Category Archives: Uncategorized

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 3/8/19

STARTING LINEUP: 2014 QUARTER-FINAL FLASHBACK


DOUBLE OT DRAMA IN LORETTO    


In the previous 32-year history of the Northeast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament there have been many standout games, spectacular shots, and memorable moments…and then there was the 2014 quarter-final contest between the Saint Francis Red Flash and the Sacred Heart Pioneers. It’s a game that has to be placed in a separate category, because the NEC Tournament hadn’t seen anything like it before and hasn’t seen anything like it since. 

On Sunday, March 9, 2014, Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart stepped into the DeGol Arena in Loretto, PA for a late-afternoon playoff match-up pitting the sixth seeded Pioneers up against the third seeded Red Flash. It would be a rematch of the previous year’s semi-final, won by SFU 83-67, and a matchup between two programs who had combined to win nine out of the previous 12 tournament championships.  

The Pioneers were in their first year under Jessica Mannetti. Sacred Heart had lost their senior point guard Ericka Norman earlier in the season due to injury, and was stumbling to the finish line. After starting 7-2 in NEC play, the Pioneers lost seven out of their last nine games going into the conference tournament. While managing to keep their conference tournament qualification streak alive, making it to 15 straight conference tournaments at that point, the sixth seed was the lowest seed the Pioneer program had ever earned.  

On the other side, the Red Flash entered 2014 with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove after a 39-point loss to Quinnipiac in the previous year’s championship game. The Red Flash routed Wagner in their regular season finale, 101-75, to clinch a first-round home playoff game at DeGol Arena, a facility in which they had won 24 consecutive home playoff games, a streak dating back to the early 90’s. SFU senior Alli Williams punctuated a 2014 first team all-conference season with a 47-point performance against the Seahawks.

From the onset, the game moved at a blistering pace. SFU would hold a 53-47 lead at intermission. The Pioneers fought back with a 12-4 run right out of the break to force a tie, and managed to take back control of the scoreboard on a Gabby Washington three nearly 30 seconds later. 

With 38 seconds remaining in regulation the Pioneers were protecting a seven-point edge, 100-93, following a pair of made free throws by Washington. It was the first time Sacred Heart had hit the century mark in a single game since 1985. Things seemed grim for the Red Flash, until SFU junior Alexa Hayward quickly converted a jumper to move the Flash to within five. Then, following a timeout, Corissa Archer forced a steal. She would give It up to Williams, who was fouled. Williams made good on both of her free throws, and suddenly, it was a one possession game. 

With 12 seconds to spare in regulation, Hayward converted a layup to bring the Flash to within a single point. On the other end, SHU point guard Katie Shepard made one out of two from the charity stripe. With time running out, Hayward raced down the court in desperation, penetrated towards the basket, and fed it to Alli Williams, who converted the layup with just one second remaining to tie the game and send it into a bonus session.  

In overtime, once again, SFU saw their season flash before their eyes in the final seconds. Trailing by three, 115-112, and under 20 seconds to go, Alexa Hayward drove hard to the basket, drawing a foul while converting the shot, to earn an “and one” opportunity. After Hayward completed the old fashioned three-point play to tie the game, Hannah Kimmel missed a shot at the buzzer for SHU. With the outcome still unsettled, the teams would have to play on.

“I know [Gabby Washington] didn’t want to foul me. Just driving in I felt confident,” said Hayward of her clutch three-point play. “I went into her a little bit and made sure I could get the shot up. I just wanted to make the shot and hit a free throw to take us home.”

Eventually, the duo of Williams and Hayward would prove to be too much for Sacred Heart. In the second overtime, Williams and Hayward combined to score 13 out of the 17 Saint Francis points, leading SFU to a thrilling 132-124 victory, and a chance to live and play another day, against Mount St. Mary’s in the NEC Tournament semi-finals. 

Now looking back, five years later, there are still several eye-popping numbers associated with this game that stand out. First, the 256 combined points set a new mark as the second highest scoring NCAA women’s basketball game in history (Behind Kentucky over Baylor in four overtimes, 133-130, from earlier that season). Also, prior to this game, no NEC team had ever reached 100 points in an NEC Tournament game. On this day, not only did both teams reach the century mark, but they both did it by the end of the first 40 minutes! The game also featured not one, not two, but three 40-point scorers – Alli Williams and Gabby Washington each setting a new NEC Tournament single game scoring record with 47 points apiece, and Alexa Hayward who finished with 43 and tied a NEC tournament record with 16 made field goals. For Williams it was a second straight 47 point showing, equaling her career high.

“I was thinking at a point, wow this could be my last college game,” said Williams. “I am so appreciative of my teammates for stepping up down the stretch.”

“It was all adrenaline,” said Washington. “Like when something big happened, stuff came out of us that I didn’t know was possible. We were just starting to talk and it kind of helped us and pushed us. It just didn’t go our way.”

The see-saw affair saw a total of 12 ties and 22 lead changes. Yes, you read that right…22 lead changes! Finally, in a feat that would seem nearly impossible in a game like this, the Red Flash committed a grand total of just NINE TURNOVERS on the afternoon!  

“It’s a shame somebody had to lose today because I couldn’t have asked for a better effort and a better game, actually, to be a part of,” said Coach Mannetti in her post-game press conference. “It was unbelievable the energy and excitement the playoff atmosphere created. To watch our team, who has really hit some bumps over the last couple games down the stretch of the regular season, show up with a lot of energy and excitement and optimism, they played their hearts out tonight.”


The Saint Francis Red Flash would go on to defeat Mount St. Mary’s in a tightly contested semi-final, 68-63, before running out of steam in the NEC Championship Game against rival Robert Morris, 78-64. Sacred Heart would bounce back to win 11 conference games in 2015, and then go 16-2, win the regular season title, and host the NEC Championship Game in 2016. The 132-124 double overtime thriller remains an NEC Tournament ‘Instant Classic’ and one of the most iconic games ever played in the NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. 



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


*2019 NEC TOURNAMENT PREVIEW:2019 will mark the 33rd annual Northeast Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament. After a year experimenting with a ‘pod system’ format in which the top two seeds each hosted two quarter-final games and one semi-final game, the tournament returns to the ‘higher seed hosting’ format, previously used from 2011-2017. After the quarter-final round, teams will be reseeded so the highest remaining seed plays the lowest remaining seed in the semi-finals. The quarter-finals will tip off on Monday, March 11th on NEC Front Row, with the semi-finals airing on both ESPN3 and NEC Front Row on Thursday, March 14th at 7pm. For the 12th straight season, the NEC Championship Game will air on ESPNU on St. Patrick’s Day, Sunday, March 17th at 2pm. 

Home court advantage has certainly mattered in the early rounds, as under the previous ‘higher seed hosts’ format from 2011-17, home teams were 24-4 in the quarter-finals, only 7-7 in the semi-finals, and 5-2 in the championship game. The only team in history to ever win three straight road games on their way to the tournament title was the 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. As the #5 seed, they won at Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut, and Robert Morris en-route to their program’s first ever championship. The top four seeds here in 2019 (Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Saint Francis U) are a combined 31-5 at home this year against conference competition. 

Two new teams are set to enter the tournament field from the eight who qualified a year ago, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers last qualified in 2017, while the Seahawks are making their first tournament appearance in five years. The Sacred Heart Pioneers are making their 20th consecutive NEC Tournament appearance in 2019, extending their own league record. The Bryant Bulldogs are also appearing for a seventh straight season. They have made the conference tournament every year since they were first eligible back in 2013. 

Wagner, making just their third playoff appearance in the last 15 years will look to pick up their first playoff win since the 2002 quarter-finals. For Fairleigh Dickinson, seeded eighth for a third straight year, the tournament victory drought has been even longer. The Knights haven’t won a playoff game since their 1992 Championship Game victory over Mount St. Mary’s, a streak of 20 straight playoff losses over the last 26 years. 

The Saint Francis Red Flash are the reigning tournament champions, and have won a league record 12 tournament titles overall. There have been six repeat winners in history, and this season the Red Flash will look to become the first repeat champion since the Robert Morris Colonials in 2016 and 2017. Speaking of the Colonials, they will be the tournament’s top seed for a fourth time in history and have home court advantage throughout the tournament. The #1 seeded team has won it all 19 times in the previous 32 seasons. Robert Morris has advanced to the championship game in each of their last five straight seasons. If they can navigate their way back to the final again in 2019, they’d be the first team to play in six straight title tilts since SFU went to seven straight from 1994-2000.


Before the quarter-finals tip off on Monday night, check out our quarter-final previews for all four first round matchups, located below in the “A Look Ahead” section.


*PLAYER OF THE YEAR…A CLOSER LOOK: Five weeks ago, here on the NEC WBB Fast Break, we did a mid-season awards column, highlighting some of the top candidates for each of the NEC’s top honors at the half-way point. Now the regular season has been completed, the coach’s ballots are due in, and the winners are set to be announced by the Northeast Conference on Monday morning, prior to the tip-off of the women’s basketball quarter-finals on Monday night. 

One of the most interesting decisions will be in choosing the 2019 Player of the Year. At mid-season we highlighted five potential candidates: Jess Kovatch, Katherine Haines, Jade Johnson, Sydney Holloway, and Juliette Lawless. Over the final five weeks, Lawless fell off the pace due to a mid-season injury that caused her to miss a game and be very limited in a few others. For Holloway, she averaged a double-double, making her a virtual lock for a first-team all-conference bid, but a Player of the Year honor seems a little out of reach due to a mini-mid-season slump where she averaged only 13.5 points and 8 rebounds over an 11-game stretch. Then, you have the rise of Amy O’Neill, who jumped into the mix by leading the nation in assists and producing a pair of triple-doubles during the month of February. 

So let’s take a closer look at the top four main POY candidates and their numbers…


JESSICA KOVATCH: The Saint Francis senior is the incumbent, the reigning Player of the Year, and obviously the player with the biggest profile and reputation in the league. Kovatch still leads the league in scoring and made three pointers. She is amongst the nation’s best (second in the country) in made threes and made threes per game. However, her numbers down the stretch have been un-Kovatch like. Over the last six games, the Phillipsburg, NJ native is only averaging 16.2 points on 34.3% shooting and 29.0% from three. While those are still solid numbers, Kovatch could be considered a victim of setting the bar too high for herself during her Player of the Year season last year. Her numbers are more comparable to her 2017 season where she finished behind Anna Niki Stamolamprou in the Player of the Year race. While Kovatch’s scoring average and shooting percentage have dropped down the stretch, and she hasn’t had as many explosive scoring games this season compared to previous years, she is actually having her most efficient three-point shooting season overall. Here are how her numbers break down, at the time of the Player of the Year voting, in each of the last three years…

            
Kovatch by season (Numbers going into the NEC Tournament)
2017: 21.7ppg…42.4%FG…35.6%3pt…105 made 3’s 
2018: 24.0ppg…42.8%FG…37.2%3pt…118 made 3
2019: 21.2ppg…42.1%FG…36.8%3pt…112 made 3’s 


KATHERINE HAINES: Haines’ first half highlights include the first triple double in league history involving blocks and achieving her 1,000th career point early in the conference season. In the season’s second half, while Kovatch’s numbers have slipped, Haines has been on a tear. Over the last six games, Haines is averaging 19.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, on 52.9% shooting and 47.6% from behind the arc. If you go back even further to January 28th against Robert Morris, really the only conference game Haines struggled in (7 points, 4 rebounds, on 2-10 shooting), Haines is averaging over 18 points and 9 rebounds on over 50% shooting in her last 10 games. Haines’ 13 double-doubles are third most in the league behind Holloway and LIU’s Brandy Thomas. To compere, Haines’ numbers are very similar to the numbers of Sacred Heart’s last Player of the Year, Hannah Kimmel, in 2016.

            
(Numbers going into the NEC Tournament)
Haines 2019: 16.8ppg…9.2reb…48.7%FG…39.1%3pt
Kimmel 2016: 17.2ppg…7.7reb…39.1%FG…36.7%3pt   


JADE JOHNSON & AMY O’NEILL: Jade Johnson has had an incredible junior season offensively, scoring 19.9 points per game, while connecting on 97 made threes. All of those numbers are spectacular, but also are all second to Kovatch. Johnson’s teammate, Terrier senior Amy O’Neill has quietly developed a Player of the Year resume by significantly contributing in all areas. In the past, point guards usually don’t fare well in Player of the Year voting, perhaps because, as the primary facilitator, they don’t put up the crazy scoring numbers or rack up a ton of rebounds. The most recent ‘point guards’ to win Player of the Year were RMU’s Anna Niki Stamolamprou and Angela Pace, and in both cases, point guard wasn’t their natural position, they were moved there out of team necessity due to injuries and graduations. Excluding her 28-point scoring game last week against Bryant, O’Neill hasn’t put up big points, mostly because she’s been setting up her teammates, like Johnson, at such a high level. In addition, when you factor in that she leads the entire nation in assists, she leads her team in rebounding (as a point guard), and is one of the top defenders in the NEC (all while virtually never coming off of the floor – she has the most minutes played in the league), O’Neill’s complete resume definitely has her up there as an ‘NEC Elite’ player.   


O’Neill’s Last 6 games: 11.8ppg…7.3reb…9.8asst 


The official Player of the Year announcement, as well as the announcements of all individual award and all-conference winners, will take place at 10:00am on Monday, March 11th on the NEC Sports official Twitter page @NECSports. 



A LOOK AHEAD: 2019 NEC WBB QUARTER-FINALS


Monday, March 11, 2019

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



#8) FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (8-21, 5-13) at #1) ROBERT MORRIS (19-10, 16-2)

2018-19 Meetings: RMU 71-49 (1/7), RMU 63-43 (2/2)
All-Time Series: RMU leads 42-26 (Streak: RMU W8) 


The Colonials and Knights are set to square off in the NEC Tournament quarter-finals for the fourth time in the last five years. The Colonials swept the regular season series in 2019 with a pair of defensive gems. In January, RMU held the Knights to just two first quarter points, only 49 points overall on the evening, and 32% shooting in a 71-49 victory in western Pennsylvania. In February, the Knights were outscored 23-9 in the first quarter, and held to 43 points on 35% shooting, in RMU’s 63-43 win in the Garden State. Robert Morris has won their last eight straight meetings with the Knights. The Knights haven’t defeated the Colonials since sweeping RMU during the 2015-16 season. However, Robert Morris would manage to rebound in the 2016 NEC Tournament, eliminating FDU 68-59. They would again spoil Fairleigh Dickinson’s season in 2017, knocking the Knights out of the tournament, 68-35.  

Robert Morris began the year with an impressive 11-game win streak to start conference play. Their 16-2 conference record ties the 2008 team and last year’s team for the second best conference record in program history. The 2010 Colonials finished one game better at 17-1. The Knights went winless in February (0-7) for the first time since 2005. However, they managed to turn it around and win their final two regular season games to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot. 


ROBERT MORRIS 
*Preseason favorite Robert Morris returns to the post-season for the sixth straight season, and for the 14th time in the last 15 years. 

*The Colonials are the #1 seed for the fourth time in NEC Tournament history (2010, 2014, 2017, 2019) 

*The tournament’s #1 seed has won 19 out of the previous 32 NEC Tournament championships. In the 24 years since the discontinuation of the 6-team bracket, the #1 seed has won 17 times and has only missed the championship game on five occasions. 

*RMU has appeared in five straight NEC Championship Games, the most since Saint Francis U appeared in seven straight title tilts from 1994-2000. 

*Robert Morris has won seven NEC Championships, second most in history behind Saint Francis U (12)

*The Colonials are 13-5 all-time in the quarter-final round. They have won eight straight quarter-final playoff contests. The last time RMU failed to record a win in the quarter-final round was a 72-60 loss to Saint Francis in 2009.

*RMU has won six consecutive home playoff games and 17 out of their last 18. The Colonials are 21-2 all-time at home in the NEC Tournament. Their last NEC Tournament loss on their home floor was a 2015 NEC Championship Game setback to St. Francis Brooklyn, 77-62. 

*This is Charlie Buscaglia’s 14th NEC Tournament as an assistant or head coach at Robert Morris. While working for 13 seasons as an assistant under his dad, Sal Buscaglia set a NEC record with 20 tournament wins as a head coach. Since taking over in 2017, Charlie has led the Colonials to five tournament wins in two years, including a title in 2017 and a championship game appearance last year.

*The Colonials are appearing in their 24th NEC Tournament, with a 33-17 overall tournament record.


FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON 
*Fairleigh Dickinson clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight season after a 68-49 victory over LIU Brooklyn in the regular season finale on Thursday night. FDU has qualified for the NEC Tournament 26 times overall and nine times in the last 12 seasons under head coach Peter Cinella 

*The current run of five straight tournament appearances is the second longest streak in program history. From 1992-1998 FDU appeared in seven straight conference tournaments. 

*The Knights were seeded as high as #5 in 2004 and 2008, but have not been seeded in the top four since they were the #1 seed in 1993, falling on their home floor to #4 seed Marist. The Knights are the #8 seed in 2019 for the third straight season. Last year they fell to the #1 Saint Francis Red Flash 89-70 in Loretto. 

*Fairleigh Dickinson was knocked out of the playoffs by Robert Morris in the quarter-final round for three straight seasons from 2015-17. 

*FDU is on a 20 game NEC Tournament losing streak. They have not tasted victory in a NEC Tournament game since their 78-55 victory over Mount St. Mary’s in the 1992 NEC Championship Game. The Knights are 10-24 all-time in the NEC Tournament. 

*Only once in NEC Tournament history has a #8 seed defeated the #1 seed. In 2007, #8 seeded St. Francis Brooklyn pulled off the historic upset against the #1 seeded LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. The Terriers were led by a 20-point effort from Sarah Bratton. 



#7) WAGNER (10-19, 8-10) at #2) SACRED HEART (18-11, 14-4)  

2018-19 Meetings: SHU 80-68 (1/12), SHU 72-64 (1/21)
All-Time Series: SHU leads 28-9 (Streak: SHU W11)


The Sacred Heart Pioneers have appeared in 20 straight NEC Tournaments. Back in March 2000, in their very first NEC Tournament game in program history, the #3 seeded Pioneers were upset in the quarter-final round by the #6 seeded Wagner Seahawks, 59-56. Monday night will be their first playoff meeting since. Presently, the Pioneers have dominated the series. They’ve won 11 straight games against the Seahawks, sweeping them five straight years. The last time Wagner defeated Sacred Heart was back in January of 2014, during Jessica Mannetti’s rookie season as head coach. This year the teams met twice within a nine day span in mid-January. During the first meeting in Staten Island, Kat Haines recorded a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds, while Candice Leatherwood added 20 points. In the rematch, Leatherwood again reached 20, while Haines scored her 1,000th career point, as part of a 19 point effort. 

Sacred Heart boasts one of the most experienced rosters in the league with two seniors and three grad students. The Pioneers began the season 6-0 in NEC play before dropping three in a row. They burst out of that skid with a 76-41 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on February 9th. Since that game, SHU has won eight out of their last nine games and their last five in a row entering the tournament. The effort has been on both sides of the ball. During this nine game stretch, the Pioneers are averaging 68.2 points, 44% shooting, and 8.9 threes per game. All this, while holding opponents to just 52.8 points per game, including holding three teams to under 50 points. On the other side, the Wagner Seahawks have been one of the biggest surprise stories in the NEC this year. After finishing at the bottom of the league standings four straight years, and being forecasted to finish at the bottom again this year, the Seahawks defied the odds, making the NEC Tournament for the first time since 2014 and for only the third time since 2004. While Wagner got off to a 7-5 start in league play, they have dropped five out of their last six to finish up the regular season, having to settle for the seventh seed. 


SACRED HEART

*Sacred Heart is back in the post-season for a 20th consecutive year, the longest active streak in Northeast Conference women’s basketball. SHU has earned a top three seed in 15 out of their 20 tournament trips.

*The Pioneers have advanced into the semi-final round in 12 out of their previous 19 tournament appearances. SHU has been to the semi-finals three straight years and five out of the last seven. 

*SHU has won three Northeast Conference Championships (2006, 2009, and 2012). In 2009, the Pioneers became the 3rd team in NEC history to record a perfect 18-0 regular season on their road to the tournament title. 

*The Pioneers are the #2 seed for the fifth time in program history (2004, 2005, 2013, 2017, and 2019). Seven times the #2 seed has gone on to win the NEC Championship, with Robert Morris in 2008 serving as the last champion to start their journey at #2. 

*Sacred Heart has appeared in four NEC Championship Games, with their last coming back in 2016, a 56-51 loss at home to Robert Morris. 

*With another 18 win season recorded in 2019, the Pioneers have reached the 18 win plateau in 12 out of the last 16 seasons. With two more victories in this year’s tournament, the Pioneers would reach 20 wins for the 8th time since they joined Division I.  

*The Pioneers are 12-7 all time in the quarter-final round. SHU is also 17-8 all-time in NEC Tournament games played at the Pitt Center. 


WAGNER

*Wagner is back in the NEC Tournament for the 21st time in history, for the first time since 2014, and for just the third time since 2004. The Seahawks are the #7 seed for the third time in program history (1994, 2014, and 2019).

*The Seahawks are 8-11 all-time in the quarter-final round and 14-19 overall in the NEC Tournament. Wagner has dropped their last five straight tournament games. Their last tournament win came back in the 2002 NEC Tournament quarter-finals when they beat Monmouth 73-59. 

*Only once has a #7 seed upset a #2 seed. That came back in 2003, when UMBC, in their final year in the league, upset #2 Quinnipiac in the quarter-final. In fact, the Retrievers would also upset #3 Monmouth in the semi-finals, before falling to SFU in the 2003 Championship Game. The #7 seeded 2003 UMBC Retrievers are the lowest seeded team to ever play in the NEC Championship Game. 

*Led by tournament MVP Maureen Coughlin, the Seahawks won their lone championship in 1989 with a 66-60 victory over Robert Morris. Wagner also appeared in the championship game in 1991 and 2000, both times making it to the final as a #6 seed. 



#6) MOUNT ST. MARY’S (14-15, 8-10) at #3) ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN (18-12, 12-6)  

2018-19 Meetings: MSM 78-75 (1/28), SFBK 69-65 (3/4)
All-Time Series: MSM leads 52-8 (Streak: SFBK W1) 


The Mount and St. Francis Brooklyn had perhaps the two most impressive non-conference seasons in the league this year. The Terriers went 6-6, scoring over 100 points in three out of their first five games. The six non-conference wins was their most since they won nine in non-conference play in 2014. For Mount, at 6-5, they finished with a winning non-conference season for the first time since 2000. In conference play, Mount started slow out of the gate at 1-4, but managed to win three straight games at the end of January, including a thrilling 78-75 win at home over St. Francis Brooklyn. After a three-game skid to start February, the Mount won four out of their next five to clinch a playoff spot after missing the tournament by one game last year. The Mount picked up their biggest win on February 16th, handing Robert Morris their first conference loss of the year, 61-55, in a game that Juliette Lawless was limited due to injury. The Terriers are enjoying a banner campaign in their first year under Linda Cimino. St. Francis Brooklyn’s 12 conference wins are the most ever for a single season in program history, and their 18 overall wins is their most since they won 19 games in 2013-14. St. Francis Brooklyn defeated Mount in their second meeting, just last weekend, in Brooklyn Heights. Freshman Ebony Horton led the way with 18 points and 8 rebounds, while senior Amy O’Neill flirted with a triple-double, recording 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists. 

Both head coaches, SFBK’s Linda Cimino and Mount’s Maria Marchesano will be coaching in their first NEC Tournament game. The Terriers are the three seed for a second straight year, but will be hosting their first ever playoff game at the Pope PE Center, after having to play out in Pennsylvania at a ‘neutral site’ last year. St. Francis Brooklyn will be trying to reach the semi-finals for the first time since they won in all in 2015, while the Mount will look to advance into the league’s ‘final four’ for the first time since 2014.


ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN 

*St. Francis Brooklyn is the #3 seed for a second straight season, equaling the highest seeding in program history.  

*Three times the #3 seed has won the NEC Tournament: FDU in 1990, Long Island in 2001, and Robert Morris in 2016. The #3 seed has also seen its share of upsets. 10 times the #6 seed has upset the #3 seed, including in each of the last two seasons. 

*The Terriers are making their 14th NEC Tournament appearance and their third straight. 

*Only three times have the Terriers advanced to the semi-final round: 1987, 2007, and 2015. In 2007 the Terriers pulled off a historic upset as the #8 seed, knocking off the top seeded LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, before falling to Robert Morris in the semis. In 2015, the Terriers would again make history, becoming the first and only school to win three straight road games on the way to their first and only NEC Championship. 

*St. Francis Brooklyn is one victory shy of matching their 2014 team record of 19 wins in a single season  

*Linda Cimino led the Terriers to the #3 seed in her first season as head coach. The last head coach to win a NEC Championship in their first season was Charlie Buscaglia in 2017 with Robert Morris


MOUNT ST. MARY’S 

*The Mount returns to the post-season in 2019 after missing the tournament by a single game last year, ending a run of six straight seasons in the conference tournament. 

*Mount has now qualified for the NEC Tournament a record 27 times and 27 out of the last 30 years. 

*The Mountaineers have appeared in seven NEC Championship Games, but none since 2001. The Mount is tied with Sacred Heart at three NEC Tournament championships (1993, 1994, 1995), for the third most in league history. 

*After falling in the 2001 final, it would be 13 years until the Mount would win another playoff game. They would advance to the semi-finals in back to back seasons in 2013 and 2014. 

*The Mount holds the distinction of earning the NEC’s first two automatic NCAA tournament bids after winning the conference tournament in 1994 and 1995. 

*Mount St. Mary’s is 3-0 all-time in the NEC Tournament against St. Francis Brooklyn, winning playoff matchups in 1994, 1995, and 1998. The Mount is 19-23 overall in the NEC Tournament, with a 13-13 record in the quarter-finals. 



#5) BRYANT (11-18, 9-9) at #4) SAINT FRANCIS U (14-16, 11-7) 

2018-19 Meetings: BRY 66-63 (1/21), SFU 78-66 (2/11)
All-Time Series: SFU leads 10-9 (Streak: SFU W1) 


The Bryant Bulldogs and the reigning champion, Saint Francis Red Flash, will square off for the first time ever in the post-season. The Bulldogs will become the 14th different postseason opponent for the Red Flash, who are the league’s most accomplished tournament team with 47 tournament wins and 12 tournament championships. After a 3-0 start in league play, SFU dropped their next three, including a 66-63 setback in Smithfield. Jessica Kovatch was held to 14 points, ending her streak of nine straight games over 20. The Red Flash would then win their next six in a row before dropping four out of their final six games. The Bulldogs endured a mid-season five game slide, but finished up playing their best basketball of the year, winning five out of their final six games to earn the #5 seed. Bryant secured the 5th seed with a 76-73 victory over Wagner in the season finale. With the game tied at 73, and just seconds remaining, senior Naomi Ashley stripped the ball from the Seahawks and converted an ‘and one’ three-point play opportunity to seal the game. 

Monday night’s game will also be the likely final home game in the remarkable career of ‘the one and only’ Jessica Kovatch. Kovatch, the NEC’s all-time leading scorer, will take the court at DeGol Arena with 2,795 career points and 461 career three pointers. Last year, Kovatch scored a single tournament record of 103 combined points over three games at DeGol Arena to lead the Red Flash to the NEC title. 


SAINT FRANCIS U 

*The Red Flash will be making their 24th NEC Tournament appearance and their 10th in the last 11 years. SFU has won the most tournament games (47) and the most tournament titles (12) in NEC history.

*Saint Francis U has won 43 out of their last 49 playoff games and has appeared in 17 out of the last 25 NEC Championship Games. 

*The last team to repeat as NEC Champions were the Robert Morris Colonials in 2016 and 2017. SFU has always managed to win at least two consecutive championships (1996-2000, 2002-05, and 2010-11)

*At DeGol Arena, Saint Francis has won 29 out of their last 30 home playoff games. Their lone home playoff defeat since the early 1990’s was a 65-57 defeat to Central Connecticut State in 2017.

*The lone school to win the NEC Tournament as a #4 seed was the Robert Morris Colonials in 1991 when they defeated the #6 seeded Wagner Seahawks in the final. 

*This year marks just the 4th time the Red Flash have captured the fourth seed. SFU is 18-5 all-time in the quarter-final round. 

*Last year Jess Kovatch became the 7th player to win Player of the Year and Tournament MVP in the same season. Three players have won Tournament MVP in consecutive campaigns: Jess Zinobile 1999-00, Chinata Nesbit 2007-08, and Anna Niki Stamolamprou 2016-17. 


BRYANT 

*The Bryant Bulldogs have qualified for the NEC Tournament seven straight seasons, every year since first becoming eligible in 2013. 

*Bryant is 5-6 all-time in the NEC Tournament and 5-2 in the quarter-final round. They had appeared in the semi-finals five straight seasons before falling in the quarter-finals last year to Sacred Heart. 

*The Bulldogs are the tournament’s #5 seed for a second straight season. Only once has the #5 seed won a NEC championship, the 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. The 2015 Terriers are the lowest seeded team to ever win the tournament title. 

*The Bulldogs are the lone team in this year’s field to never win a NEC Championship. They appeared in their lone NEC Championship game in 2017, falling to Robert Morris in the final, 65-52.  



THREE STARS 

*For the games of March 7, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Naomi Ashley, BRY…Nina Augustin, RMU…Ashley Berube, CCSU…Jess Kovatch, SFU…Katherine Haines, SHU…Ebony Horton, SFBK…Ally Lassen, SFBK…Juliette Lawless, MSM…Janelle Mullen, WC…Amy O’Neill, SFBK…Isabella Posset, RMU…Lucia Serrano-Ranz, FDU…Taylah Simmons, WC…Natalie Zamora, FDU


THREE: Brandy Thomas, FR (LIU): While her team just missed out on the 2019 postseason, you couldn’t have asked for a better individual finish for Brandy Thomas in her rookie season. Thomas, a winner of three out of the last four NEC Rookie of the Week awards, recorded four straight double-doubles to finish up the 2019 campaign. On a night when the Blackbirds’ leading scorer Jeydah Johnson just did not have the shooting touch, Thomas did all she could to keep LIU in the game,  producing a monster 25 point and 14 rebound performance in the regular season finale against Fairleigh Dickinson. Thomas finishes up the season averaging a double-double with 13.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, and is amongst the nation’s leaders with 15 double-doubles on the year 


TWO: Erin Storck, GR (SHU): On a night when the SHU offense endured a near 17 minute drought without a field goal, Storck led a key mid-fourth quarter stretch by scoring five straight points to help pull SHU within one of Mount St. Mary’s. Later, with 2:44 left and the game tied at 43, Storck made the assist to Jayla Davis for what would go on to be the game winning basket. Finally, in the closing moments, Storck collected two consecutive offensive rebounds off missed free throws and sank three free throws of her own to preserve the win. Storck scored eight of her game high 16 points in the fourth quarter. The Sacred Heart grad student has scored in double figures five straight games to finish up the regular season, averaging 13.2 points during that stretch. Erin Storck will enter the NEC Tournament with 910 career points, 90 shy of 1,000. 


ONE: Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): Holloway’s big plays in the fourth quarter helped to lead a Bulldog comeback over Wagner on Thursday night to help Bryant clinch the #5 seed. Training by five with nearly two minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Holloway rebounded a Khaleah Edwards three point try and scored a layup on the other end to pull Bryant within three. After Taylah Simmons scored to get Wagner back up by five, Holloway found Haley Connors for an assist on the three point ball to get Bryant within two. Holloway finished the night leading Bryant with 20 points and 9 rebounds, with 6 of those points and 7 of those rebounds coming during the fourth quarter. Over her last five games, Holloway is averaging 22.4 points and 8.8 rebounds. She finished the regular season leading the NEC in rebounding for a second straight year, and is top 15 in the nation with 17 double-doubles.  



STAT OF THE WEEK 


*Prior to the 256 points scored in the 2014 NEC Tournament quarter-final between Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart, the NEC record for most combined points scored in a NEC Tournament game was 174 in Robert Morris’ 92-82 win over Saint Francis in the 2012 quarter-finals. The 2014 game smashed that record by a whopping 82 points. Three SFU players, Alexa Hayward, Rebecca Keegan, and Alli Williams, can lay claim that they have played in both of the top two scoring games in NEC Tournament history. 


Our NEC WBB post-season coverage continues on Wednesday, March 13th with a special semi-final playoff edition of the NEC WBB Fast Break column. We’ll recap the quarter-final round and preview both semi-final showdowns. Be sure stay with us all post-season long on the road to the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship here on the NEC Overtime! Blog.  

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 3/5/19

(Photo Credit: Joseph Gomez/Josport)

STARTING LINEUP: AMY O’NEILL    


Moments before Saturday’s opening tip against the Bryant Bulldogs, St. Francis Brooklyn senior Amy O’Neill was escorted out to center court of the Pope PE Center by her mom and her teammate, Jade Johnson, as part of the Terriers’ Senior Day festivities. About two hours later, O’Neill would return to the center of the floor for a post-game interview on NEC Front Row, following a career-high 28-point, six rebound, nine assist, and two steal performance to help lead the Terriers to a 101-77 victory. Just as she’s been all season long, O’Neill was the engine that made the team go.

O’Neill was one of seven Terrier seniors honored on the afternoon, along with Maria Palarino, Dana DiRenzo, Lorraine Hickman, Dominique Ward, Mia Ehling, and Tori Wagner. But true to her selflessness and her personality, when asked about her individual performance in that post-game interview, O’Neill was quick to deflect the credit and turn the attention to her teammates, “What a day for all of us,” expressed O’Neill. “I’m so happy for our seniors and for our team and for people like Dana (DiRenzo) who used their opportunity today and just went for it. I’m just so happy for all of us.”

Nearly three minutes into the game, O’Neill would pick up her first assist on a quick inbounds feed from the baseline to Ebony Horton underneath the basket for an ‘and one’ layup. With the assist, O’Neill surpassed Sacred Heart’s Ericka Norman, and her NEC single season record of 229 assists set back in 2013. This season O’Neill also finds herself leading the entire nation with 8.5 assists per game, and is the only player in the Northeast Conference to rank top 15 in scoring and top 10 in rebounds, assists, and steals.

“I play hard,” explained O’Neill. “I might not be the best shooter, or whatever it may be, but I constantly feel like that I can outwork my opponent and play as hard as I can to help my team any way that I can. I work hard and I do what I can to help my team.”

The Melbourne, Australia native began her basketball journey in the States as a point guard at Cowley College in Kansas. After her sophomore season in 2016-17, O’Neill was named a NJCAA Division I All-American, recording 16.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. Meanwhile in Brooklyn, still searching for that steady point guard to lead the team following the graduation of Katie Fox after the Terriers’ 2014-15 championship season, the Terrier coaching staff was busy scouring the JUCO ranks. They found O’Neill, helped bring her to Brooklyn, and the rest, they say, is history.      

“They got into contact with me first. I believe that they were looking for a point guard and they thought that they needed more experience in the point guard position, so they looked at assists per game in the JUCO level,” recalled O’Neill. “I think that’s pretty much how they came about finding me. And then because I was Australian, I think their eyes lit up because they had Australians here before. I think that’s why they approached me, and then when they did, I was really excited because of the Aussie connection (with Jade Johnson), and I thought that was a good opportunity for me here at St. Francis.”

Coming to St. Francis Brooklyn last year to play for John Thurston, O’Neill was asked to not necessarily be the top scorer that she was at Cowley, but to be more of a pure point guard, running the offense efficiently and getting her teammates open. It was a role that was more natural and allowed her to fit right in.

Following Coach Thurston’s retirement last spring, Linda Cimino was brought in as the Terriers new head coach, and has helped take O’Neill’s game to new heights in her senior campaign. When Coach Cimino had her first meeting with her new team, O’Neill flew halfway around the world from Australia to be there. In that initial meeting, Coach Cimino sensed an instant connection and had a pretty good feeling about Amy’s leadership and personality. Coach Cimino named her a team captain on the spot. 

“She’s the ultimate team player,” praised Cimino. “All she wants to do is put her team in position to win. One of my favorite things about her is her leadership. She will take over a timeout. She will take the clipboard and draw something up. It really makes my job easier. I can count on her to run plays and to run an offense. But more than that, she’s a scorer herself. She can push the ball in transition and just create. I think she makes everyone around her better. She’s certainly made Ally Lassen one of the most improved players in the conference by just creating and drawing attention and dumping it in to Ally.”

One of the aspects of O’Neill’s game that’s hard not to admire is her vision on both ends of the floor. The senior captain has a unique ability and natural instinct to see where her teammates are and to anticipate where they will be to get them into a scoring position. She can also anticipate where the ball is going to carom off of the rim to collect rebounds and read where the opponent is going to go with the ball to help create steals and turnovers. “Even growing up, I wasn’t necessarily the tallest or the most athletic player out there. So I kind of found my way by being a bit more savvy and reading the game better,” said O’Neill. “I think through that development, it’s kind of helping me now. I just kind of learned how to read the play because I’m not the tallest or the most athletic or have the longest arms or anything like that. I just have to do what I can with what I have, and I learned how to play that way.”

“She’s super aggressive. It all comes down to her desire to go after the ball,” said Cimino. “She reads the lanes well, she reads the ball off the backboard well, and she’s a high IQ kid. She knows where the ball is going.”

O’Neill made history back on February 2nd when she recorded 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in 44 minutes of action against the Sacred Heart Pioneers. After flirting with a triple-double on several occasions during the season, the senior finally achieved the historic feat, recording the first triple-double in program history. Two weeks later, she would produce a 16 point, 10 rebound, and 11 assist outing against the Terriers’ rival, the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds. O’Neill became just the second player in league history to record multiple triple-doubles in a single season, and is one of just six women in the country to hold multiple triple-doubles this year.

“It’s funny, the games that I have got triple-doubles are probably the games that I haven’t really worried about it at all,” said O’Neill. “Maybe because I’m not as aware and I’m playing freely and that’s maybe why I’m getting the triple-doubles, because I’m out there not thinking about that kind of stuff. As a whole, I don’t really think about my own stats, that’s just not who I am. I just play the game and play as hard as I can, and it’s kind of cool that I’ve been rewarded with some triple-doubles.”

“When you look at the box score at halftime and you see that she’s over five in every category already, you are like, ‘Wow!’ Four games (this year) she’s been one assist or one point off of a triple double, so she could have had five or six,” noted Coach Cimino. “It’s interesting because you look at the girl Sabrina (Ionescu) from Oregon. (She) leads the country in triple-doubles, and I look at Amy’s stats and they are very similar to hers, minus the points. Amy is number one right now in assists per game in the country. In rebounds, she’s 5’6” and she’s leading our team in rebounding as a point guard. For me, I look at the balance of 10 points per game, almost nine assists per game, and seven and a half rebounds per game…if you gave me the choice of one player in the entire league to start a program with, I would choose Amy O’Neill.”

With potential future pro opportunities waiting for her back home in Australia, that couldn’t be more further from her mind right now. This season the Terriers are 17-12 overall and have clinched both a winning conference season and a double-digit victory conference season for the first time since 2013-14. With the regular season winding down and the postseason set to begin, O’Neill’s thoughts are squarely on her teammates and the mission at hand – bringing a second championship in the last five years to Remsen Street.

“I can’t be more thankful for my teammates. I get the assists, but they finish it off for me, so I’m very lucky in that regard. I’m just so proud of our team. We’ve been through a bit of a change here at St. Francis, but I feel like everyone has bought in, and that’s where we are, quite successful. I hope that we can just keep it up, stick together, and maybe do something really special this year.”


With their 69-65 victory over Mount St. Mary’s on Monday night, Amy O’Neill and her St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers have clinched a home playoff game for the first time in program history. The Terriers will begin their postseason journey in the Pope PE Center on Monday, March 11th. But first, St. Francis Brooklyn will conclude their regular season on Thursday night in New Britain against Central Connecticut State.



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES



*TIEBREAKER-MANIA: 85 conference games have been played this season, and now it all comes down to the final five. Each team has one final game remaining in the 2019 regular season to decide their fate. For some, it’s all about boosting their positioning and seeding. For others, it will be to try and qualify for the NEC Tournament altogether.

There are 32 possible combinations for how the final five games play out. But which combination will be THE combination? 40 more minutes of regular season basketball on Thursday night, for all 10 of the league’s teams, will decide that.

Late on Monday night, the Northeast Conference released the annual color coded grid of official women’s basketball seeding possibilities. Here is a copy of that chart and a breakdown of all the various playoff scenarios that will be in play as the ball gets tipped up on Thursday night for the final time this regular season…


ROBERT MORRIS: The Colonials have clinched the regular season championship for the seventh time in program history, and for the third straight season under head coach Charlie Buscaglia. They will be the tournament’s number one seed for the fourth time (2010, 2014, 2017, 2019), and for the third time in the last six years. Robert Morris will play all postseason games at the North Athletic Complex, where they are 15-0 all-time against NEC foes, since the facility opened at the start of last season. In addition to already knowing their playoff seed, and their playoff location, RMU also holds an edge in knowing their potential first-round opponents. The Colonials will host whoever emerges with the number eight seed, either Fairleigh Dickinson or Central Connecticut State.

SACRED HEART: The Pioneers have clinched the #2 seed and will open up the postseason at the Pitt Center next Monday night. With the second seed, Sacred Heart is also assured of a semi-final home game, should they advance. Possible first round playoff opponents are Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant, or Wagner.

SAINT FRANCIS U & ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN: Both schools have already clinched a top four seed and a quarter-final playoff home game next Monday night. The Terriers will be hosting their first playoff game ever in the confines of the Pope PE Center while the Red Flash are no strangers to playoff games in DeGol Arena, they have won 29 out of their last 30 conference tournament games played there. Saint Francis U can clinch the number three seed with a win or with losses by St. Francis Brooklyn and either Bryant or Sacred Heart. St. Francis Brooklyn can jump up to the third seed for a second straight season with a win and a SFU loss. If both schools lose on Thursday night, SFBK can grab the three with wins by Bryant and Sacred Heart. Possible first round playoff opponents for both the three and the four seed are Mount St. Mary’s, Bryant, or Wagner.

MOUNT ST. MARY’S, BRYANT, & WAGNER: These three teams will be seeded five through seven, with the positioning to be determined on Thursday night. Bryant has the inside edge as they can clinch the number five seed simply with a win over Wagner. A loss would drop the Bulldogs to either sixth or seventh. Mount can clinch the five seed with a win and a Bryant loss. If both win, Mount would be the six, while a loss would place the Mountaineers at either sixth or seventh. The Wagner Seahawks can reach the fifth seed with a win over Bryant and a Mount loss. A loss would slide the Seahawks down to seventh.

FDU & CCSU: Fairleigh Dickinson and Central Connecticut State will go into the regular season finale both still alive for the eighth seed. FDU can punch their ticket into the conference tournament for a fifth straight year (and third straight year as the #8 seed) with a win on Thursday over LIU or a Central Connecticut loss. The Blue Devils, looking advance to their fifth straight NEC Tournament, will need to win against St. Francis Brooklyn and hope for a FDU loss to the Blackbirds. Whoever emerges with the #8 seed will head to Moon Township next Monday night to meet the top seeded, regular season champion, Robert Morris Colonials.



(Photo Credit: Jim Stankiewicz/Merrimack Athletics)

*MEET THE WARRIORS: Back on September 10th, the Northeast Conference announced that Merrimack College, located in Andover, MA, had accepted an invitation to become the league’s 11th member. The Warriors will be incorporated into NEC schedules beginning next year, and will be eligible for the NEC Tournament beginning in the 2023-24 season, following a four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period.

The Merrimack women’s basketball program won a Northeast 10 Tournament championship back in 2004, winning 31 games and advancing all the way to the NCAA National Semi-Finals. This season, Merrimack qualified for their conference tournament for a third straight season, and for the fourth time in the last five years. The Warriors are led by eighth year head coach Monique LeBlanc. Current junior forward Denia Davis-Stewart is one of the leading rebounders in the NE-10, averaging 11 per game, while serving as the team’s second leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. The Dorchester, MA native was recently named the Northeast 10’s Defensive Player of the Year.

In their final Northeast 10 campaign, the Warriors went 20-10 and hosted a playoff game at Hammel Court for the first time in four years. Recently, we spoke with Coach LeBlanc to introduce her program to Northeast Conference basketball fans, and to get a sense of what we can expect to see from the Warriors starting next fall…


CD: What are some key things about the Merrimack women’s basketball program that are important for Northeast Conference women’s basketball fans to know?

ML: Something I’ve learned really quickly coaching in this conference (Northeast 10) is that it has some of the best coaches in the country. You can start with Barbara Stevens at Bentley and over 1,000 wins and countless conference championships. She’s chosen to stay in this league and continue to coach at Bentley. We’re talking about some of the best coaches in the country that we are competing against at least twice a year. There’s some great history and tradition in this conference. There are 15 teams in this conference, it’s a big conference, strong top to bottom, and every game you have to be ready to go. The level of play is really high, there is a really high talent level in the league, and the level of coaching is really good. With all of that, we feel ready to compete. We have the mindset that going into the NEC we’re going to be competing against great players and great coaches, and that’s already been our life here. So we feel ready in that regard.

CD: How would you describe your team’s style of play to NEC basketball fans?

ML: I think they are going to see a team that plays really hard. I think that’s always been the way people describe us, that we compete and play really hard. The type of team we are this year…we press a lot and we play a lot of aggressive zone defense. Offensively, I think the trend everywhere is ‘we want to play fast, we want to push.’ But we also want to work for great shots. So we’re not ‘play fast at all costs,’ But comparing what we currently have to what we are going to be going up against next year, are we going to be a 100% press and zone team next year? I don’t know. But that’s what we’ve been for the last few years.

CD: What have been some of the highlights of your season this year?

ML: A big highlight is our mental toughness and how we’ve played down the stretch. We started conference play 0-4, playing against four very good teams right off of the bat. Our team had higher hopes for the season and that was a little bit of a crossroads, getting over seeing yourself as a last place team at that moment. Knowing that we still had a lot of games to go, staying tough, and continuing to focus on getting better every day, I’m really proud of that. When we finished the first round of divisional play we were 2-5. Since then, we went 10-4. So I think that’s been a highlight for us. We certainly didn’t start the way we wanted to, but we felt that we were playing really good basketball and just a couple of possessions away in every game.

CD: Finally, looking ahead, what is the plan for taking the necessary steps over the next few years to make sure that you’re are ready to compete the first year you are eligible for the NEC Tournament?

ML: We’re going to spend four long years competing hard and still trying to position ourselves to say at the end of the season ‘if we could have been eligible we would have been in there.’ That will be the immediate goal to put ourselves in the position where we feel like we could have been in that mix. After four years of working towards that, I know we’ll be chomping at the bit to be part of it. There will be a lot of emphasis on recruiting, and making sure that we are attracting the level of student athlete that we need to find ourselves in that spot. Hopefully we’ll find ourselves in that mix year one when we are eligible.


Prior to taking the court against Northeast Conference competition next season, NEC women’s basketball fans will have a chance to meet Coach LeBlanc and the Warriors as a part of NEC Social Media Day in October.  


*COMLY REACHES 1,000: The latest to join the NEC’s 1,000 career point club is Fairleigh Dickinson senior Madelynn Comly. With the Knights visiting Emmitsburg, MD and the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon, Comly was able to make history just across the border (about 20 miles away) from her hometown of Littlestown, PA. Comly reached the 1,000-point plateau on a late third-quarter three ball, becoming the 18th player in Fairleigh Dickinson women’s basketball history to reach the milestone. The senior guard entered the day at 991 career points. She would finish by leading the Knights with a game-high 20, in a 62-57 loss to the Mount. 

After the game, Comly spoke with fduknights.com on her incredible career accomplishment, “It’s amazing and I couldn’t have asked for a better spot to do it. All my family and friends, high school friends, even kids I grew up with were here, so it’s amazing I could do it here and before I graduate. I couldn’t have done it without my coaches, teammates, family, friends, and everyone who supported me. I’m very grateful.”

Comly joins fellow NEC 1,000 point scorers from this season: Kiana Patterson, Sydney Holloway, Katherine Haines, Maria Palarino, and Jade Johnson.

Two other senior guards in the NEC are closing in on 1,000, however unless they produce some big scoring games and their teams make deep runs into March, it appears they will fall just short. Mount St. Mary’s guard Juliette Lawless has 915 career points, 85 shy of 1,000, and Sacred Heart grad student Erin Stork is at 894 career points, 106 shy of 1,000.


*400 WINS: The NEC’s longest tenured head coach achieved a historic milestone on Monday night, as head coach Mary Burke recorded her 400th career victory as a result of Bryant’s 69-54 win over LIU Brooklyn. Ironically, Burke’s 300th career win was also in a game against LIU Brooklyn back in January of 2013.

Coach Burke joined Bryant as an assistant back in 1987 and took over as the head coach in the summer of 1991. Now in her 28th season as head coach, Burke helped transition Bryant from the Northeast 10 into Division 1 back in 2008-09. The Bulldogs have qualified to the Northeast Conference tournament every season since they were first eligible in 2013, reaching the semi-finals four times, and the NEC Championship Game in 2017.



A LOOK AHEAD


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


The final five games of the 2019 regular season will commence on Thursday night to complete the playoff picture. The first game to tip off, SFU at RMU at 6pm, is another rematch of last year’s championship game. While this game won’t have any impact on the Colonials in the standings (their place at the top spot is already locked in), it could serve as a tremendous confidence boost going into the tournament. RMU will be looking to rebound after a disappointing 54-45 defeat at Sacred Heart on Monday night, and they will be looking to avoid taking a two game losing streak into the NEC Tournament. Meanwhile, the Red Flash have plenty at stake, as a win would assure SFU of the #3 seed, and thereby avoiding having to play the Colonials again until the Championship Game round.

The remaining four games will all tip at 7pm. The Wagner at Bryant game holds significant interest, as the Bulldogs can wrap up the five spot with a win, however a Bulldog loss and all eyes will turn to Emmitsburg to see if the Mount or Wagner jump up to the five. The Knights play their regular season finale on their home court against LIU Brooklyn, controlling their own destiny. A win and the Knights are in the tournament, however the Blackbirds, playing in their final game of the season, will look to play spoiler and take some momentum into the 2019-20 season. 



THREE STARS

*For the games of March 2-4, 2019   


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Madelynn Comly, FDU…Nneka Ezeigbo, RMU…Ebony Horton, SFBK… Jessica Kovatch, SFU…Candice Leatherwood, SHU…Kiana Patterson, CCSU…Erin Storck, SHU… Brandy Thomas, LIU…   


THREE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): It was quite the weekend for our featured player in this week’s Fast Break column, as the Terriers rebounded from being swept last weekend in Pennsylvania, to recording a sweep of their own back on home soil against Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s. O’Neill’s weekend started by being honored at the Terrier’s Senior Day ceremony on Saturday, which included the special moment of getting escorted out by her mom, who flew halfway around the globe from Australia to be there in person. O’Neill scored a career high 28 points on 8 for 10 shooting, and a perfect 4 for 4 from downtown, to go with 6 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. On Monday night, once again, the ‘triple-double alert’ was in full effect, as O’Neill finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. The pair of wins helped secure a first round playoff home game for the Terriers in the upcoming NEC Tournament.


TWO: Sydney Holloway, JR (BRY): With the Bryant Bulldogs in the midst of a big game on Monday night at LIU Brooklyn, in regards to their playoff positioning, they needed to get a big game from their top player. Holloway delivered, with a season high and a career high-tying 29 points to go with 9 rebounds, falling just shy of her 18th double-double of the season. Holloway had managed to pick up a double-double two days earlier, 19 points and 10 rebounds, in a loss to St. Francis Brooklyn. From January 28th through February 16th the Bulldogs took a tumble down the standings, dropping five games in a row. During that stretch, Holloway averaged 16.4 points and 10 rebounds. In the five games since, where Bryant has won four out of the five, the Bulldog junior has been on a scoring surge, averaging 20 points per game.


ONE: Katherine Haines, GR (SHU): With the Pioneers fielding a thin roster due to injuries, Haines stepped up this week with a pair of double-doubles to help lead Sacred Heart to a sweep of the Keystone State clubs and help boost her late season run towards a potential ‘Player of the Year’ honor. On Senior Day, Saturday against Saint Francis, Haines made a ton of noise with 18 points and 15 rebounds, in a head to head showdown with Jess Kovatch, another top Player of the Year candidate. On Monday, after being limited to just 7 points on 2 for 10 shooting in the first go-around against Nneka Ezeigbo and Robert Morris, Haines turned the tables with a 15 point and 11 rebound outing. Haines now has recorded a total of 13 double-doubles on the year. Since their three game skid in late-January into early-February, the Pioneers have won seven out of their last eight games, with Haines recording numbers off the charts. Over her last eight games, the Sacred Heart grad student averages 18.9 points and 9.9 rebounds, with a 55.8% shooting percentage, including 51.9% from three point range.



STAT OF THE WEEK


*Mount St. Mary’s holds the NEC record for most all-time appearances in the 33-year history of the NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament. This season, Mount will be making their 27th tournament trip, returning to the postseason after missing out by a single game last year. The Sacred Heart Pioneers have been to the NEC Tournament 20 straight seasons, every year since they joined the NEC. The Saint Francis Red Flash are the reigning NEC champions, and hold the record with 12 overall tournament titles.   

Here’s a look at how many times each team has qualified for the NEC Championship and each team’s current qualification streak…


Times Qualified for the NEC Tournament
27: Mount St. Mary’s
24: Robert Morris
24: Saint Francis U
21: Wagner
20: Sacred Heart
14: St. Francis Brooklyn
7: Bryant


Consecutive NEC Tournament Appearances
20: Sacred Heart
7: Bryant
6: Robert Morris
4: Saint Francis U
3: St. Francis Brooklyn
1: Mount St. Mary’s
1: Wagner


Thank you to Linda Cimino, Amy O’Neill, and Monique LeBlanc for taking the time to chat with us for this week’s column. Our NEC WBB post-season coverage tips off on Friday, March 8th for a special quarter-final playoff edition of the NEC WBB Fast Break column. We’ll recap the final day of the regular season, preview all four quarter-final playoff matchups, look back at the five year anniversary of the epic 2014 quarter-final playoff game between Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart, and highlight 2019’s top award candidates. Be sure to follow us all post-season long on the road to the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Championship here on the NEC Overtime! Blog.

#NECWBB FAST BREAK: 2/13/19


STARTING LINEUP: JUJU ON THAT BEAT


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Pam: That’s almost 5,000 career points

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

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


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


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

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



A LOOK AHEAD


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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THREE STARS

*For the games of February 9-11, 2019   


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


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


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


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



STAT OF THE WEEK


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


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

#NECWBB FAST BREAK 2/6/19

STARTING LINEUP: MID-SEASON AWARDS


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

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


BRENDA REILLY NEC WBB COACH OF THE YEAR

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

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

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


ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

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

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

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

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

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


DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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

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

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


PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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


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


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

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

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


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



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



A LOOK AHEAD


Saturday, February 9, 2019

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


Monday, February 11, 2019

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


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

Bryant at Robert Morris, 7pm (ESPN3)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THREE STARS

*For the games of February 2, 2019   


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


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


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


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



STAT OF THE WEEK


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


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

#NECWBB FAST BREAK 1/30/19


STARTING LINEUP: SACRED HEART




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD: What kind of internship experiences have you had?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ES: I always joke that I want to be retired

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

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

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

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


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



#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES


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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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



A LOOK AHEAD


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



THREE STARS

*For the games of January 26-28, 2019   


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


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


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


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



STAT OF THE WEEK


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


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

« Older Entries