach of the Year, and was named to the Northeast Conference Hall of Fame back in the 2012-13 season. Blair will join her former teammate, Susie Rowlyk, as the only two Mountaineers to have their number retired.

Finally, on February 9th in Loretto, Saint Francis U will retire the jersey of arguably the most decorated women’s basketball student-athlete in league history, Jess Zinobile. Zinobile won four straight championships, three NEC Tournament MVP awards, two league MVP honors, and was a three-time first team All-Conference selection. Up until this past December, Zinobile was the leading scorer in league history, only to be surpassed by current Red Flash senior Jess Kovatch. The NEC Hall of Famer’s #22 will be the first female athlete’s number retired in Saint Francis history.



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, January 26, 2019

(1-5) Central Connecticut at (3-3) Bryant, 1pm
(3-3) Wagner at (6-0) Robert Morris, 1pm
(4-2) St. Francis Brooklyn at (2-4) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2pm
(0-6) LIU Brooklyn at (2-4) Mount St. Mary’s, 2pm
(6-0) Sacred Heart at (3-3) Saint Francis U, 2pm


Monday, January 28, 2019

(3-3) Wagner at (3-3) Saint Francis U, 7pm
(6-0) Sacred Heart at (6-0) Robert Morris, 7pm
(4-2) St. Francis Brooklyn at (2-4) Mount St. Mary’s, 7pm
(0-6) LIU Brooklyn at (1-5) Central Connecticut, 7pm
(3-3) Bryant at (2-4) Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm


GAME OF THE WEEK PREVIEW:
1/28/19 – Sacred Heart at Robert Morris, 7pm (NEC FRONT ROW)

First place will be on the line on Monday night in Moon Township as the Pioneers complete their PA road trip by visiting the NEC pre-season favorite, the Robert Morris Colonials. Potentially, this could be a battle between two NEC unbeatens, however both teams will have to survive Saturday’s action first, as RMU hosts Wagner and Sacred Heart visits SFU. Should either or both teams slip up on Saturday, Monday’s game is still assured to have first place implications, as both teams currently stand two games ahead of third place St. Francis Brooklyn in the standings.

For the fourth time in history and for the second straight season, the Colonials are off to a 6-0 start in conference play. On the offensive side of the ball the Colonials have been incredibly balanced and efficient. Eight different players have led the team in scoring in a game this year. One player, Nneka Ezeigbo, averages in double figures scoring, but after that, the next seven top scorers average between 8.2 and 5.1 points per game. On the defensive side, RMU leads the NEC, and stands 33rd in the nation, only allowing 57.1 points per game. The Colonials also are 31st in the nation in forcing 20.88 turnovers per game.

In contrast, the Pioneers are one of the best ball control teams in country, ranking 25th, only committing 13.4 turnovers per game. They have four players in double figure scoring: Katherine Haines, Adrianne Hagood, Erin Storck, and Candice Leatherwood. The Pioneers, off to their first 6-0 start since their last championship season in 2012, recently won a pair of tight games with a defensive stop on the final possession. Last week, Erin Storck blocked Haley Connors’ three point attempt at the buzzer for a 49-48 win over Bryant. Then this past weekend, Haines first recorded a block with 17 seconds left and then the Pioneers denied St. Francis Brooklyn a final shot opportunity at the buzzer to hold on for a 68-66 win.

One of the most intriguing matchups in this game will surely be in the post, where Robert Morris will have Nneka Ezeigbo and Ire-Ozzy Momodu battling with Katherine Haines for both points and rebounds. RMU has had the scoring advantage in the paint 5 out of their 6 conference games, while SHU has been in control 4 out of their 6.  

Robert Morris has defeated Sacred Heart five straight times at home, and swept both meetings against the Pios, for the first time ever, during last year’s regular season. RMU shot a ridiculous 61% and put up 91 points during the first meeting in Fairfield, and then won a 60-49 contest at home a month later (keyed by an early 19-0 run), shooting a still outstanding 55% from the field.

Whoever comes out on top on Monday will have the advantage of sitting at the top of the mountain in the NEC standings as the league nears the halfway point of the conference season and the completion of the first go-around in the double round-robin schedule.

If indeed both Robert Morris and Sacred Heart make it to Monday both unbeaten in the NEC, it will mark the first time two league unbeatens will meet this late into a season since 6-0 Robert Morris visited 7-0 Sacred Heart back on January 23, 2006 at the Pitt Center, with the Pioneers coming away with a 78-59 win. SHU would eventually go on to win their first nine NEC games that year before finally tasting defeat. They would also go on to win their very first NEC championship later that March.



THREE STARS

*For the games of January 19-21, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Honoka Ikematsu, RMU…Jeydah Johnson, LIU…Jess Kovatch, SFU…Ally Lassen, SFBK…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Candice Leatherwood, SHU…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Hannah Scanlan, BRY…Taylah Simmons, WC


THREE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): The Terriers senior point guard continues to fill up the stat sheet and contribute in many different ways. On Saturday against the Pioneers, O’Neill helped spark a second half St. Francis comeback effort by pouring in a career high 20 points. In a game where a triple double was recorded from the opposite side, O’Neill flirted with one of her own, tallying nine rebounds and nine assists. In the Battle of Brooklyn on Monday, O’Neill found herself in triple-double watch once again, finishing with 9 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. O’Neill leads the NEC and stands 4th in the nation in assists and has produced 8 or more assists in a game on 11 different occasions this year.


TWO: Jade Johnson, JR (SFBK): For the second straight week, Jade Johnson earns our #2 “Star of the Week.” After struggling most of the day on Saturday against Sacred Heart with 8 points on 3-12 shooting and 0-5 from downtown, Johnson set new records and reached new career highs in the Battle of Brooklyn on Monday. The junior guard smashed the Battle of Brooklyn single game scoring record and set a new personal career high with 33 points. She did it on 10-16 shooting and 8-10 for three. The eight three point field goals set a new school record for most threes in a game. Since the start of conference play, Johnson is averaging 19.3 points on 48.8% shooting from the field and 47.8% shooting from beyond the arc. 


ONE: Katherine Haines, GR (SHU): I think it’s a rule somewhere that if you record the 11th triple-double in league history (only the second one involving blocks) and then follow it up 48 hours later by scoring your 1,000th career point, then it’s a no-brainer and you have to be locked in as the #1 “Star of the Week.” And so with that, Haines tops our Star list for the second straight week. Haines was scary good on Saturday. She tied a program record with 11 blocks, dominated down low both scoring and rebounding, and even stepped back at one point and knocked down a three. Haines’ run of three straight 20 point games and three straight games of both double-digit points and rebounds came to an end when she recorded ‘only’ 19 points against Wagner. In the process Haines became the 20th Pioneer to reach the 1,000 point milestone. The SHU grad student is averaging 20.5 points and 10.2 rebounds over the first three weekends of conference play.



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Only one player in NEC history has recorded multiple triple-doubles in their career, and that is Robert Morris’ Chinata Nesbit. Back in 2008, Nesbit recorded 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists against Mount, before an 18 point, 24 rebound, 10 assist outing just 11 days layer in the NEC Tournament quarterfinals against St. Francis Brooklyn.


Thank you to Bryant junior Sydney Holloway and Assistant Coach Jonathan Parsons for taking the time to talk to us this week for our feature story. Join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, January 30th for a brand new WBB Fast Break column featuring a special round table chat with Sacred Heart’s grad student trio of Katherine Haines, Erin Storck, and Kiana Ye as we discuss life as a grad-student student-athlete and Sacred Heart’s early conference season success.

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