Category Archives: NEC Hoops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Flash Conclude a Successful Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert Morris Keeps Their Season Alive

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

1) The Knight Guards Adaptability

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) A Winning Point Guard

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

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

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

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

3) FDU Getting Contributions Elsewhere

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

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

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

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

4) A Legitimate Playoff Atmosphere

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

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

5) Saying Goodbye to Matty McConnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts and Reflections on the NEC Tournament Quarterfinals

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

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

Three-Point Shooting Carries LIU Brooklyn in NECT Upset

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

Ok, then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Highlight Reel in Hackensack

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

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

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

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

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

On the offensive glass…

And in the half court with the sick stepback…

This is a special offensive unit.

Robert Morris Finds a Way

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

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

Not so fast.

(Image of KenPom Chart)

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

But then, Matty McConnell happened.

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

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

Survive and Advance

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

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

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

The road to a NEC tournament championship is never easy.

 

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 2/27/19

STARTING LINEUP: NEC-TV ALL-ACCESS   

Craig D’Amico and Pam Roecker

 


On Monday, February 18th, ESPN3 and NEC Front Row aired the Robert Morris Colonials and Saint Francis Red Flash women’s basketball game live from DeGol Arena in Loretto. The matchup, a rematch of the previous season’s championship game, was one of the most eagerly anticipated contests in the league’s 2019 women’s basketball broadcast package. As fans tuned in to see the Colonials come away with a 66-60 victory over their Keystone State rivals, not many know the process for how a NEC basketball broadcast comes together and gets on the air. So this week in the NEC Overtime! Blog we wanted to do something a little different. Let’s pull back the curtain and let you, the audience, in on the preparation involved leading up to the game, the gameday production, the crew that helps make the broadcast possible, and reveal some of the production decisions along the way that helped shape what you saw on the screen. The following is an exclusive behind the scenes account of February 18th’s Colonials/Red Flash ESPN3 broadcast…this is NEC-TV All-Access!


Sunday, February 10th

From a play-by-play announcer’s perspective, preparing for a game is just like preparing for an exam in school. If you don’t open up a textbook until the night before to start studying, you probably aren’t going to fare that well on the test. So on this day, eight full days before gameday, I would get started on my preparation, spending time updating my SFU and RMU charts. All broadcasters have some sort of chart in front of them when they call games. These charts come in all different variations: hand-written or typed, simple or fancy, black and white or color coded, etc. Whatever is easiest for the announcer to follow. These charts will usually include basic information such as player names, numbers, stats, and notes. For me, I create my charts through Microsoft Word, so this way I don’t have to re-write every single note by hand every single time I see a team, I can just copy and paste or cut out and add.

For example, the last time I saw Robert Morris and Saint Francis was last year’s championship game, so my RMU and SFU charts were still set up from last March. So I had to sadly take out players from last year such as Ace Harrison and Megan Smith, and update the charts with the current rosters and 2019 information. 

My broadcast partner Pam Roecker hand writes her notes about each player. As the analyst, her notes include more scouting report type information and notes from her conversations with the coaches, while my notes are more fun facts, stories, and statistics.


Monday, February 11th

One week before gameday, Bryant plays at Saint Francis and Robert Morris hosts Central Connecticut State on NEC Front Row. I have my updated roster charts out so now I can practice identifying players as I watch the games. In Loretto, the Red Flash won their fifth in a row 78-66, while the Colonials improved to 11-0 with a 60-40 win in Moon. From these games, I also start to take note of any storylines that might be prevalent for next week’s broadcast, for example: Robert Morris chasing 2013 Quinnipiac as the last team to have an undefeated NEC season, Courtney Zezza approaching the school’s career blocks record, Robert Morris’ post-players (34 points in the paint vs. CCSU) vs. SFU’s new zone defense, and Jess Kovatch on fire, averaging 28.8 points per game over the previous three weeks.   


Tuesday, February 12th – Friday, February 15th  

Tuesday was a snow day in New Jersey, so I got a chance to complete a lot of work in my game prep. I went back into my charts, updated the stats to include the numbers from Monday night’s games, and completed adding extra notes on each player in the notes boxes. Among the notes added to my charts include Isabella Posset not only being RMU’s first local product since 2013-14, but also wearing #4. The last two scholarship players to wear #4 – Anna Niki Stamolamprou and Angela Pace – won Player of the Year honors. Also, I found stories on Karson Swogger’s late grandfather being a former Hall of Fame coach at Altoona High School and teaching her the floater, Haley Thomas coming back from a foot injury last year to be in running for Most Improved Player this year, and finally a story on Swogger and Thomas being former high school opponents and playing a playoff game against each other at DeGol Arena. While there’s no guarantee how many of these stories, if any at all, make it into the actual broadcast, I like to research and have as many as I can, just in case.

I went back to NEC Front Row and watched last year’s Robert Morris/Saint Francis game. I tried to pay close attention to how Robert Morris defended Jess Kovatch. I noticed they used multiple players starting with Jocelyn Jones and then Nina Augustin for a good majority of the game. It didn’t help, as Kovatch lit up the Colonials with six threes in the third quarter. Watching back last year’s game also sparked the idea to research Kovatch’s career numbers against Robert Morris (25.4ppg on 42.3% shooting in seven games) and career numbers on ESPN3 NEC games (28.1ppg on 44.7% shooting in ten games).

During the remainder of the week, my broadcast partner Pam Roecker and I will be in touch either through e-mail or over the phone (for this particular week it would be via e-mail), and we exchange ideas for storylines or important things we would like to bring up on the broadcast. Storylines Pam suggested for this week include: Kovatch as the all-time leading scorer and all of the post-season honor watch-lists she is on, Susan Robinson-Fruchtl serving as interim head coach while also the Athletic Director, and how Robert Morris would respond back in the building where they lost the championship game a year ago.     


Saturday, February 16th

I head up to Hackensack to see Saint Francis play against Fairleigh Dickinson. It’s my first time seeing the Red Flash in person since the last time they came to New Jersey, in their season opener against Rutgers. Before the game, I get to chat for about 10 minutes with interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl.

Our conversation provides valuable insight for Monday’s broadcast on things about the team that don’t show up in box scores, game notes, or articles, such as Coach Robinson Fruchtl describing the keys to her team’s success over the last three weeks, “We’ve taken care of the ball better over the last five to six games. We’ve gotten hotter shooting, we’re a little more detailed about things like setting good screens and reading screens defensively, we’ve worked on that zone defense and their understanding, and we’ve seen some kids develop: Leah Morrow, Caitlin Carroll, Phee Allen, and AJ Timbers have played a little more. Kids have gotten opportunity and they’ve stepped up.” Coach also provided her insight on keys to the Robert Morris matchup, “They are the best half court defensive team in the league. That’s why they are winning. To me they are physical. That will be interesting to see, can we match their physicality? To me, we’re a better shooting team and have more weapons from the perimeter. We’re going to have to hit some shots.”

Despite trailing entering the fourth quarter, the Red Flash would fight back with a 15-0 run, to win the game 77-65, their sixth straight win. Simultaneously, in Emmitsburg, MD, the Robert Morris Colonials were handed their first NEC defeat by the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers 61-55. This outcome completely changes one of our featured storylines going into Monday night. Now instead of focusing on Robert Morris and their push towards an undefeated conference regular season and making comparisons to the 2013 Quinnipiac Bobcats, now the story shifts to ‘How is Robert Morris going to rebound and respond after their first NEC loss?’


Sunday, February 17th

On Sunday, Pam and I hear from our production director Brad Kasnet from Pack Network for a ‘production meeting’ of sorts. Pam and I submit our players who we would like to feature during the opening of the broadcast (Nneka Ezeigbo for RMU and Jess Kovatch for SFU). We also suggest to Brad opening the broadcast with a graphic of the NEC standings and having a camera gather footage from the pre-game ‘Courtney Zezza Block Party’ in front of DeGol Arena to use either in the open or at some point during the broadcast. We go over some stats that could be made into graphics, such as the numbers I found earlier in the week on Kovatch against Robert Morris and Kovatch in NEC ESPN3 games.

Brad then sends us a copy of the rundown, which lists the sequence for the game open and all of the commercial breaks during the game, with the promos that I have to read at each break.

Later that evening, Pam and I both have a chance to speak with Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia over the phone as the Colonials travel on their bus to Loretto. Coach B addressed one of our big questions going into the game, how the Colonials were prepared to defend Kovatch, “She makes tough shots. She works on it and has a lot of passion for that part of the game. You just do the best you can. It’s not just one person, it’s going to have to be a team effort.”

 

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Monday, February 18th – GAMEDAY!  

After over a week of studying and preparation, gameday is finally here!


10:30am: The Pack Network crew, composed of production director Brad Kasnet and production assistant/camera operator James Kent, arrive at DeGol Arena. Once the game actually starts, they will be joined by three other camera operators, a graphics operator, and a TV timeout coordinator who is on the phone with ESPN counting down to and counting back from commercial breaks.

Brad and James will spend much of the morning and afternoon setting up their equipment, a process that takes at least four hours. They run cables, setting up the cameras, microphones, and monitors, connecting everything to the main computer console. Brad will use this console to direct the game (play the commercials, cut to the various camera shots, show replays, and post graphics). They establish feeds to the monitors at the broadcast position and the video board in the gym, and make sure the feed is properly transmitting to NEC Front Row and ESPN. Brad will then spend much of the afternoon creating all of the graphics that you see on the screen during the game.


5:00pm: About two hours before the start of the game, Pam and I arrive at DeGol Arena. We meet with Brad and go over the graphics and the rundown. One adjustment that needed to be made is changing the NEC standings graphic to include the three games that went final earlier in the afternoon. St. Francis Brooklyn winning and clinching a playoff spot and Sacred Heart’s loss to LIU Brooklyn both had a direct impact on our game, considering now SFU would have a chance to go one full game up on the Pioneers and Terriers, so that definitely needed to be reflected in the standings graphic.


5:30pm: Red Flash head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl came over to say hello to Pam and I at the broadcast table. Part of our informal conversation involved Coach Robinson Fruchtl telling us that at halftime the SFU bowling team would be receiving their championship rings after winning the 2018 NEC Championship. With a feature on NEC Hall of Fame bowler Danielle McEwan already scheduled for our halftime show, the decision was made to show part of the ceremony coming out of the feature piece and before going to commercial break.


6:00pm: Robert Morris SID Ethan Woy comes over to talk to us briefly about the Colonials, going over who is available and who isn’t and discuss some name pronunciations. Anyone who has followed any of my broadcasts, or regularly reads this column, knows that I like weird and quirky stats. We find out that Robert Morris is wearing their pink jerseys for this game after originally being listed to wear their road navy blues. RMU is 22-1 all time when wearing the pink jerseys, information that wasn’t originally planned to get on the broadcast, but now definitely will. 

James from Pack Network goes outside with a camera to film the opening shot of DeGol Arena and record footage of students flipping burgers and hot dogs on the grill as part of the ‘Block Party’ while light snow flurries start to come down. James then returns inside and uploads that footage from the camera into Brad’s main computer to use during the broadcast. After looking through the rundown, Brad and I see that there is time coming back from commercial at the second quarter media timeout, after we read the ‘NCAA Respect’ promo, to show the ‘Block Party’ footage. 


6:30pm: About a half-hour before going on the air, Pam and I rehearse the opening to the broadcast. We run through everything that you will see on TV. The opening starts with the shot recorded from outside DeGol Arena, then cuts to a wide shot of inside the gym while a graphic comes up with the team’s logos and records. Then comes the NEC standings graphic we decided to add to the open earlier in the week, before finally the camera cuts to Pam and I courtside. I set up Pam to talk about the rivalry and these two teams meeting for the first time since last year’s championship, before setting up the starting lineups and our feature players, Ezeigbo and Kovatch. Everything to that point goes according to the script and we are all ready to roll!

In the arena, the national anthem and the starting lineups take place before we go on the air at 7:00pm. This is because it would be awkward for TV to come on the air in the middle of honoring our country or with the lights in the building out, like a lot of gyms do now with their intros. During the anthem I have a routine of closing my eyes and talking to myself, reminding myself to have a blast, how lucky I am that I get to be here, and letting the broadcast flow like running water (basically telling myself to be loose). After the anthem I always give a few claps and say out loud to Pam and the crew, ‘Let’s have some fun!’ Then we sit back down, settle in, and get counted down in our headsets, “5…4…3…2…1…and we’re live…”


FIRST QUARTER: We go live on the air and run through the opening just as we rehearsed. For ESPN3 games, the official game start time is 7:03 or 7:04pm. It can be an awkward situation for the players and the fans in the building as they already ran through the anthem and lineups before ESPN3 goes on the air at 7:00, but the game doesn’t actually start until a few minutes after the hour so we can set the scene with our opening and run through the starting lineups on the broadcast. So everyone on the court and in the stands is all pumped up and excited to get going, only to have to stand around and wait for several minutes so us TV people can finish up our stuff.

Here is an example of how the pre-game prep pays off during a broadcast: at the 6:26 mark of the first quarter Karson Swogger is fouled trying to put up a floater in the lane. While she is taking her free throws, it’s a perfect time to draw back to the story I researched on Tuesday on Swogger’s grandfather teaching her the floater. Pam then would transition from that to bringing in notes from her conversation with Coach Robinson Fruchtl earlier in the week about Swogger transitioning to a point guard role this year.


SECOND QUARTER: Sometimes things fall into place with the perfect timing, as was the case with the second quarter media timeout. We had pre-determined before the game that we would be coming out of this break with the footage from the ‘Block Party,’ and sure enough, Zezza recorded four blocks in the first five minutes of the second quarter to bring her total up to five for the game. So coming out of the commercial, viewers saw the shot of the burgers and hot dogs on the grill while I read the NCAA Respect promo, and then Pam and I were able to discuss Zezza’s shot blocking skills.


HALFTIME: As planned, we go from the Hall of Fame video package of Danielle McEwen right into a live shot of the Saint Francis bowling team getting honored. With Kovatch held to just three points, Pam checks in with SFU SID David Halstead to see if the three points were Kovatch’s lowest in a half this season (they were) and to check what her season low point total is.

At his computer, while the halftime features and commercials play, production director Brad is searching through replays saved onto his computer of the top plays from the first half to put together for a ‘first half highlights’ segment, all while updating the ‘halftime stats’ graphic.


THIRD QUARTER: In the third quarter, the broadcast conversation started to shift into focusing on the RMU defense. With 5:02 to go, following Pam’s analysis on how Augustin used an angle to force Kovatch out of the paint while she was in transition, I brought out a quirky statistic from the RMU game notes about how the Colonials had held five straight opponent’s leading scorers to single digit scoring.


FOURTH QUARTER: During the commercial break, I researched the season high in three point attempts for Robert Morris. They had 28 three point attempts at the end of the third quarter, only the fifth time they had as many as 28 or more during a game this year, a note we got across in the opening 30 seconds of the fourth quarter.

With 7:43 remaining, Kovatch and Nia Adams get tangled up and both fell to the ground while going after a rebound. In a perfect example of the behind-the-scenes communication between the director and the on-air talent during a broadcast, the initial live shot saw Kovatch and Adams get tangled up, the whistle blow, and then a cut to the baseline camera view where you saw Kovatch get helped up by her teammates, before finally going back to the wide camera to see that Kovatch had a ‘flat tire’ situation with her sneaker where her shoe partially came off. While all this sequence was going on, production director Brad was talking to me in my headset, telling me that they had a replay of her from the baseline camera pointing and showing her ‘heel situation.’ So Brad cut right to that replay and Pam and I were able to react and comment.

With under 4:00 minutes to go, and the game in a timeout, Pam and I start discussing the jersey ceremony from the week before of NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile. Brad communicates to the baseline cameraman to turn around and secure a shot of Zinobile’s jersey just to the right of the scoreboard, allowing Brad to cut to a shot of the jersey as Pam and I were in the middle of our Zinobile conversation.

Coach B had told Pam on Sunday night that one area the Colonials needed to improve on, going back to several instances in non-conference, but especially after Mount two days earlier, was closing out games. With RMU protecting a three point lead in the final minute, suddenly that piece of information became front and center.


POSTGAME: After the Colonials secured the 66-60 victory, the last order of business on the broadcast was Pam interviewing the winning coach and the player of the game. As Pam made her way from the broadcast table over to the sideline camera for the interview, she meets up with RMU SID Ethan Woy to discuss which player she would be interviewing. It came down to either Augustin (18 points on 6-12 3pt shooting) or Ezeigbo (16 points and 9 rebounds), and the decision was made to go with Augustin. Following the interview, I got the ‘wrap-it-up’ signal from Brad through my headset, and we went through the game ending narration while Brad rolled back highlights from earlier in the game, as we said ‘goodnight’ and signed off the air.


Be sure to join us for the next NEC Women’s Basketball broadcasts on ESPN3 coming up this post-season. ESPN3 will air both 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament semi-final matchups on Thursday, March 14th at 7pm.



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*WHERE THEY STAND: Three more teams entered the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament field this weekend as the Wagner Seahawks clinched their first playoff berth since 2014 with a 60-44 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday afternoon, while Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant punched their tickets with wins on Monday night coupled with losses by CCSU, Fairleigh Dickinson, and LIU Brooklyn.

The Robert Morris Colonials maintained their lead in the top spot in the NEC standings by sweeping the NEC’s Brooklyn institutions, winning on Saturday over St. Francis Brooklyn 74-57, and again on Monday night over LIU Brooklyn 71-54. Sporting a three game lead with three games left to go, the Colonials have clinched at least a share of the NEC’s regular season championship for a third straight year and for the seventh time overall. RMU can clinch the title outright, and the tournament’s #1 seed for a fourth time in program history, with one more win or one more Sacred Heart loss over the final three games of the regular season.

Sacred Heart was shorthanded for most of the weekend, but picked up two of their biggest wins of the year on the road, a 27 point win on Saturday at Central, and a 19 point win on Monday night at FDU. With the win on Monday against the Knights, combined with Wagner’s loss to Bryant, the Pioneers have clinched a top four seed and a first round playoff home game at the Pitt Center. The Pioneers trail RMU for the #1 spot by three games with three to go. They would need to win out, including a win next Monday head-to-head against RMU, and hope the Colonials drop their two other games as well, just to force a first place tie and leave it up to the tiebreakers to decide the #1 seed. Maintaining the #2 spot will be just as important, as finishing in second would ensure that any playoff games played in the first two rounds would be at home. Sacred Heart holds a one game lead over Saint Francis U for second, with the Red Flash set to come to town for a Saturday afternoon showdown this weekend. A Sacred Heart win would reduce the magic number to one to clinch a top two seed, while a Red Flash win would force a tie for second place, with SFU winning the season series to control the tiebreaker.  

Monday night also saw a tie for third place broken as the Saint Francis Red Flash defeated the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers 86-84 in Loretto. Both teams entered the night tied for third at 9-5 in NEC play, but SFU’s win now gives them a one game edge. SFU’s win was crucial because it forces a split in the season series, which would be important for tiebreakers should these teams finish the year even. As mentioned, the Red Flash can force themselves into a tie for second, with the tiebreaker advantage, if they can win on the road in Fairfield on Saturday. Saint Francis can also clinch a first round playoff home game with another win and another Wagner loss.

For the Terriers, after dropping both games of the Pennsylvania road trip, they fall to fourth place with a 9-6 record in NEC play, one game behind third place and only one game ahead of fifth. St. Francis Brooklyn, looking to host their first playoff game in school history, will need to maintain their slim margin over Wagner. The Seahawks and Terriers split their season series this year, so any tiebreaker would come down to records against the NEC’s top teams in the standings. The Terriers own an overtime victory over the current second place Pioneers, but the Seahawks will have an opportunity when they host Robert Morris and Saint Francis this weekend. The Seahawks clinched only their program’s fourth playoff appearance in the last 15 years on Saturday. They are looking to host a playoff game at the Spiro Center for the first time since 2004.

Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant both locked up playoff spots this weekend. Mount St. Mary’s returns to the playoffs in 2019 after missing out last year in Coach Marchesano’s first season. Bryant has been to the postseason every year since first being eligible in 2013. The Bulldogs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Mount due to a sweep in the regular season series.

Finally, three teams are in the running for just one final playoff spot, as Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, and LIU Brooklyn head into the final three games deadlocked in the standings. At the moment, FDU holds the advantage in a three way tiebreaker situation due to a 2-0 combined record against LIU and CCSU so far this season. While the Blackbirds are in a bit of a hole with an 0-2 combined record against the other two teams, they have thrust themselves back into the race with recent wins over two of the league’s top three teams, Sacred Heart and Saint Francis U, wins that could be a huge advantage if all three teams end up tied in their head to head records against each other. What will make this a fascinating race to the finish line, is that all three of these teams face each other over the final week, starting with CCSU at LIU Brooklyn on Saturday, Fairleigh Dickinson at CCSU on Monday, and then LIU Brooklyn at Fairleigh Dickinson in the regular season finale on Thursday, March 7th. 


If the playoffs started today (which they don’t)…

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


*SHU SHOOTING DISPLAY ON ESPN+: The Sacred Heart Pioneers put on quite the shooting display in front of an ESPN+ audience on Monday night in Hackensack, NJ. The Pioneers shot a single game, team Division 1 record 28-46 from the floor (60.9%), and shot 14-25 from behind the arc, leading SHU to an 82-63 victory over the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. The 82 points and the 14 threes marked season highs for Sacred Heart.

Four Pioneer players were in double-figure scoring, led by Kat Haines with 22, Erin Storck with 16, Candice Leatherwood with 12, and Jayla Davis with a career high 19. Playing without two regular starters, Davis began the night in the starting lineup for the first time this year, while grad student Kiana Ye saw extended minutes in just her second game of the season. Ye, who returned to action for the first time since last year’s postseason on Saturday against Central Connecticut State, played 19 minutes and connected on three triples, leading to a career high nine points.

The game broke open with a 32 point third quarter for Sacred Heart, where they shot 10-13 overall and 6-7 from behind the arc. The 32 point quarter was the highest scoring quarter in program history.  



A LOOK AHEAD


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


Monday, March 4, 2019
Robert Morris at Sacred Heart, 6pm
Mount St. Mary’s at St. Francis Brooklyn, 7pm
Saint Francis U at Wagner, 7pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Bryant at LIU Brooklyn, 7pm


*Sacred Heart hosting Robert Morris and Saint Francis U: In a pair of games that will likely shape the top three spots in the NEC Tournament, Sacred Heart will welcome RMU and SFU into the Pitt Center this weekend. The Pioneers, winners of 11 out of their last 12 NEC home games, return to the Pitt Center for the first time since February 11th, after going 3-1 on a season long four game road trip. Robert Morris needs only one more win or one more Sacred Heart loss to officially wrap up the number one seed, while Saint Francis and Sacred Heart battle for a possible top two seed. The Pioneers and Red Flash will meet one week shy of the fifth anniversary of their historic 132-124 double overtime playoff game from back in the 2014 season.


*The Race for Eighth: All three teams currently tied for the eighth and final playoff spot will play each other over these final three games, beginning this week with Central Connecticut State at LIU Brooklyn on Saturday and Fairleigh Dickinson at Central Connecticut State on Monday. 



THREE STARS


*For the games of February 23-25, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Naomi Ashley, BRY…Madelynn Comly…Jayla Davis, SHU…Khaleah Edwards, WC…Michaela Harrison, MSM…Sydney Holloway, BRY… Jess Kovatch, SFU…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Jade Johnson, SFBK…Jeydah Johnson, LIU…Amy O’Neill, SFBK…Taylah Simmons, WC…Brandy Thomas, LIU  


THREE: Haley Thomas, SO (SFU): The Saint Francis sophomore had a career night in Monday’s victory over St. Francis Brooklyn. Thomas poured in a career high 27 points on 12 for 18 shooting. “They had no answer for Haley,” said interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl in the post-game press conference. “They had no answer inside, outside…whoever they put on her was just a mismatch.” In Saturday’s loss to the Blackbirds, Thomas came off the bench due to SFU starting their seniors for Senior Day, and the Hooversville, PA native contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 29 minutes before fouling out. On the weekend, Thomas was super-efficient, shooting 68% from the field over the two games.


TWO: Katherine Haines, GR (SHU): The Sacred Heart Pioneers have won five out of their last six games over the last three weeks, and during this stretch, graduate student Kat Haines has been what her head coach Jess Mannetti describes as ‘unstoppable.’ The numbers back that claim up, as Haines has averaged 19.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and has shot 59.2% during the last six outings. This past week, Haines recorded her 11th double-double of the season on Saturday with 24 points and 12 rebounds against Central Connecticut, and then followed it up with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and a career high 5 assists against Fairleigh Dickinson.


ONE: Nneka Ezeigbo, JR (RMU): For the second straight week, Ezeigbo recorded a double-double and an ‘almost’ double-double, this time helping lead the Robert Morris Colonials to a sweep of the NEC’s Brooklyn schools and a share of the 2019 regular season championship. On Saturday against the Terriers, Ezeigbo powered her way to 16 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. On Monday night, she was an unstoppable force against the Blackbirds, setting a new career high with 30 points on 13-20 shooting, with 11 rebounds. Ezeigbo recorded her sixth double-double of the year, on a night when she became the first Colonial to reach the 30 point mark since Anna Niki Stamolamprou tied the school record with a 39 point showing back in January of 2017. “She was very steady for us tonight, and that’s something we really need,” said head coach Charlie Buscaglia in his post-game interview on NEC Front Row. “She did a great job at playing with a great pace, but being aggressively wise and not forcing it. It was great to see her have a day like today because a lot of work and development went into this. It was great to see her go off today and have a nice game around the basket like that. I’m really proud of her.”



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Jade Johnson and Nneka Ezeigbo both hit the 30 point mark in the scoring column on Monday night. Their performances became the 14th and 15th individual 30 point games of the season in the Northeast Conference, making 2018-19 a season with the most individual 30 point games since 22 were recorded in 2015-16. St. Francis Brooklyn’s Jade Johnson has recorded the most individual 30 point games on the season with five (and three in her last five games), ahead of SFU’s Jess Kovatch who has three.


A look at the 15 individual 30 point games in 2018-19:

-Brandy Thomas (LIU), 36 vs. MSM – 2/11/19
-Jess Kovatch (SFU), 34 at MSM – 2/2/19
-Jade Johnson (SFBK), 33 at LIU – 1/21/19
-Candice Leatherwood (SHU), 31 at LEHIGH – 12/8/18
-Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 vs. PRINCETON – 12/19/18
-Jess Kovatch (SFU), 31 vs. FDU – 1/5/19
-Lauren Francillon (FDU), 31 vs. CCSU – 1/12/19
-Michaela Harrison (MSM), 31 at LIU – 2/11/19
-Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 vs. LIU – 2/16/19
-Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 at SFU – 2/25/19
-Michaela Harrison (MSM), 30 vs. TOWSON – 11/24/18
-Jess Kovatch (SFU), 30 vs. WC – 1/28/19
-Taylah Simmons (WC), 30 vs. SFBK – 2/11/19
-Jade Johnson (SFBK), 30 at WC – 2/11/19
-Nneka Ezeigbo (RMU), 30 vs. LIU – 2/25/19


Be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, March 6th for the regular season finale of the WBB Fast Break column. We’ll break down all of the tiebreaker scenarios going into the final games and look ahead to the 2019 NEC Tournament!

NEC Tidbits Before the Final Week

For my final post before the NEC regular season ends, I felt like talking about a myriad of topics. There’s really no theme here, other than the Q&A I’m about to engage myself in.

What do we know going into the final week?

Well, it’s looking like my over/under prediction will wind up short, but not by much.

Historically, the best team in the NEC regular season standings has routinely crossed the 14-win threshold, even during the 2013-14 campaign when the league’s schedule was cut to 16 games. Below are the NEC regular season champions over the past decade:

Season Team NEC Record
2017-18 Wagner 14-4
2016-17 Mount St. Mary’s 14-4
2015-16 Wagner 13-5
2014-15 St. Francis Brooklyn 15-3
2013-14 Robert Morris 14-2
2012-13 Robert Morris 14-4
2011-12 LIU Brooklyn 16-2
2010-11 LIU Brooklyn 16-2
2009-10 Quinnipiac 15-3
2008-09 Robert Morris 15-3

Going back another five years, you’ll find the last time a team finished in first place with 12 wins. Both Monmouth and St. Francis Brooklyn in 2003-04 were tied atop the standings at season’s end with a 12-6 conference record.

Will we see this happen again by the end of Saturday’s set of games? According to KenPom, Saint Francis has a 44% and 36% chance to win at Wagner and Sacred Heart, respectively. For the Red Flash to sweep their final two contests, the odds drop to 16%. The good news for Rob Krimmel’s group is being on the road hasn’t been a detriment to Saint Francis’ success of late; they’ve won five of their last seven outside of their friendly confines.

As for the rest of the league’s odds, I highly recommend diving into Ron Ratner’s weekly update. Some of the teams still have a wide range of outcomes; for example, Sacred Heart can finish anywhere from first all the way to seventh depending on what goes down this weekend. LIU Brooklyn could possibly host a NEC tournament playoff game (#4 seed) or not make the tournament all together.

Who’s the next NEC Jim Phelan Coach of the Year?

I honestly don’t know, and can’t confidently answer this with an educated guess until the regular season is finished. For me, there are four legitimate candidates at the moment. And their chances all hinge on the regular season results for the final week.

Rob Krimmel, Saint Francis U – The 7-year head coach and long-time NEC participant would’ve been the logical choice for the award had the Red Flash kept their winning streak alive last Saturday against the Blackbirds. But in NEC fashion, LIU Brooklyn was powered behind 35 points from Ty Flowers and Raiquan Clark to pull off the upset in Loretto. Now, the Red Flash must win the league title the hard way, on the road against two programs looking to finish in the top four. If the Red Flash can claim the championship outright, it will be hard to keep Krimmel from earning his first ever COY honor, even though the Red Flash were expected to be at the top during preseason prognostications back in the fall. That didn’t stop the coaches from voting for Glenn Braica after the Terriers’ 15-3 masterpiece in 2014-15.

Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson – Like Krimmel’s squad, many pundits expected FDU to be at or near the top by late February. A 9-2 run after a 1-4 start has put them in a good position – they’re hosting at least one NEC tournament game at worse – with winnable games at the Mount and Central Connecticut looming. If the Knights sweep the mini road stand and acquire a share of the NEC regular season title, I’d have no qualms if the COY is awarded to Herenda.

Anthony Latina, Sacred Heart – The Pioneers were picked ninth in the NEC Coach’s Preseason Poll, so Sacred Heart’s overachieving relative to their expectations would play a huge role in Latina winning the COY award. His team needs to finish strong at the very least. A sweep against Saint Francis and Robert Morris – two programs he’s a combined 0-10 against over the past three seasons – would guarantee at least one home playoff game, if not possibly more. Finishing with a 10-8 or 11-7 regular season is fairly impressive given they are the 298th most experienced roster in Division I and rely on three freshman, one sophomore and one Division II transfer.

Andy Toole, Robert Morris – We can’t forget about the league’s 2013-14 COY recipient, who currently has an opportunity to earn his third regular season championship in nine tries. Despite experiencing a crazy amount of turnover the past few seasons, Robert Morris has routinely been a defensive juggernaut with this season as no exception. At 10-6, Toole has engineered an impressive return to the top third of the standings despite losing Koby Thomas for much of the season. The Colonials have forced a turnover on 22.5% of their opponent’s possessions, good for 22nd in Division I basketball. This is the fifth straight year the program has been in the top 30 – that’s remarkable consistency with the roster fluctuations.

So who’s going to be the next NEC Defensive Player of the Year?

Like the COY discussion, I have no idea where the coaches will lean for this one. There are a number of candidates they could reasonably look at:

Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – The heart and soul of Robert Morris defense has that infectious energy about him when in a defensive stance. He’s the best perimeter defender on the league’s number one defense (at least according to defensively efficiency numbers) and possesses a steal rate that’s in the NCAA top 100 at 3.4%.

Malik Petteway, Robert Morris – Speaking of steal rate, Petteway actually leads the league in that category as well as sporting the eighth best block rate. His Chris Wray like ability to affect the game a multitude of ways has guided the Colonials.

Jare’l Spellman, Sacred Heart – The 6-foot-10 center came as advertised from Florida Southern as a former defensive player of the year. Spellman’s 89 blocks leads the conference by a country mile and he has an opportunity to become the first NEC player since 1996-97 (Richard Lugo, St. Francis Brooklyn) to accumulate at least 100 rejections in a campaign. His rim impact is a major reason why Sacred Heart is in the upper half of the league in defensive efficiency.

Juan Cardenas, Bryant – Whether it’s tough man-to-man defense or providing help when an opponent infiltrating the paint, Cardenas has been a master at blocking or altering shots around the rim. His game changing length, versatility and lateral quickness has led to 8.4% block rate, good for 84th in the country.

Randall Gaskins, Saint Francis – Gaskins is perceived to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, serving as a very useful “3 and D” type of complement to Krimmel’s assortment of play-makers. While I view him as a long shot to win the DPOY, his name deserves mentioning here nonetheless.

What has surprised you this season?

Here’s are some random tidbits for each team that I can honestly say I didn’t expect coming into this season…

  • E.J. Anosike and Jarel Spellman are the best two-man frontcourt duo in total putbacks. They have 72 combined putbacks, greatly exceeding any other NEC duo. After graduating a very good frontcourt in its own right with Matasovic, Lopez and Barnett, Anosike, Spellman and LaRose have put together one of the best big man rotations in the NEC. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
  • This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I’m still impressed by the Mount’s resolve this season. The second youngest roster in the nation has now boasted five freshmen who’ve been selected at one point as NEC freshmen of the week (Vado Morse, Dee Barnes, Malik Jefferson, Nana Opoku and now Damian Chong Qui). Dan Engelstad’s group may have been eliminated from qualifying for the NEC tournament, yet the Mountaineers have been very respectable over the past several weeks, knocking off Sacred Heart, Wagner and Robert Morris. They surely will emerge as a trendy sleeper next season. Everyone will be back!
  • Bryant has turned into one of the slower NEC programs with respect to tempo. The Bulldogs are sixth among their counterparts at 68 possessions per game. That’s not a snail’s pace, but it’s not Iona racing down the floor either. In the preseason, Grasso expected his team would mimic the Gaels model, a model that was consistently in the top 60 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted tempo. At NEC Social Media Day, however, Grasso did add in the caveat that they “have to get guys to understand how to play with pace all the time.” He further explained that it takes time to program your team to get in that mindset of fast pace day in and day out. Clearly, Grasso had enough time to evaluate his talent and understand that a fast tempo wasn’t conducive to winning. In games where the pace gets at 70 possessions or more, the Bulldogs are 1-11 (1-4 NEC) whereas they are 9-6 when a slower tempo is implemented. Running much of the offense through Bash Townes, who thrives in pick and roll situations and isn’t exactly none as a rim runner, also likely plays a role in Grasso slowing down the team’s pace of play.
  • Raul Frias (125 ORtg), Eral Penn (124 ORtg) and Ty Flowers (118 ORtg) lead the Blackbirds in offensive efficiency during league play. I know, right?! I talked about Frias’ improvement last week, yet Flowers has really emerged as LIU Brooklyn’s x-factor. Over the last six games, Flowers has been deemed the KenPom MVP four times, averaging 20.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1.8 steals in those situations. Not surprisingly, LIU Brooklyn is 3-1 when the Waterbury, Connecticut native breaks out. For Penn, the sophomore’s tenacity around the rim on both ends has caused havoc. He’s currently second among league mates in 2-point field goal percentage (66.7%), fourth in block rate (8.6%) and eighth in offensive rebounding rate (10.3%).

That’s all I have for now. Enjoy the action this weekend. The NEC tournament is nearly upon us!

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