Category Archives: NEC Hoops

#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.

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 1/16/19

STARTING LINEUP: BATTLE OF BROOKLYN


Take two subway stops on the 2 or 3 train from Borough Hall to Nevins Street.

Or you could hop over one subway stop on the 4 or 5 train.

Or you could even take a seven-tenths of a mile walk down Fulton from Remsen Street to DeKalb Ave.

That’s all that separates the campuses of St. Francis Brooklyn and LIU Brooklyn, right in the middle of The Big Apple’s most populous borough. When their women’s basketball teams meet head to head on the hardwood, not much separates them there either.

The annual “Battle of Brooklyn” showdown is always one of the most eagerly anticipated dates on the NEC basketball calendar, and on Monday afternoon, the 2019 ‘Battle’ will have arrived.

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Andy Toole: New King of the Colonials

It was a milestone eight-plus years in the making for Robert Morris men’s basketball head coach Andy Toole.

In their 52-49 win over St. Francis Brooklyn Thursday night, in front of a national television audience, Toole passed former head coach Jarrett Durham who coached the Colonials from 1984 to 1996, with his 158th victory at Robert Morris.

When Toole took over the head coaching duties at Robert Morris before the 2010-11 season, there was immediate pressure to continue the winning ways the Colonials were experiencing.

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#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 1/9/19

STARTING LINEUP: JESS KOVATCH – JOURNEY TO THE TOP


December 16, 2018 – Seattle, WA




After being held to just six points in the first half of a Sunday early-afternoon, non-conference game against Montana at the Husky Classic in Seattle, Jessica Kovatch and her Saint Francis Red Flash started the third quarter against the Grizzlies trailing by nine. After a 24 point performance the day before against Boise State on 9-15 shooting and 6-11 from three, the SFU senior started the afternoon just 14 points shy of surpassing NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile’s 2,338 career points and her 18 year run as the NEC’s all-time leading scorer.

Just past the midway point of the third quarter, with the Grizzlies starting to pull away, Kovatch connected on a jumper in the paint to end a 12-4 Montana run. 8 points down, 6 more to go. Three minutes later, with 1:37 remaining in the third quarter, Kovatch calmly drained a three to pull SFU within 14 of the Grizzlies. 11 points down, 3 more to go…  


Now before we can continue any further, we must take a moment to pause and look back. A final destination can’t really be as satisfying without a special journey to get there. Before SFU senior guard Jess Kovatch was at this point in time, standing at the brink of NEC history, her journey to this moment was anything but ordinary. This is the story of how a player who didn’t receive that much attention from Division 1 programs coming out of high school and wasn’t even considered the best freshman on her own team during her first workouts, persevered with an incredible work ethic and desire to improve, to go on to have one of the most illustrious careers in league history, become a league champion, and eventually take her place as the league’s all-time leading scorer…

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Braxton & Holloway: NEC Family Ties


Written by Ryan Peters

 

Greg Herenda was ready to pitch a coveted recruit’s family on Fairleigh Dickinson University. It was the first day home visits were allowed during the 2014 fall recruiting period.

 

For weeks Grant Billmeier, an assistant coach at FDU at the time, had urged his boss to travel down to South Jersey to visit the family of Mike Holloway, a burgeoning star from Arthur P. Schalick High. Billmeier was convinced the burly big man would help the Knights solidify the interior, especially with the program struggling to protect the glass the previous two seasons.

 

Herenda was all ears, but had little idea how long a jaunt to Pittsgrove, NJ would take from campus. As he soon found out, it was more than a modest road trip.

 

“I didn’t really quite tell him how far it was; I just said we have to go see Mike Holloway down in South Jersey,” Billmeier, now a Seton Hall assistant coach, recalls with a chuckle. “So we get in his car and we put in the GPS and he thought it was going to be an hour and a half and it said about two hours and 45 minutes.”

 

An incredulous Herenda may have given Billmeier an earful upon that discovery, but he nevertheless traversed down the turnpike to Salem County, the Garden State’s least populated county known for its dairy farms and sprawling landscape. It was a wise decision, as the home visit laid the groundwork for convincing the Holloway family that FDU was the best place to continue their son’s education, and obviously, his basketball career. The official visit the following weekend sealed the deal.

 

“I took one visit to Fairleigh Dickinson University and I fell in love,” Holloway, now a senior at FDU, said. He cancelled his upcoming trek to Tennessee Tech and verbally committed to Herenda and the coaching staff on the last morning of the official visit. He was done with the college recruiting process before his senior season at Schalick was to begin.

 

Meanwhile, some 10 miles northeast in neighboring Gloucester County, Holloway’s cousin Keith Braxton was wondering why Division I programs weren’t actively recruiting him. He had just finished a standout junior campaign at Delsea Regional High, averaging 20.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game. He was instrumental in leading his 21-win team to the Group 3 sectional championship in South Jersey. And yet, there wasn’t a modicum of interest in Braxton at the Division I level.

 

Braxton’s high school coach, Tom Freeman, was surprised but understood why programs were ignoring a player in a lightly recruited area. “We were using him as a high post and at 6-(foot)-3 at that time with not really an outside game as far as shooting the ball, he wasn’t getting the looks,” Freeman explained.

 

It wasn’t that Braxton didn’t possess a capable outside shot, rather it wasn’t needed on a team that already had a bevy of perimeter scorers. Braxton’s unselfish nature, along with his versatility and uncanny ability to attack the rim, was a perfect complement to Delsea’s roster.

 

Braxton kept a positive attitude throughout the arduous recruiting process, while Holloway did his best to elevate his cousin’s profile. “The thing about (Mike) is when he got his offer to Fairleigh Dickinson he was kind of trying to promote me to go there as well,” Braxton said. “Just the fact that he was really looking out for me, really meant a lot to me.”

 

Herenda admits that his staff watched Braxton play at Holloway’s request – they competed together as high schoolers on the Philly BallHawks AAU squad after all – but the timing just didn’t work out. Earl Potts and Marques Townes, both three/four hybrid forwards in their own right, recently signed and were highly regarded. There simply wasn’t a need for a smallish power forward that had yet to display an ability to make 3s.

 

With nothing but Division II offers to ponder in the fall of his senior season, Braxton set his sights on pushing Delsea to the pinnacle of New Jersey high school hoops. But first they had to repeat as the South Jersey, Group 3 conference champions. Doing so would mean getting by their in-conference rivals, Schalick High, which low and behold, rostered one of the best big men the region had to offer, Mike Holloway.

 

——–

 

Well before the high school rivalry, a deep bond between Holloway and Braxton took shape early in their childhood. With their respective families just a short drive away from each other, there was plenty of time to forge a close friendship over various activities.

 

The weekend days of playing sandlot football and basketball in the Holloway’s backyard, followed by feasting on the cooking of Mrs. Holloway, exemplified a childhood that the two cousins fondly look back on.

 

“We were always down to his house on weekends playing basketball, barbecues, watching football, so we were always close at like a young age,” Braxton said, while also mentioning the families’ time spent together in church. “It just eventually grew.”

 

When the two cousins and their siblings approached their teenage years, it became apparent that basketball ultimately was the thing that kept the families together. It’s not that their close connection needed strengthening, but those days on the South Jersey Cyclones, an AAU team for elementary school kids, were the impetus that catapulted their relationship toward basketball.

 

“That was one of the best moments of my young life,’ Holloway admits when reliving his time as on the Cyclones. The “family team” as both cousins affectionately call it, made an early run to a tournament final. After that, both Holloway and Braxton were hooked, leading to an intense rivalry that would capture the interests of South Jersey a decade later.

 

——

 

Delsea and Schalick, two “farmland schools” according to Freeman, weren’t known for their basketball prowess, yet this wasn’t an ordinary period in South Jersey basketball. Both schools were tied atop the Tri-County Conference-Diamond Division standings heading into their much anticipated matchup on January 18, 2015.

 

Schalick jumped out to an early lead on their home court, thanks to 10 first quarter points from Holloway. Delsea, understandably, couldn’t contain the best post presence on the floor as their deficit swelled to 12 points. “I just remember (Mike), he was locked in,” Braxton recalls of his cousin, who poured in 31 points that evening. “He was posting; I think he hit a three or two. He was just a force to be reckoned with at that time.”

While guarding Holloway was certainly problematic, Delsea still possessed more talent and depth. They crawled back into the contest with their long-range moxie, draining 13 triples when it was all said and done. Also serving as a catalyst for the comeback was Freeman’s shrewd defensive adjustment of putting smaller, albeit quicker players (i.e. Braxton) on Holloway. After an early scare, the favored Delsea squad narrowly defeated Schalick, 63-61.

 

The triumph was Delsea’s fifth straight and put the Crusaders in the driver’s seat of the division. They would go on to win seven more games in a row before losing.

 

In the second showdown between the two schools one month later, the Delsea crowd brought their energy as the intimidating 6-man. A Crusaders win would all but guarantee a share of the Diamond Division title. “Just the amount of tension in the gym – we don’t get huge crowds down here for basketball for a regular game – our gym was just rolling with the student body,” Freeman said.

 

For Braxton, the meaning of a championship clinching game was further elevated, for obvious reasons: “It was always just a more important game because we knew we were playing against each other,” he said of those high school battles against Holloway.

 

The undermanned Schalick squad wasn’t intimidated, however, and even held a 2-point advantage late, mainly due to Holloway’s extraordinary 28 point, 12 rebound and 3 block effort. But spectacular play from the Crusader’s Kaleb Morton and Braxton – he also finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, to go along with 5 assists and 3 steals – was inevitably too much for Schalick to overcome. The Delsea Crusaders went on to repeat as division champions once again.

 

If you include a Delsea win over Schalick when the cousins were juniors, back when Holloway’s older and bigger brother Rashaan was on Schalick, Braxton had bested his bigger counterpart with a 3-0 record in high school.

 

Advantage, Braxton. “I always joke with him… but little did I know that we would come full circle back and play in college,” he said with a chuckle.

 

At the time, however, Braxton still hadn’t realized his goal of getting a Division I basketball scholarship. With only UMBC’s offer as a preferred walk-on out there in the spring of 2015, Braxton opted to take a prep year at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey.

 

While the senior felt it was a gamble worth taking, others in Braxton’s trusted circle, including Freeman, wanted to make sure the star forward had weighed all of his options. “The one thing I did say to him before he left Delsea was ‘Keith, you know you have a ton of Division 2 offers on the table, are you sure you want to go to prep (school) and kind of roll the dice a bit?’” Freeman recalled.

 

Despite the pushback, Holloway gave Braxton his unconditional support. “I thought it was a good risk,” he said, before adding, “only because I knew his work ethic and determination.”

 

The gamble obviously paid off with Saint Francis calling in the spring of 2016 after a productive season at Lawrenceville. After Braxton watched his cousin’s FDU squad win the 2016 conference tournament championship on ESPN, two months later two of the best players South Jersey had to offer would go on to represent the Northeast Conference.

 

——-

 

Holloway and Braxton may be close off the court, but in the heat of competition, “business is business” as Holloway likes to say. In other words, there’s no such thing as family love when a basketball championship and a berth to the NCAA tournament is on the line.

 

That couldn’t have been more evident in the NEC quarterfinals matchup between FDU and Saint Francis last March.

 

In the first half of the elimination game, Braxton back-ironed an open three, but found the ball in his hands after a fortuitous bounce. With the open path to the rim, Braxton did what he excels at – he put the ball on the floor and began confidently striding toward the basket. The only thing between Braxton and an easy finger roll was his 6-foot-7, 245 pound cousin.

 

Family love soon went out the window.

 

In Braxton’s attempt to finish near the rim, Holloway swatted Braxton across his upper body and left arm, making sure the ball wouldn’t find its way through the rim. In that respect, mission accomplished, even if it came at the expense of Braxton’s body.

 

“Yeah, I remember that (play), because my head started hurting a little bit after that,” Braxton admitted when asked about his cousin’s hard foul. To the junior’s credit, he went right to the charity stripe and calmly sank both free throws.

 

Holloway, who promptly turned his back and walked away from Braxton after the foul, was resolute when describing that moment. “I didn’t want to do it, but I had to,” he said. “I said ‘he’s family, but this game is way more important, the NEC championship is way more important.’”

 

The quarterfinal matchup turned out to be a riveting back-and-forth affair with FDU finally pulling away late in the second half. The victory prevented what would’ve been a Saint Francis three game sweep of the Knights. More importantly, FDU advanced to the NEC semifinals – a game they narrowly lost to the eventual champions, LIU Brooklyn – and Holloway improved his high overall record versus Braxton to 2-6.

 

The head-to-head record isn’t something Holloway would like to be public knowledge, but for the time being, the Pittsgrove native has the last laugh.

 

A few months later at NEC Social Media Day in October, Braxton and Holloway shared a proud moment together after being announced to the league’s preseason first team. It came as no surprise to anyone inside the league, given both players current standing.

 

Holloway had crossed the 1,000 points and 500 rebounds threshold before embarking on his senior campaign. Braxton, who recently scored his 1,000 point on, most poignantly, a creative drive and finish in the lane, has the remarkable opportunity to become the first player in NEC history to accumulate 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds if he continues at his current, uber productive pace.

 

Perhaps more importantly, Saint Francis and FDU were #1 and #2 in the NEC coach’s preseason poll, respectively. It’s almost like the two cousins were once again reliving their South Jersey high school battles.

 

“It’s like deja vu,” Holloway confirmed when asked to reflect on the upcoming conference season. “It was like, alright we are coming together, we are two of the premier players in the NEC. We were two premier players on the (high school) circuit and it was like everything was re-happening again for me.”

 

Braxton echoes a similar sentiment. “I see him getting the (preseason) award, he sees me getting the award, and we congratulate each other… Just shows all the hard work paid off and it reminds us of all the games we used to play every day in the backyard.”

 

 

The final chapters of this family saga have yet to be written. The 2018-19 NEC season promises to provide a riveting ending to a worthwhile basketball journey of the Holloway and Braxton boys from South Jersey.

 

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