Saint Francis U senior Jessica Kovatch has scored an all-time NEC record 2,749 points and has also hit 455 three-pointers (155 more than the second-ranked NEC career leader). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the NCAA Division I active leading scorer is up for the Wade Trophy, an award presented annually by the WBCA to the top Division I women’s player.
Interesting tidbit: SFU interim head coach won the 1992 Wade Trophy as a Penn State athlete
The LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds flew south for a mid-week date with SEC member Georgia and Peach State product Jackson Svete felt right at home. Starting for the Birds on the bump, Svete dazzled during 6.0 innings of two-hit ball and the bullpen held on for a 1-0 victory over the No. 9 team in the nation. Not bad for a Tuesday in late February.
ANOTHER ONE IN THE BOOKS
Pour one out for the final NEC Thursday of the 2018-19 season. Sacred Heart currently drubbing Robert Morris to make what will likely be one of many ties in the standings come Saturday: pic.twitter.com/f1EOuKxw74
The initial watch list is out for the most-prestigious honor in collegiate lacrosse and three NEC athletes are in the running. Sacred Heart midfielder Max Tuttle and Robert Morris GK Alex Heger are candidates for the Tewaaraton Award. Reigning Division II national champion Merrimack, which has accepted an invitation to begin reclassification into the NEC, also boasts a Tewaaraton hopeful in attackman Charlie Bertrand.
Robert Morris clinched at least a share of the NEC women’s basketball regular season title on Monday, meaning the Colonials will finish in first place for the third time since head coach Charlie Buscaglia took the reins three seasons ago.
On Monday, February 18th, ESPN3 and NEC Front Row aired the Robert Morris Colonials and Saint Francis Red Flash women’s basketball game live from DeGol Arena in Loretto. The matchup, a rematch of the previous season’s championship game, was one of the most eagerly anticipated contests in the league’s 2019 women’s basketball broadcast package. As fans tuned in to see the Colonials come away with a 66-60 victory over their Keystone State rivals, not many know the process for how a NEC basketball broadcast comes together and gets on the air. So this week in the NEC Overtime! Blog we wanted to do something a little different. Let’s pull back the curtain and let you, the audience, in on the preparation involved leading up to the game, the gameday production, the crew that helps make the broadcast possible, and reveal some of the production decisions along the way that helped shape what you saw on the screen. The following is an exclusive behind the scenes account of February 18th’s Colonials/Red Flash ESPN3 broadcast…this is NEC-TV All-Access!
Sunday, February 10th
From a play-by-play announcer’s perspective, preparing for a game is just like preparing for an exam in school. If you don’t open up a textbook until the night before to start studying, you probably aren’t going to fare that well on the test. So on this day, eight full days before gameday, I would get started on my preparation, spending time updating my SFU and RMU charts. All broadcasters have some sort of chart in front of them when they call games. These charts come in all different variations: hand-written or typed, simple or fancy, black and white or color coded, etc. Whatever is easiest for the announcer to follow. These charts will usually include basic information such as player names, numbers, stats, and notes. For me, I create my charts through Microsoft Word, so this way I don’t have to re-write every single note by hand every single time I see a team, I can just copy and paste or cut out and add.
For example, the last time I saw Robert Morris and Saint Francis was last year’s championship game, so my RMU and SFU charts were still set up from last March. So I had to sadly take out players from last year such as Ace Harrison and Megan Smith, and update the charts with the current rosters and 2019 information.
My broadcast partner Pam Roecker hand writes her notes about each player. As the analyst, her notes include more scouting report type information and notes from her conversations with the coaches, while my notes are more fun facts, stories, and statistics.
Monday, February 11th
One week before gameday, Bryant plays at Saint Francis and Robert Morris hosts Central Connecticut State on NEC Front Row. I have my updated roster charts out so now I can practice identifying players as I watch the games. In Loretto, the Red Flash won their fifth in a row 78-66, while the Colonials improved to 11-0 with a 60-40 win in Moon. From these games, I also start to take note of any storylines that might be prevalent for next week’s broadcast, for example: Robert Morris chasing 2013 Quinnipiac as the last team to have an undefeated NEC season, Courtney Zezza approaching the school’s career blocks record, Robert Morris’ post-players (34 points in the paint vs. CCSU) vs. SFU’s new zone defense, and Jess Kovatch on fire, averaging 28.8 points per game over the previous three weeks.
Tuesday, February 12th – Friday, February 15th
Tuesday was a snow day in New Jersey, so I got a chance to complete a lot of work in my game prep. I went back into my charts, updated the stats to include the numbers from Monday night’s games, and completed adding extra notes on each player in the notes boxes. Among the notes added to my charts include Isabella Posset not only being RMU’s first local product since 2013-14, but also wearing #4. The last two scholarship players to wear #4 – Anna Niki Stamolamprou and Angela Pace – won Player of the Year honors. Also, I found stories on Karson Swogger’s late grandfather being a former Hall of Fame coach at Altoona High School and teaching her the floater, Haley Thomas coming back from a foot injury last year to be in running for Most Improved Player this year, and finally a story on Swogger and Thomas being former high school opponents and playing a playoff game against each other at DeGol Arena. While there’s no guarantee how many of these stories, if any at all, make it into the actual broadcast, I like to research and have as many as I can, just in case.
I went back to NEC Front Row and watched last year’s Robert Morris/Saint Francis game. I tried to pay close attention to how Robert Morris defended Jess Kovatch. I noticed they used multiple players starting with Jocelyn Jones and then Nina Augustin for a good majority of the game. It didn’t help, as Kovatch lit up the Colonials with six threes in the third quarter. Watching back last year’s game also sparked the idea to research Kovatch’s career numbers against Robert Morris (25.4ppg on 42.3% shooting in seven games) and career numbers on ESPN3 NEC games (28.1ppg on 44.7% shooting in ten games).
During the remainder of the week, my broadcast partner Pam Roecker and I will be in touch either through e-mail or over the phone (for this particular week it would be via e-mail), and we exchange ideas for storylines or important things we would like to bring up on the broadcast. Storylines Pam suggested for this week include: Kovatch as the all-time leading scorer and all of the post-season honor watch-lists she is on, Susan Robinson-Fruchtl serving as interim head coach while also the Athletic Director, and how Robert Morris would respond back in the building where they lost the championship game a year ago.
Saturday, February 16th
I head up to Hackensack to see Saint Francis play against Fairleigh Dickinson. It’s my first time seeing the Red Flash in person since the last time they came to New Jersey, in their season opener against Rutgers. Before the game, I get to chat for about 10 minutes with interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl.
Our conversation provides valuable insight for Monday’s broadcast on things about the team that don’t show up in box scores, game notes, or articles, such as Coach Robinson Fruchtl describing the keys to her team’s success over the last three weeks, “We’ve taken care of the ball better over the last five to six games. We’ve gotten hotter shooting, we’re a little more detailed about things like setting good screens and reading screens defensively, we’ve worked on that zone defense and their understanding, and we’ve seen some kids develop: Leah Morrow, Caitlin Carroll, Phee Allen, and AJ Timbers have played a little more. Kids have gotten opportunity and they’ve stepped up.” Coach also provided her insight on keys to the Robert Morris matchup, “They are the best half court defensive team in the league. That’s why they are winning. To me they are physical. That will be interesting to see, can we match their physicality? To me, we’re a better shooting team and have more weapons from the perimeter. We’re going to have to hit some shots.”
Despite trailing entering the fourth quarter, the Red Flash would fight back with a 15-0 run, to win the game 77-65, their sixth straight win. Simultaneously, in Emmitsburg, MD, the Robert Morris Colonials were handed their first NEC defeat by the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers 61-55. This outcome completely changes one of our featured storylines going into Monday night. Now instead of focusing on Robert Morris and their push towards an undefeated conference regular season and making comparisons to the 2013 Quinnipiac Bobcats, now the story shifts to ‘How is Robert Morris going to rebound and respond after their first NEC loss?’
Sunday, February 17th
On Sunday, Pam and I hear from our production director Brad Kasnet from Pack Network for a ‘production meeting’ of sorts. Pam and I submit our players who we would like to feature during the opening of the broadcast (Nneka Ezeigbo for RMU and Jess Kovatch for SFU). We also suggest to Brad opening the broadcast with a graphic of the NEC standings and having a camera gather footage from the pre-game ‘Courtney Zezza Block Party’ in front of DeGol Arena to use either in the open or at some point during the broadcast. We go over some stats that could be made into graphics, such as the numbers I found earlier in the week on Kovatch against Robert Morris and Kovatch in NEC ESPN3 games.
Brad then sends us a copy of the rundown, which lists the sequence for the game open and all of the commercial breaks during the game, with the promos that I have to read at each break.
Later that evening, Pam and I both have a chance to speak with Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia over the phone as the Colonials travel on their bus to Loretto. Coach B addressed one of our big questions going into the game, how the Colonials were prepared to defend Kovatch, “She makes tough shots. She works on it and has a lot of passion for that part of the game. You just do the best you can. It’s not just one person, it’s going to have to be a team effort.”
Monday, February 18th – GAMEDAY!
After over a week of studying and preparation, gameday is finally here!
10:30am: The Pack Network crew, composed of production director Brad Kasnet and production assistant/camera operator James Kent, arrive at DeGol Arena. Once the game actually starts, they will be joined by three other camera operators, a graphics operator, and a TV timeout coordinator who is on the phone with ESPN counting down to and counting back from commercial breaks.
Brad and James will spend much of the morning and afternoon setting up their equipment, a process that takes at least four hours. They run cables, setting up the cameras, microphones, and monitors, connecting everything to the main computer console. Brad will use this console to direct the game (play the commercials, cut to the various camera shots, show replays, and post graphics). They establish feeds to the monitors at the broadcast position and the video board in the gym, and make sure the feed is properly transmitting to NEC Front Row and ESPN. Brad will then spend much of the afternoon creating all of the graphics that you see on the screen during the game.
5:00pm: About two hours before the start of the game, Pam and I arrive at DeGol Arena. We meet with Brad and go over the graphics and the rundown. One adjustment that needed to be made is changing the NEC standings graphic to include the three games that went final earlier in the afternoon. St. Francis Brooklyn winning and clinching a playoff spot and Sacred Heart’s loss to LIU Brooklyn both had a direct impact on our game, considering now SFU would have a chance to go one full game up on the Pioneers and Terriers, so that definitely needed to be reflected in the standings graphic.
5:30pm: Red Flash head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl came over to say hello to Pam and I at the broadcast table. Part of our informal conversation involved Coach Robinson Fruchtl telling us that at halftime the SFU bowling team would be receiving their championship rings after winning the 2018 NEC Championship. With a feature on NEC Hall of Fame bowler Danielle McEwan already scheduled for our halftime show, the decision was made to show part of the ceremony coming out of the feature piece and before going to commercial break.
6:00pm: Robert Morris SID Ethan Woy comes over to talk to us briefly about the Colonials, going over who is available and who isn’t and discuss some name pronunciations. Anyone who has followed any of my broadcasts, or regularly reads this column, knows that I like weird and quirky stats. We find out that Robert Morris is wearing their pink jerseys for this game after originally being listed to wear their road navy blues. RMU is 22-1 all time when wearing the pink jerseys, information that wasn’t originally planned to get on the broadcast, but now definitely will.
James from Pack Network goes outside with a camera to film the opening shot of DeGol Arena and record footage of students flipping burgers and hot dogs on the grill as part of the ‘Block Party’ while light snow flurries start to come down. James then returns inside and uploads that footage from the camera into Brad’s main computer to use during the broadcast. After looking through the rundown, Brad and I see that there is time coming back from commercial at the second quarter media timeout, after we read the ‘NCAA Respect’ promo, to show the ‘Block Party’ footage.
6:30pm: About a half-hour before going on the air, Pam and I rehearse the opening to the broadcast. We run through everything that you will see on TV. The opening starts with the shot recorded from outside DeGol Arena, then cuts to a wide shot of inside the gym while a graphic comes up with the team’s logos and records. Then comes the NEC standings graphic we decided to add to the open earlier in the week, before finally the camera cuts to Pam and I courtside. I set up Pam to talk about the rivalry and these two teams meeting for the first time since last year’s championship, before setting up the starting lineups and our feature players, Ezeigbo and Kovatch. Everything to that point goes according to the script and we are all ready to roll!
In the arena, the national anthem and the starting lineups take place before we go on the air at 7:00pm. This is because it would be awkward for TV to come on the air in the middle of honoring our country or with the lights in the building out, like a lot of gyms do now with their intros. During the anthem I have a routine of closing my eyes and talking to myself, reminding myself to have a blast, how lucky I am that I get to be here, and letting the broadcast flow like running water (basically telling myself to be loose). After the anthem I always give a few claps and say out loud to Pam and the crew, ‘Let’s have some fun!’ Then we sit back down, settle in, and get counted down in our headsets, “5…4…3…2…1…and we’re live…”
FIRST QUARTER: We go live on the air and run through the opening just as we rehearsed. For ESPN3 games, the official game start time is 7:03 or 7:04pm. It can be an awkward situation for the players and the fans in the building as they already ran through the anthem and lineups before ESPN3 goes on the air at 7:00, but the game doesn’t actually start until a few minutes after the hour so we can set the scene with our opening and run through the starting lineups on the broadcast. So everyone on the court and in the stands is all pumped up and excited to get going, only to have to stand around and wait for several minutes so us TV people can finish up our stuff.
Here is an example of how the pre-game prep pays off during a broadcast: at the 6:26 mark of the first quarter Karson Swogger is fouled trying to put up a floater in the lane. While she is taking her free throws, it’s a perfect time to draw back to the story I researched on Tuesday on Swogger’s grandfather teaching her the floater. Pam then would transition from that to bringing in notes from her conversation with Coach Robinson Fruchtl earlier in the week about Swogger transitioning to a point guard role this year.
SECOND QUARTER: Sometimes things fall into place with the perfect timing, as was the case with the second quarter media timeout. We had pre-determined before the game that we would be coming out of this break with the footage from the ‘Block Party,’ and sure enough, Zezza recorded four blocks in the first five minutes of the second quarter to bring her total up to five for the game. So coming out of the commercial, viewers saw the shot of the burgers and hot dogs on the grill while I read the NCAA Respect promo, and then Pam and I were able to discuss Zezza’s shot blocking skills.
HALFTIME: As planned, we go from the Hall of Fame video package of Danielle McEwen right into a live shot of the Saint Francis bowling team getting honored. With Kovatch held to just three points, Pam checks in with SFU SID David Halstead to see if the three points were Kovatch’s lowest in a half this season (they were) and to check what her season low point total is.
At his computer, while the halftime features and commercials play, production director Brad is searching through replays saved onto his computer of the top plays from the first half to put together for a ‘first half highlights’ segment, all while updating the ‘halftime stats’ graphic.
THIRD QUARTER: In the third quarter, the broadcast conversation started to shift into focusing on the RMU defense. With 5:02 to go, following Pam’s analysis on how Augustin used an angle to force Kovatch out of the paint while she was in transition, I brought out a quirky statistic from the RMU game notes about how the Colonials had held five straight opponent’s leading scorers to single digit scoring.
FOURTH QUARTER: During the commercial break, I researched the season high in three point attempts for Robert Morris. They had 28 three point attempts at the end of the third quarter, only the fifth time they had as many as 28 or more during a game this year, a note we got across in the opening 30 seconds of the fourth quarter.
With 7:43 remaining, Kovatch and Nia Adams get tangled up and both fell to the ground while going after a rebound. In a perfect example of the behind-the-scenes communication between the director and the on-air talent during a broadcast, the initial live shot saw Kovatch and Adams get tangled up, the whistle blow, and then a cut to the baseline camera view where you saw Kovatch get helped up by her teammates, before finally going back to the wide camera to see that Kovatch had a ‘flat tire’ situation with her sneaker where her shoe partially came off. While all this sequence was going on, production director Brad was talking to me in my headset, telling me that they had a replay of her from the baseline camera pointing and showing her ‘heel situation.’ So Brad cut right to that replay and Pam and I were able to react and comment.
Kovatch with a ‘flat tire’ heel situation. A great example of in-broadcast communication between the director and the talent to get to the baseline camera replay angle pic.twitter.com/C5cb09nRmg— Craig D’Amico (@CraigCD13) February 26, 2019
With under 4:00 minutes to go, and the game in a timeout, Pam and I start discussing the jersey ceremony from the week before of NEC Hall of Famer Jess Zinobile. Brad communicates to the baseline cameraman to turn around and secure a shot of Zinobile’s jersey just to the right of the scoreboard, allowing Brad to cut to a shot of the jersey as Pam and I were in the middle of our Zinobile conversation.
Coach B had told Pam on Sunday night that one area the Colonials needed to improve on, going back to several instances in non-conference, but especially after Mount two days earlier, was closing out games. With RMU protecting a three point lead in the final minute, suddenly that piece of information became front and center.
POSTGAME: After the Colonials secured the 66-60 victory, the last order of business on the broadcast was Pam interviewing the winning coach and the player of the game. As Pam made her way from the broadcast table over to the sideline camera for the interview, she meets up with RMU SID Ethan Woy to discuss which player she would be interviewing. It came down to either Augustin (18 points on 6-12 3pt shooting) or Ezeigbo (16 points and 9 rebounds), and the decision was made to go with Augustin. Following the interview, I got the ‘wrap-it-up’ signal from Brad through my headset, and we went through the game ending narration while Brad rolled back highlights from earlier in the game, as we said ‘goodnight’ and signed off the air.
Be sure to join us for the next NEC Women’s Basketball broadcasts on ESPN3 coming up this post-season. ESPN3 will air both 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament semi-final matchups on Thursday, March 14th at 7pm.
#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES
*WHERE THEY STAND: Three more teams entered the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament field this weekend as the Wagner Seahawks clinched their first playoff berth since 2014 with a 60-44 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday afternoon, while Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant punched their tickets with wins on Monday night coupled with losses by CCSU, Fairleigh Dickinson, and LIU Brooklyn.
The Robert Morris Colonials maintained their lead in the top spot in the NEC standings by sweeping the NEC’s Brooklyn institutions, winning on Saturday over St. Francis Brooklyn 74-57, and again on Monday night over LIU Brooklyn 71-54. Sporting a three game lead with three games left to go, the Colonials have clinched at least a share of the NEC’s regular season championship for a third straight year and for the seventh time overall. RMU can clinch the title outright, and the tournament’s #1 seed for a fourth time in program history, with one more win or one more Sacred Heart loss over the final three games of the regular season.
Sacred Heart was shorthanded for most of the weekend, but picked up two of their biggest wins of the year on the road, a 27 point win on Saturday at Central, and a 19 point win on Monday night at FDU. With the win on Monday against the Knights, combined with Wagner’s loss to Bryant, the Pioneers have clinched a top four seed and a first round playoff home game at the Pitt Center. The Pioneers trail RMU for the #1 spot by three games with three to go. They would need to win out, including a win next Monday head-to-head against RMU, and hope the Colonials drop their two other games as well, just to force a first place tie and leave it up to the tiebreakers to decide the #1 seed. Maintaining the #2 spot will be just as important, as finishing in second would ensure that any playoff games played in the first two rounds would be at home. Sacred Heart holds a one game lead over Saint Francis U for second, with the Red Flash set to come to town for a Saturday afternoon showdown this weekend. A Sacred Heart win would reduce the magic number to one to clinch a top two seed, while a Red Flash win would force a tie for second place, with SFU winning the season series to control the tiebreaker.
Monday night also saw a tie for third place broken as the Saint Francis Red Flash defeated the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers 86-84 in Loretto. Both teams entered the night tied for third at 9-5 in NEC play, but SFU’s win now gives them a one game edge. SFU’s win was crucial because it forces a split in the season series, which would be important for tiebreakers should these teams finish the year even. As mentioned, the Red Flash can force themselves into a tie for second, with the tiebreaker advantage, if they can win on the road in Fairfield on Saturday. Saint Francis can also clinch a first round playoff home game with another win and another Wagner loss.
For the Terriers, after dropping both games of the Pennsylvania road trip, they fall to fourth place with a 9-6 record in NEC play, one game behind third place and only one game ahead of fifth. St. Francis Brooklyn, looking to host their first playoff game in school history, will need to maintain their slim margin over Wagner. The Seahawks and Terriers split their season series this year, so any tiebreaker would come down to records against the NEC’s top teams in the standings. The Terriers own an overtime victory over the current second place Pioneers, but the Seahawks will have an opportunity when they host Robert Morris and Saint Francis this weekend. The Seahawks clinched only their program’s fourth playoff appearance in the last 15 years on Saturday. They are looking to host a playoff game at the Spiro Center for the first time since 2004.
Mount St. Mary’s and Bryant both locked up playoff spots this weekend. Mount St. Mary’s returns to the playoffs in 2019 after missing out last year in Coach Marchesano’s first season. Bryant has been to the postseason every year since first being eligible in 2013. The Bulldogs hold the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Mount due to a sweep in the regular season series.
Finally, three teams are in the running for just one final playoff spot, as Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, and LIU Brooklyn head into the final three games deadlocked in the standings. At the moment, FDU holds the advantage in a three way tiebreaker situation due to a 2-0 combined record against LIU and CCSU so far this season. While the Blackbirds are in a bit of a hole with an 0-2 combined record against the other two teams, they have thrust themselves back into the race with recent wins over two of the league’s top three teams, Sacred Heart and Saint Francis U, wins that could be a huge advantage if all three teams end up tied in their head to head records against each other. What will make this a fascinating race to the finish line, is that all three of these teams face each other over the final week, starting with CCSU at LIU Brooklyn on Saturday, Fairleigh Dickinson at CCSU on Monday, and then LIU Brooklyn at Fairleigh Dickinson in the regular season finale on Thursday, March 7th.
If the playoffs started today (which they don’t)…
#8 Fairleigh Dickinson at #1 Robert Morris #7 Mount St. Mary’s at #2 Sacred Heart #6 Bryant at #3 Saint Francis U #5 Wagner at #4 St. Francis Brooklyn
*SHU SHOOTING DISPLAY ON ESPN+: The Sacred Heart Pioneers put on quite the shooting display in front of an ESPN+ audience on Monday night in Hackensack, NJ. The Pioneers shot a single game, team Division 1 record 28-46 from the floor (60.9%), and shot 14-25 from behind the arc, leading SHU to an 82-63 victory over the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. The 82 points and the 14 threes marked season highs for Sacred Heart.
Four Pioneer players were in double-figure scoring, led by Kat Haines with 22, Erin Storck with 16, Candice Leatherwood with 12, and Jayla Davis with a career high 19. Playing without two regular starters, Davis began the night in the starting lineup for the first time this year, while grad student Kiana Ye saw extended minutes in just her second game of the season. Ye, who returned to action for the first time since last year’s postseason on Saturday against Central Connecticut State, played 19 minutes and connected on three triples, leading to a career high nine points.
The game broke open with a 32 point third quarter for Sacred Heart, where they shot 10-13 overall and 6-7 from behind the arc. The 32 point quarter was the highest scoring quarter in program history.
🏀 RECAP | @SacredHeartWBB sets new season-high in pts (8⃣2⃣), field goal % (60.9), three-pointers (1⃣4⃣) as the Pioneers power past FDU 82-63 💪
Kiana Ye ⬇️⬇️⬇️ career-high 9⃣pts off the bench tonight
Saturday, March 2, 2019 Robert Morris at Wagner, 1pm Bryant at St. Francis Brooklyn, 1pm Saint Francis U at Sacred Heart, 1pm Fairleigh Dickinson at Mount St. Mary’s, 1pm Central Connecticut at LIU Brooklyn, 2pm
Monday, March 4, 2019 Robert Morris at Sacred Heart, 6pm Mount St. Mary’s at St. Francis Brooklyn, 7pm Saint Francis U at Wagner, 7pm Fairleigh Dickinson at Central Connecticut, 7pm Bryant at LIU Brooklyn, 7pm
*Sacred Heart hosting Robert Morris and Saint Francis U: In a pair of games that will likely shape the top three spots in the NEC Tournament, Sacred Heart will welcome RMU and SFU into the Pitt Center this weekend. The Pioneers, winners of 11 out of their last 12 NEC home games, return to the Pitt Center for the first time since February 11th, after going 3-1 on a season long four game road trip. Robert Morris needs only one more win or one more Sacred Heart loss to officially wrap up the number one seed, while Saint Francis and Sacred Heart battle for a possible top two seed. The Pioneers and Red Flash will meet one week shy of the fifth anniversary of their historic 132-124 double overtime playoff game from back in the 2014 season.
*The Race for Eighth: All three teams currently tied for the eighth and final playoff spot will play each other over these final three games, beginning this week with Central Connecticut State at LIU Brooklyn on Saturday and Fairleigh Dickinson at Central Connecticut State on Monday.
THREE: Haley Thomas, SO (SFU): The Saint Francis sophomore had a career night in Monday’s victory over St. Francis Brooklyn. Thomas poured in a career high 27 points on 12 for 18 shooting. “They had no answer for Haley,” said interim head coach Susan Robinson Fruchtl in the post-game press conference. “They had no answer inside, outside…whoever they put on her was just a mismatch.” In Saturday’s loss to the Blackbirds, Thomas came off the bench due to SFU starting their seniors for Senior Day, and the Hooversville, PA native contributed 12 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 29 minutes before fouling out. On the weekend, Thomas was super-efficient, shooting 68% from the field over the two games.
TWO: Katherine Haines, GR (SHU): The Sacred Heart Pioneers have won five out of their last six games over the last three weeks, and during this stretch, graduate student Kat Haines has been what her head coach Jess Mannetti describes as ‘unstoppable.’ The numbers back that claim up, as Haines has averaged 19.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and has shot 59.2% during the last six outings. This past week, Haines recorded her 11th double-double of the season on Saturday with 24 points and 12 rebounds against Central Connecticut, and then followed it up with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and a career high 5 assists against Fairleigh Dickinson.
ONE: Nneka Ezeigbo, JR (RMU): For the second straight week, Ezeigbo recorded a double-double and an ‘almost’ double-double, this time helping lead the Robert Morris Colonials to a sweep of the NEC’s Brooklyn schools and a share of the 2019 regular season championship. On Saturday against the Terriers, Ezeigbo powered her way to 16 points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. On Monday night, she was an unstoppable force against the Blackbirds, setting a new career high with 30 points on 13-20 shooting, with 11 rebounds. Ezeigbo recorded her sixth double-double of the year, on a night when she became the first Colonial to reach the 30 point mark since Anna Niki Stamolamprou tied the school record with a 39 point showing back in January of 2017. “She was very steady for us tonight, and that’s something we really need,” said head coach Charlie Buscaglia in his post-game interview on NEC Front Row. “She did a great job at playing with a great pace, but being aggressively wise and not forcing it. It was great to see her have a day like today because a lot of work and development went into this. It was great to see her go off today and have a nice game around the basket like that. I’m really proud of her.”
STAT OF THE WEEK
*Jade Johnson and Nneka Ezeigbo both hit the 30 point mark in the scoring column on Monday night. Their performances became the 14th and 15th individual 30 point games of the season in the Northeast Conference, making 2018-19 a season with the most individual 30 point games since 22 were recorded in 2015-16. St. Francis Brooklyn’s Jade Johnson has recorded the most individual 30 point games on the season with five (and three in her last five games), ahead of SFU’s Jess Kovatch who has three.
A look at the 15 individual 30 point games in 2018-19:
-Brandy Thomas (LIU), 36 vs. MSM – 2/11/19 -Jess Kovatch (SFU), 34 at MSM – 2/2/19 -Jade Johnson (SFBK), 33 at LIU – 1/21/19 -Candice Leatherwood (SHU), 31 at LEHIGH – 12/8/18 -Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 vs. PRINCETON – 12/19/18 -Jess Kovatch (SFU), 31 vs. FDU – 1/5/19 -Lauren Francillon (FDU), 31 vs. CCSU – 1/12/19 -Michaela Harrison (MSM), 31 at LIU – 2/11/19 -Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 vs. LIU – 2/16/19 -Jade Johnson (SFBK), 31 at SFU – 2/25/19 -Michaela Harrison (MSM), 30 vs. TOWSON – 11/24/18 -Jess Kovatch (SFU), 30 vs. WC – 1/28/19 -Taylah Simmons (WC), 30 vs. SFBK – 2/11/19 -Jade Johnson (SFBK), 30 at WC – 2/11/19 -Nneka Ezeigbo (RMU), 30 vs. LIU – 2/25/19
Be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, March 6th for the regular season finale of the WBB Fast Break column. We’ll break down all of the tiebreaker scenarios going into the final games and look ahead to the 2019 NEC Tournament!
Historically, the best team in the NEC regular season standings has routinely crossed the 14-win threshold, even during the 2013-14 campaign when the league’s schedule was cut to 16 games. Below are the NEC regular season champions over the past decade:
Mount St. Mary’s
St. Francis Brooklyn
Going back another five years, you’ll find the last time a team finished in first place with 12 wins. Both Monmouth and St. Francis Brooklyn in 2003-04 were tied atop the standings at season’s end with a 12-6 conference record.
Will we see this happen again by the end of Saturday’s set of games? According to KenPom, Saint Francis has a 44% and 36% chance to win at Wagner and Sacred Heart, respectively. For the Red Flash to sweep their final two contests, the odds drop to 16%. The good news for Rob Krimmel’s group is being on the road hasn’t been a detriment to Saint Francis’ success of late; they’ve won five of their last seven outside of their friendly confines.
As for the rest of the league’s odds, I highly recommend diving into Ron Ratner’s weekly update. Some of the teams still have a wide range of outcomes; for example, Sacred Heart can finish anywhere from first all the way to seventh depending on what goes down this weekend. LIU Brooklyn could possibly host a NEC tournament playoff game (#4 seed) or not make the tournament all together.
Who’s the next NEC Jim Phelan Coach of the Year?
I honestly don’t know, and can’t confidently answer this with an educated guess until the regular season is finished. For me, there are four legitimate candidates at the moment. And their chances all hinge on the regular season results for the final week.
Rob Krimmel, Saint Francis U – The 7-year head coach and long-time NEC participant would’ve been the logical choice for the award had the Red Flash kept their winning streak alive last Saturday against the Blackbirds. But in NEC fashion, LIU Brooklyn was powered behind 35 points from Ty Flowers and Raiquan Clark to pull off the upset in Loretto. Now, the Red Flash must win the league title the hard way, on the road against two programs looking to finish in the top four. If the Red Flash can claim the championship outright, it will be hard to keep Krimmel from earning his first ever COY honor, even though the Red Flash were expected to be at the top during preseason prognostications back in the fall. That didn’t stop the coaches from voting for Glenn Braica after the Terriers’ 15-3 masterpiece in 2014-15.
Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson – Like Krimmel’s squad, many pundits expected FDU to be at or near the top by late February. A 9-2 run after a 1-4 start has put them in a good position – they’re hosting at least one NEC tournament game at worse – with winnable games at the Mount and Central Connecticut looming. If the Knights sweep the mini road stand and acquire a share of the NEC regular season title, I’d have no qualms if the COY is awarded to Herenda.
Anthony Latina, Sacred Heart – The Pioneers were picked ninth in the NEC Coach’s Preseason Poll, so Sacred Heart’s overachieving relative to their expectations would play a huge role in Latina winning the COY award. His team needs to finish strong at the very least. A sweep against Saint Francis and Robert Morris – two programs he’s a combined 0-10 against over the past three seasons – would guarantee at least one home playoff game, if not possibly more. Finishing with a 10-8 or 11-7 regular season is fairly impressive given they are the 298th most experienced roster in Division I and rely on three freshman, one sophomore and one Division II transfer.
Andy Toole, Robert Morris – We can’t forget about the league’s 2013-14 COY recipient, who currently has an opportunity to earn his third regular season championship in nine tries. Despite experiencing a crazy amount of turnover the past few seasons, Robert Morris has routinely been a defensive juggernaut with this season as no exception. At 10-6, Toole has engineered an impressive return to the top third of the standings despite losing Koby Thomas for much of the season. The Colonials have forced a turnover on 22.5% of their opponent’s possessions, good for 22nd in Division I basketball. This is the fifth straight year the program has been in the top 30 – that’s remarkable consistency with the roster fluctuations.
So who’s going to be the next NEC Defensive Player of the Year?
Like the COY discussion, I have no idea where the coaches will lean for this one. There are a number of candidates they could reasonably look at:
Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – The heart and soul of Robert Morris defense has that infectious energy about him when in a defensive stance. He’s the best perimeter defender on the league’s number one defense (at least according to defensively efficiency numbers) and possesses a steal rate that’s in the NCAA top 100 at 3.4%.
Malik Petteway, Robert Morris – Speaking of steal rate, Petteway actually leads the league in that category as well as sporting the eighth best block rate. His Chris Wray like ability to affect the game a multitude of ways has guided the Colonials.
Jare’l Spellman, Sacred Heart – The 6-foot-10 center came as advertised from Florida Southern as a former defensive player of the year. Spellman’s 89 blocks leads the conference by a country mile and he has an opportunity to become the first NEC player since 1996-97 (Richard Lugo, St. Francis Brooklyn) to accumulate at least 100 rejections in a campaign. His rim impact is a major reason why Sacred Heart is in the upper half of the league in defensive efficiency.
Juan Cardenas, Bryant – Whether it’s tough man-to-man defense or providing help when an opponent infiltrating the paint, Cardenas has been a master at blocking or altering shots around the rim. His game changing length, versatility and lateral quickness has led to 8.4% block rate, good for 84th in the country.
Randall Gaskins, Saint Francis – Gaskins is perceived to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, serving as a very useful “3 and D” type of complement to Krimmel’s assortment of play-makers. While I view him as a long shot to win the DPOY, his name deserves mentioning here nonetheless.
What has surprised you this season?
Here’s are some random tidbits for each team that I can honestly say I didn’t expect coming into this season…
E.J. Anosike and Jarel Spellman are the best two-man frontcourt duo in total putbacks. They have 72 combined putbacks, greatly exceeding any other NEC duo. After graduating a very good frontcourt in its own right with Matasovic, Lopez and Barnett, Anosike, Spellman and LaRose have put together one of the best big man rotations in the NEC. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I’m still impressed by the Mount’s resolve this season. The second youngest roster in the nation has now boasted five freshmen who’ve been selected at one point as NEC freshmen of the week (Vado Morse, Dee Barnes, Malik Jefferson, Nana Opoku and now Damian Chong Qui). Dan Engelstad’s group may have been eliminated from qualifying for the NEC tournament, yet the Mountaineers have been very respectable over the past several weeks, knocking off Sacred Heart, Wagner and Robert Morris. They surely will emerge as a trendy sleeper next season. Everyone will be back!
Bryant has turned into one of the slower NEC programs with respect to tempo. The Bulldogs are sixth among their counterparts at 68 possessions per game. That’s not a snail’s pace, but it’s not Iona racing down the floor either. In the preseason, Grasso expected his team would mimic the Gaels model, a model that was consistently in the top 60 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted tempo. At NEC Social Media Day, however, Grasso did add in the caveat that they “have to get guys to understand how to play with pace all the time.” He further explained that it takes time to program your team to get in that mindset of fast pace day in and day out. Clearly, Grasso had enough time to evaluate his talent and understand that a fast tempo wasn’t conducive to winning. In games where the pace gets at 70 possessions or more, the Bulldogs are 1-11 (1-4 NEC) whereas they are 9-6 when a slower tempo is implemented. Running much of the offense through Bash Townes, who thrives in pick and roll situations and isn’t exactly none as a rim runner, also likely plays a role in Grasso slowing down the team’s pace of play.
Raul Frias (125 ORtg), Eral Penn (124 ORtg) and Ty Flowers (118 ORtg) lead the Blackbirds in offensive efficiency during league play. I know, right?! I talked about Frias’ improvement last week, yet Flowers has really emerged as LIU Brooklyn’s x-factor. Over the last six games, Flowers has been deemed the KenPom MVP four times, averaging 20.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1.8 steals in those situations. Not surprisingly, LIU Brooklyn is 3-1 when the Waterbury, Connecticut native breaks out. For Penn, the sophomore’s tenacity around the rim on both ends has caused havoc. He’s currently second among league mates in 2-point field goal percentage (66.7%), fourth in block rate (8.6%) and eighth in offensive rebounding rate (10.3%).
That’s all I have for now. Enjoy the action this weekend. The NEC tournament is nearly upon us!
“We talk about progress. A lot of progress, a lot of process, getting better in the moment, winning every day, getting one percent better…all of that. In turn, the returners, they know and they remember. We were in a lot of close games (last year) and those moments have not been forgotten.”
That was Wagner head women’s basketball coach Heather Jacobs back at NEC’s Social Media Day in October answering a question from former Seahawk head coach Pam Roecker as to whether or not she thought this was the year the Seahawks could make the jump back into the NEC’s postseason for the first time since 2014. Jacobs’ team had just been selected last in the annual coaches’ pre-season poll, an unfortunately familiar place for Wagner women’s basketball, as the program had ended up at the bottom of the standings in each of the last four straight seasons and six out of the last seven.
But this year is proving to be different. Something special is in the process of happening on Staten Island as the Wagner College Seahawks are beating the odds, the prognostications, and a lot of other NEC teams as well. The Seahawks have surged out to a 7-6 start, their best NEC record after 13 games since 2004. How long has that been? Well, consider that in February of 2004 the iPhone didn’t exist, Facebook was only weeks old, many of the current group of players were in preschool or kindergarten, and Coach Jacobs was halfway through her college playing career at Franklin Pierce.
With a win on Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson, Wagner would secure their first playoff berth since 2014 and only their fourth playoff appearance over the last 15 years.
Wagner was once a very strong and very proud basketball program in the late 80’s, throughout the 90’s, and into the beginning of the new century. Wagner was an original NEC women’s basketball institution, and for the first 18 straight years, they were staples in the women’s basketball tournament. During that 18 year stretch from 1987-2004, the Seahawks were coached by Gela Mikalauskas (1979-90), Pam Roecker (1990-98), and Tara Gallagher (1998-05). They would reach the tournament semi-finals nine times and appear in four NEC Championship Games. The crown jewel would come in 1989 under Mikalauskas, when league MVP Maureen Coughlin paced the team to a 22-win campaign and a 66-60 victory over Robert Morris in the final, to earn the program’s first and only NEC Championship.
From 1996-2003, under Roecker and Gallagher, Wagner would go on a run of eight straight seasons of double-digit conference wins. The 87 wins during that period was third best in the league behind only NEC super-powers Saint Francis U and Mount St. Mary’s. In the middle of an era where Saint Francis and Mount St. Mary’s were dominating the league, the Seahawks were able to hold their own and be perennial contenders. Both Roecker and Gallagher agreed that the key was in the players they recruited to the program, some of the school’s all-time greats, such as Nia Ryan, Amanda Young, Susan Moffat, Meredith Kearns, Carrie Walker, Joy Gallagher, Patti Winterfeldt, and Brenda Milano.
“One of the first memories I had was walking into the student center and seeing the Verrazano Bridge and knowing we could recruit kids there,” replied Roecker. “Over my time we had students from 11 different states and we always sold the connection to New York City and that the campus was 100 acres in a very self-contained environment. It was a beautiful atmosphere, very peaceful and safe, with access to the greatest city in the world.”
“At that time we had a great group of players that just loved to play the game,” said Gallagher. “You have to have the players that want to put the time and effort into it and that have the skill as well.”
In 2004, the team finished 8-10, a down year by their standards, but still enough to qualify for the NEC tournament as the number six seed. The team was slowed by the loss of their All-Conference senior Carrie Walker. Walker missed 11 conference games in January and February due to injury, where the team went 4-7. Walker returned right before the start of the playoffs, but the Seahawks were upended on their home court by the Monmouth Hawks. “We were picked to be pretty good that year, and although we did okay, it wasn’t, obviously, the year we wanted to have,” recounted Gallagher.
Following that season, Wagner lost a ton of firepower, including three starters: Walker, Vanessa Wyffels, and Ashley Linscott, which equated to 40% of their offense. In 2005 the Seahawks would finish 2-25 and 2-16 in NEC play, missing the NEC Tournament for the first time ever. “It was hard, it was tough, but the kids still worked hard. Your heart breaks for the kids more than anything,” said Gallagher.
Little did anyone know at the time, but that would end up being the first of a rough 14 season stretch for the Seahawks, which saw them make the playoffs only three times while finishing in last place nine times. “I don’t think it was just one thing. I think obviously when you don’t win it’s tougher to recruit,” noted Gallagher. “Between myself and when Gela (Mikalauskas) was there and then Lisa (Cermignano), there have been some great players, don’t get me wrong. But it’s been a thing where unfortunately once you start to slide and don’t have winning seasons, the confidence level has to be there, and it’s tough to come back from.”
Enter Heather Jacobs, who was hired in April of 2016 as the program’s ninth head coach. Jacobs was no stranger to turning around programs. In 2007-08 she took over a Daniel Webster program that won only 10 games in her first season, finishing 2-11 in conference. By year three, the Eagles won 20 games, were 15-1 in conference, and regular season champions. Jacobs would then head to Adelphi where it would be a similar story. The Panthers finished in 14th place during her first season, but would end up 14-5 and make the Northeast-10 playoffs in her third campaign.
Now in her third season on Grymes Hill, Coach Jacobs’ building process is starting to show major results once again. “It’s a process that I think is behind the scenes and in the locker room. We knew we were making progress even though last year we didn’t really win as many games as we wanted or hoped,” said Jacobs. “We knew that there was progress there and whether or not it was player development, in the locker room, the culture, standards, expectation…it was happening and people couldn’t see that necessarily.”
In her office, underneath her desk, Coach Jacobs has a wall of bricks. Bricks decorated in the official Seahawks colors: green, black, white, and silver. Written on the bricks are team and individual accomplishments dating back to her first season on Staten Island. Accomplishments such as Team GPA’s, Rookie and Player of the Week honors, and Jacobs’ first NEC win, 58-45 over St. Francis Brooklyn back in January of 2017, just to name a few. The brick wall symbolizes building the program, brick by brick, while recognizing the key moments along the way.
“Ultimately, we focus on standards, expectations, and small successes. That’s what that little thing is behind you (the brick wall). We really focus on that, because if you lose sight and get really stuck on the end and the result, there is a lot of good along the way, and I think it’s important to stop and recognize that. We might have lost the game, but we did A, B, and C way better than we did before and we really try to be intentional of recognizing that. It is hard when you are losing because everyone is competitive and wants to win, but when you do that it allows you to hold steady on the course of where you want to be and keep the bigger picture in mind.”
For the current group of Seahawk players, it isn’t about dwelling on the past or a 14 year ‘losing culture’. No player was a part of the roster prior to Coach Jacobs’ arrival, so to them, the only things they know and that matter are the steps of progression made over the last three years, or in other words, the bricks that they’ve had a hand in building.
Redshirt sophomore Taylah Simmons is the Seahawks leading scorer and has been a force since the start of conference play, averaging 19 points per game. Over the last five outings, in which Wagner has won four out of five, Simmons has put up 20.8 points per game and has netted a Player of the Week honor. For Simmons, she was excited to come over from Australia to be a part of the building process at Wagner. “I liked how it was a small school, so it was kind of like a small community, like a family. I don’t have family here, so it’s nice to have a sense of community and family. Coach Jacobs had just got in, and I knew she was building up the team, and I was excited to be a part of the building process. It was definitely hard at some points last year, but I try to be as positive as I can every moment of the day. We saw such good glimpses of us last year during practice. I held on to that, because I knew we had so much potential.”
Simmons, along with her teammates, are finally finding that potential this season. Wagner’s signature “we’ve arrived” moment might very well have been a thrilling 87-85 win over St. Francis Brooklyn on February 11th. In a game that featured multiple swings of momentum, Wagner pulled it out in the end on a Taylah Simmons game winning jumper in the lane in the final seconds. “I think this year everyone’s role is super important. We’re playing all together. Everyone knows their spots, everyone knows their roles, and it’s more of a team dynamic,” noted Simmons. “I feel like now that we’ve got a couple of wins under our belt, we know what we have to do and we know what it’s like to win, so we want to keep it up.”
“I’m just really excited for the program,” expressed Roecker. “I think it’s a combination of she’s a really good coach, she has a system in place, she’s stayed patient, she’s stuck to her philosophy, and she recruited some really good players. That’s the whole secret. In our success in the 90’s when you talk about players like Brenda Milano, Patti Winterfeldt, Alicia Conquest, Susan Moffat, Nia Ryan…the better players, the better you look as a coach. When you have the combination of both, it can really set you up for success.”
“I’ll look on the program every now and then,” said Gallagher. “I met Coach Jacobs when I inducted Meredith (Kerns) into the Hall of Fame (in 2017), and she was unbelievable. I really liked her and her staff was awesome. They came in and some of her players as well. They came in and congratulated Meredith and talked with us. I am so thrilled that she is having a really, really good year because she deserves it. You can tell how much passion she has for the game and she absolutely loves Wagner and you can see how much the kids love and respect her.”
While the excitement continues to grow as the wins start to pile up, Coach Jacobs and the Seahawks are quick to point out that the job isn’t nearly finished yet and that there is still plenty of work to do. “We have to come every day. The ability to stay present, focus on one game at a time, and continue to play hard for 40 minutes. If we do that, we’ll be in a good spot,” commented Coach Jacobs. “It’s crazy to think about where we were, just from the beginning of the year to now. We’ve learned so much and we understand from a preparation standpoint, to a practice standpoint, to gameday…everybody understands. We know what we need to do. It’s locking in to make sure we take care of business. It’s easy to get distracted when everybody is so excited. It’s nice that you want to celebrate that and be excited for where you are, but stay grounded in the sense that you have to keep working every day and every moment.”
“Keys will be staying consistent, not letting up, and keeping that foot on the accelerator,” added Simmons. “We have ups and downs, but we have to try to get as many ups as we can.”
Following our sit-down interview for this feature, Coach Jacobs handed Simmons a blank brick for the Melbourne native to mark to recognize her recent Player of the Week honor. It will be the latest brick to be added to Coach Jacobs’ wall as the Seahawks continue their process of building themselves back into contention in the NEC.
“For me it’s one game at a time, be in the moment. There is still a lot of basketball left to play,” said Jacobs. “We can still continue to get better individually and collectively. There are teams that are fighting for survival, there are teams dominating, and there are teams that are really trying to establish their identity. Everyone is on their own unique journey and we’re just trying to steer our course, run our race, and play our best basketball at the right time.”
The Wagner Seahawks will have a chance to clinch their first playoff appearance since 2014 with a win on Saturday at Fairleigh Dickinson. If Wagner can pick up two more wins over their final five NEC games, they will assure themselves of their first .500 season in conference play since 2003.
#NECWBB NEWS AND NOTES
*WHERE THEY STAND: Half of the 2019 playoff field has been decided, as Saint Francis U, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis Brooklyn all clinched playoff spots this past weekend to join Robert Morris in the 2019 NEC Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Colonials suffered their first league setback on Saturday, falling to Mount St. Mary’s 61-55 in Emmitsburg. But RMU would manage to rebound on the road in Loretto two days later, winning a rematch of last year’s NEC Championship Game against the Red Flash 66-60. With the win, Robert Morris maintains a three-game lead over second place in the race for the regular season championship and the tournament’s #1 seed. With another win or a Seahawk loss, the Colonials can wrap-up a first round home playoff game in the North Athletic Complex, a place where Robert Morris has defeated their last 21 straight conference opponents.
The reigning NEC champion Saint Francis Red Flash assured a return trip to the postseason for a 24th time, and 10th time in the last 11 years, with a 77-65 win in New Jersey over Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday. The win coupled with the Colonial loss had the Flash in a position where they controlled their own destiny. Had they defeated RMU on Monday they would have been one game back with still another game against the Colonials to go, putting them in the driver’s seat in the race to the #1 seed. Instead, SFU now find themselves three games out of first and in a battle for the #2 seed.
Sacred Heart will be appearing in their 20th straight NEC Tournament, the longest active streak in the NEC. They opened up a season long four game NEC road trip by splitting a pair of games against Bryant and LIU Brooklyn. Meanwhile, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers took advantage of losses by Saint Francis and Sacred Heart, returning into a three-way tie with the Pioneers and Red Flash for second place. By sweeping their games against the Blackbirds and Blue Devils, the Terriers officially wrapped up their third straight playoff berth and 14th in school history.
The Wagner Seahawks, winners of four out of their last five, fell a game off of the pace for a top four spot and a first round home playoff game position after splitting games against Central Connecticut State and Mount St. Mary’s. At 7-6, the Seahawks own a winning record after 13 NEC games for the first time since 2004 and have a hold on sole possession of fifth place. After four straight years of finishing in last place, and predicted to finish last by the NEC coaches again this season, Wagner’s magic number to clinch their first playoff spot since 2014 is down to one.
Mount St. Mary’s made up some lost ground this weekend by knocking off previous NEC unbeaten Robert Morris and following that up by handing the Wagner Seahawks their first defeat in the month of February. The Mountaineers are one game behind Wagner and two games out of the top four. The Bryant Bulldogs stand at 5-8 and in seventh place with a big game against the team directly above them, Mount St. Mary’s, coming up on Saturday.
The bottom of the standings certainly got more interesting this weekend following LIU Brooklyn’s 69-64 win at the Barclays Center over Sacred Heart. After starting the year 0-10 in league play, the Blackbirds have won two out of their last three and are only one game behind Central Connecticut State and Fairleigh Dickinson for the eighth and final playoff spot. In fact, the Blackbirds will play both the Blue Devils and Knights during the final week of conference play, games that could have major implications as to who makes the postseason and which two teams will be left on the outside looking in.
*KEYSTONE STATE COLLISION: 345 days after meeting at DeGol Arena to decide the 2018 NEC Championship, the Robert Morris Colonials returned to Loretto for the first time since last March to take on the reigning NEC champion Saint Francis Red Flash.
The game would come down to the fourth quarter and see the Colonials outscore SFU 11-4 over the final three minutes to come away with a 66-60 victory, their 12th win in their last 13 games. The game featured several eye popping surprises, first of which was the RMU defense holding Jess Kovatch to a career low six points on 1-9 shooting. Kovatch, who had averaged 25.4 points on 42.3% shooting in seven prior career games against the Colonials, became the sixth straight opposing team’s leading scorer to be held to single digit scoring against RMU.
“It’s a team effort. It’s not just that matchup, but the team energy to talk,” said Robert Morris head coach Charlie Buscaglia in his post-game interview on ESPN3 with Pam Roecker. “Our five, Nneka Ezeigbo, was great with talking and continuing to stay to the next play. It was a team effort, (Kovatch) is a great player, she’s a great offensive scorer, and we had to be really good today to stop her.”
The Red Flash, one of the top free throw shooting teams in the league, uncharacteristically left a lot of points off the board due to missed free throw opportunities, going 16 for 26 from the charity stripe on the night. Robert Morris also dominated the boards with a 48-34 advantage, and a 19-6 advantage on the offensive glass, leading to 17 Colonial second chance points. RMU also hoisted up a season high 39 three point attempts. Six of those three point attempts were successfully converted by sophomore guard Nina Augustin, leading to a career high 18 point outing. Nneka Ezeigbo finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds.
The teams will meet up again in the regular season finale on Thursday, March 7th in Moon Township. Check out highlights from Monday night’s prime-time President’s Day showdown below…
*HISTORY FOR THE DUO FROM DOWN UNDER: St. Francis Brooklyn’s ‘Duo from Down Under’ had themselves a weekend as the Terriers welcomed in LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut State for games at the Pope PE Center. On Saturday, senior guard Amy O’Neill recorded her second triple-double of the season with a 16 point, 10 rebound, and 11 assist afternoon against borough rival LIU Brooklyn. O’Neill recorded the lucky 13th triple-double in NEC history and joins RMU’s Chinata Nesbit from 2008 as only players in league annals to have multiple triple-doubles in a single season. All this coming just two weeks after O’Neill recorded her first triple-double, and the first in program history, with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists in 44 minutes against Sacred Heart. The Melbourne native is one of only six players in the nation to have multiple triple-doubles on the season. Also during the game against the Blackbirds, an O’Neill dish to Johnson on a made jumper would give O’Neill the school’s single season assist record, which previously stood for 28 years. The senior’s tally now stands at 207 helpers, and counting, in 2019.
“Amy is an amazing player, and definitely the heart and soul of this team,” St. Francis Brooklyn head coach Linda Cimino commented during her post-game press conference. “She’s such a great playmaker for us and I’m really proud of her and happy for her.”
Join us next week here on the #NECWBB Fast Break, where we will sit down and chat with the NEC’s Triple-Double Queen.
Meanwhile, O’Neill’s tag team partner, Jade Johnson, was also busy making history of her own on Saturday afternoon, netting her 1,000th career point in the first half of the game against LIU Brooklyn. Johnson reaches the milestone as a junior, and becomes the 18th member of the St. Francis Brooklyn 1,000 point club, joining teammate Maria Palarino who eclipsed 1,000 points earlier this year at Mount St. Mary’s. Johnson and Palarino join Central’s Kiana Patterson, Bryant’s Sydney Holloway, and Sacred Heart’s Katherine Haines, as players who have reached 1,000 career points this season.
“To score 1,000 points is a great accomplishment, but to do it as a junior is really tremendous,” said Coach Cimino. “I’m really happy for her. She needed 20 points going into today’s game, I didn’t realize she was going to get it in the first half! She was on today. It was a great day for the Aussies today.”
Not too long ago, we welcomed her teammate to the 1,000 point club. Now it’s time to welcome the 18th player in our history to the same list. Congratulations to our very own, JADE JOHNSON! #BrooklynTough 🏀 pic.twitter.com/UxFE6BFrvP— St. Francis Brooklyn WBB 🏀 (@SFBK_WBB) February 16, 2019
With only five regular season games to go, plus any playoff games her team plays, Fairleigh Dickinson senior guard Madelynn Comly owns 958 career points, 42 shy of 1,000. Comly would have to average 8.4 points over the last five games to get there.
A LOOK AHEAD
Saturday, February 23, 2019 St. Francis Brooklyn at Robert Morris, 1pm Sacred Heart at Central Connecticut State, 1pm Mount St. Mary’s at Bryant, 1pm Wagner at Fairleigh Dickinson, 2pm LIU Brooklyn at Saint Francis U, 4pm
Monday, February 25, 2019 LIU Brooklyn at Robert Morris, 7pm Mount St. Mary’s at Central Connecticut, 7pm Sacred Heart at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm (ESPN+) Bryant at Wagner, 7pm St. Francis Brooklyn at Saint Francis U, 7pm
With just five games, and two and a half weeks, remaining, the race towards March and the NEC Tournament is really starting to heat up. Looking ahead to this upcoming weekend, there are several games with major postseason implications…
*St. Francis Brooklyn’s Pennsylvania Road Trip: After last week’s loss to Wagner put them one game off of the pace for second place, the Terriers fought their way back into the pack with Sacred Heart and Saint Francis U by sweeping a pair of games against LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut. The Terriers chances for ending up with one of the tournament’s top seeds could very well rest on their performance in Pennsylvania this weekend against the Colonials on Saturday and Red Flash on Monday. St. Francis Brooklyn welcomed both of the NEC’s Pennsylvania institutions into Brooklyn back in mid-January and came away with a split. Robert Morris held the Terriers to just 56 points on 37.5% shooting, while forcing 19 turnovers in a Colonial 75-56 win, before SFBK bounced back 48 hours later with 78 points on 48% shooting in a 78-65 win over the reigning champion Red Flash, handing SFU their first conference loss of the season.
Since the year 2000, the Terriers have never swept both games of the Pennsylvania road trip, however they have won at both Moon Township and Loretto in the same single season before. In 2015 they won at SFU and lost at Robert Morris during the regular season, but returned to RMU several weeks later and defeated the Colonials at the Sewell Center in the NEC Championship Game.
St. Francis Brooklyn has already clinched a spot in the NEC Tournament for the third straight season and for the 14th time in program history, so now it is all about jockeying for position. The Terriers are battling to finish in the top four and clinch the program’s first ever home playoff game. A win in one or both of the games out in the Keystone State would go a long way to boosting their chances here in the waning stages of the regular season.
*Sacred Heart at Fairleigh Dickinson: The Pioneers will travel to the Garden State to meet the FDU Knights on Monday night at the Rothman Center. The game will be broadcasted live at 7pm on ESPN+ with myself and Kim Adams on the call. Sacred Heart is in a second place stalemate with St. Francis Brooklyn and Saint Francis U. The Pioneers would love to reach one of the top two seeds, which would ensure that a potential semi-final game would be played at the Pitt Center. The road to a postseason at the Pitt Center will ironically have to be earned on the road, as the Pioneers are in the midst of a season high four game road trip, playing five of their final seven regular season games on the road. Meanwhile, the Knights are fighting for their postseason lives. Fairleigh Dickinson has been to the NEC Tournament each of the last four seasons, with the last two years coming as the #8 seed. To make it back in 2019, the Knights will have to fight off both CCSU and LIU Brooklyn, in a situation where there are three teams likely battling for just one spot.
The Pioneers and Knights met just two weeks ago in Fairfield with the Pioneers coming away with a 68-62 victory. SHU led by 18 points with just over seven minutes remaining, only to see the Knights stage a 19-4 run to pull within a single possession inside of two minutes to go. Sacred Heart managed to hold on for the win, led by Candice Leatherwood’s 19 points and Kat Haines’ double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Sacred Heart has dominated the all-time series, sporting a 30-5 advantage. However, while the Pioneers are 18-0 all-time against FDU at home, they have tasted defeat four out of their last five trips to the Rothman Center.
*The Mount/Bryant Rematch: In one of the most memorable NEC games of the year so far, Bryant staged an epic fourth quarter comeback at the Mount back on January 12th. Trailing by 11 points going into the fourth quarter, and by as many as 14 points within the final quarter itself, Bryant went on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 64 with 2:49 to play. The Bulldogs would outscore the Mountaineers 9-4 the rest of the way to pull off the improbable win, holding the Mount without a field goal for the final 6:09. It was a game that left Mount St. Mary’s frustrated that they let get away. Now six weeks later, they will meet in Rhode Island for the rematch, in a game neither can afford to lose. With just one game of separation between the two schools in the NEC standings, Bryant would be eliminated from top four, and first round home playoff game, contention with a loss, while Mount would slide down to seventh place and lose the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Bulldogs.
THREE: Amy O’Neill, SR (SFBK): Two weeks after her first triple-double, and first triple-double in program history, O’Neill once again reached the historic milestone, this time in regulation. O’Neill filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists against the borough rival Blackbirds. O’Neill is one of just six players in the nation to have recorded multiple triple-doubles this season. Two days later, O’Neill would flirt with the mark once again, with an 8 point, 8 rebound, and 8 assist game against Central Connecticut, helping the Terriers to clinch a third straight trip to the NEC Tournament. The senior point guard is the only player in the NEC to rank top 20 in scoring and top 10 in assists and rebounds. O’Neill also stands second in the nation in assists per game and 10th in minutes played.
TWO: Nina Augustin, SO (RMU): Nina Augustin was our ‘Player of the Game’ during Monday night’s ESPN3 broadcast, and is now our #2 Star of the Week. The box score will show that Augustin had a career offensive night on Monday night against the Red Flash, with a career high 18 points on six made threes. However, what the box score won’t necessarily show is her outstanding effort on the defensive side of the ball. Augustin played a large hand in the Robert Morris defense limiting the nation’s eighth ranked scorer, Jess Kovatch, to just six points on 1-9 shooting, the lowest single-game point total of her career. The sophomore from Finland started both games this weekend, making her first appearances in the starting five since December 7th against Kent State.
ONE: Jade Johnson, JR (SFBK): Johnson had a historic weekend with her family in town all the way from Australia, pouring in a total of 52 points over the course of games against LIU Brooklyn and Central Connecticut State. Included in the 52, was her 1,000th career point, scored during the second quarter of Saturday’s showdown with the Blackbirds. Johnson would finish the day with 31 points on 13-21 shooting, making it the fourth time this year she has reached 30 points in a game, and the second time this year she’s done it against LIU Brooklyn. Also during that contest, Johnson would score the historic bucket that allowed Amy O’Neill to break the school’s single season assists record. Two days later, against the Blue Devils, the junior guard was right back at it. Johnson led the team with 21 points on 9-21 shooting against CCSU. On the season, Johnson ranks second in the league in both scoring and made threes. During the month of February, Johnson is averaging 22.6 points per game on 45% shooting and 39% from beyond the arc.
STAT OF THE WEEK
*The greatest one-year turnaround in NEC history was the 2004 to 2005 Robert Morris Colonials. In their first season under Sal Buscaglia, the Colonials finished in last place, going 3-24 and 2-16 in NEC play during the 2004 season. Led by RMU Hall of Famer Sugeiry Monsac, the 2005 Colonials would go on to finish 17 games better overall and 11 games better in conference play, ending up a with a 20-10 overall and 13-5 NEC record, advancing all the way to the NEC Championship Game.
Some of the other top one-year turnarounds in NEC play:
-LIU: 4 wins in 2009 to 14 in 2010 (+10) -LIU: 2 wins in 1999 to 11 in 2000 (+9) -CCSU: 5 wins in 2014 to 14 in 2015 (+9) -RMU: 6 wins in 2013 to 14 in 2014 (+8)
A very special thank you this week to Wagner head coach Heather Jacobs, redshirt-sophomore Taylah Simmons, and former Seahawk head coaches Tara Gallagher and Pam Roecker for sitting down with us to talk about the great tradition and the current rise of Wagner women’s basketball. Be sure to join us back here at the NEC Overtime! Blog next Wednesday, February 27th for a unique WBB Fast Break column. First, we’ll check in with the NEC’s triple-double queen, St. Francis Brooklyn senior point guard, Amy O’Neill. Then, we will take you behind the scenes of the Saint Francis/Robert Morris ESPN3 broadcast from this past Monday night and show you what it takes to put on a basketball national broadcast. We’ll show you all of the preparation involved in the days leading up to the game. Plus we will give you a glimpse at the gameday production, meet the crew that helps make the broadcast possible, highlight some of the production decisions that helped shape what you saw on TV, and discuss what stories and information didn’t make the broadcast and why.
As someone with two young kids, I’ve really come to appreciate efficiency. Getting everyone out the door, in the car, safely to daycare, and then to work in time for a 9:00 AM meeting poses major challenges without efficiency. And it increases my disdain for those who schedule 9:00 AM meetings.
If I make my lunch the evening before, that buys me five extra minutes to invest in the morning routine. If I lay out my clothes for the next day, there’s another two minutes. Change our toddler into his day clothes right after he wakes up in the morning, another minute. Back the car into the driveway the evening before so I don’t have to backout into the street the next morning, there’s 10 extra seconds! OK, maybe I’m a little crazy with this time efficiency stuff.
My love for efficiency extends to NEC hoops. I’m visiting KenPom.com more times each day than I’m going to my Facebook page. (Trust me, it’s better this way.) For this latest Overtime! Blog post I’m scouring KenPom to find some players who’ve greatly improved their efficiency numbers from last year. Consider this a compilation of the unofficial All-NEC Most Improved Team.
Let’s start with the most notable improver.
E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart (87 ORtg in 2017-18 to 118 ORtg this season)
At NEC Social Media Day, Anthony Latina specifically targeted Anosike as someone who should strive to win the NEC’s Most Improved Player award. This declaration is close to coming to fruition, as Anosike, who no longer sits on the bench behind Joe Lopez and Mario Matasovic, has illustrated a stark improvement. The sophomore has excelled as the team’s primary power forward, improving his effective field goal percentage by almost 17 points in conference play! And that’s with far more usage. He’s expanded his shooting range (39.5% 3PT on 43 attempts), developed a much improved touch (60.3% on shots near the rim) and continues to rebound at a high level. Anosike’s statistic profile (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), size, position and bull-in-the-china shop game had me wondering how he stacks up next to a NEC all-time great when he was a sophomore:
Adam Grant, Bryant (94 ORtg in 2017-18 to 104 ORtg this season)
On the surface Grant’s counting numbers over his 3-year career (13.4 ppg as freshman, 15.6 ppg as sophomore, 15.4 ppg as junior) doesn’t illustrate improvement, but a look under the efficiency hood depicts a different tale. We have always respected his ability to drain clutch perimeter shots, a skill that makes him one of the more talented guards in the conference. His quick release that requires very little separation is impressive to watch. Case in point:
Honestly, you can fall into a Twitter wormhole watching clips of Adam Grant clutch 3s (trust me, there’s plenty of them)! He’s always been a shotmaker from day one, but the addition of freshman Joe Kasperzyk and grad transfer Byron Hawkins into the backcourt has helped reduce Grant’s burden, putting him in better spots to succeed. The talent infusion has led to Grant shooting a career best 37.4% from behind the arc (41.2% in league play), while sporting a career low turnover rate (14.1%). He basically isn’t sacrificing scoring despite fewer shot attempts. Efficiency!
Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson (102 ORtg in 2017-18 to 108 ORtg this season)
Jenkins is the lifeblood of the Knights, handling the point guard duties while playing nearly 92% of the team’s minutes this season. That’s A LOT of playing time, and yet Jenkins has managed to take a page out of the uber-efficient Glenn Sanabria book – post an assist rate north of 20%, turn the ball over infrequently with respect to a floor general and offer consistent production from behind the arc (37.8% in NEC play) and at the free throw line (88.6%, 37th nationally). It comes as no surprise that FDU is one of the most efficient offenses in league play, with the multi-faceted Jenkins playing a vital role.
Raul Frias, LIU Brooklyn (107 ORtg in 2017-18 to 120 ORtg this season)
The senior guard from Miami is the epitome of instant offense off the bench. With his long-range moxie as the focal point, Frias is posting the third highest efficiency rating in league play while also registering a solid 2.7% steal rate. He’s made a three-pointer in 17 of his last 18 games, a remarkable sign of consistency for someone who plays just 48% of the LIU Brooklyn’s minutes. Compared to last season, Frias has improved his scoring production by 290% (3.0 ppg to 8.7 ppg) and his rebounding numbers by 231% (1.3 rpg to 3.0 rpg), while improving his defensive profile as well. On a Blackbirds squad that prides itself on getting out in transition, Frias has emerged as the reliable scoring threat camped out behind the three-point line.
Kinnon LaRose, Sacred Heart (112 ORtg in 2017-18 to 135 ORtg this season)
This tweet was probably what spurred the idea for me to write this post in the first place:
Sacred Heart’s Kinnon LaRose has the 4th highest offensive efficiency (138 ORtg) in the country, according to KenPom. He’s a role player based on usage, yet his shooting #s are 🔥. He’s shooting 67% on 2s, 43% on 3s and has committed just 12 turnovers all season.
LaRose has always been an efficient player – competent three-point shooters who don’t turn the ball over usually are – but this year has been exceptional. He’s clearly the beneficiary of more talent around him, compared to last season when he and Sean Hoehn were forced to do much of the heavy lifting in the backcourt. Now with Cam Parker, Koreem Ozier and Aaron Clarke in the mix, LaRose has slotted into an off-the-bench, stretch-four role which has enhanced his strengths. There’s more space for him to make outside shots, he’s able to finish near the rim by blowing by bigger defenders and his savvy positioning has made him a sneaky good offensive rebounder (8.2% offensive rebound rate).
And now for an unconventional bonus selection…
Vado Morse, Mount St. Mary’s (111 ORtg this season)
Yes, the probable NEC Rookie of the Year obviously didn’t play for the Mount last season, yet his improved efficiency has been noteworthy from an intra-season standpoint. The Mount played a difficult non-conference schedule full of bigger, physical defenses which surely impacted Morse’s play from the start. Mount coach Dan Engelstad agrees, but he also believes there are other factors at play besides the non-conference schedule.
“Yeah I think that’s part of it, but I also think the game’s starting to slow down for him,” he said with respect to Morse’s improvement against NEC competition. “I think he’s done a lot of film study, I think he’s really become a student of the game, finding out where he can best put himself and our team in good situations and I think that’s showing up lately.”
In league play, Morse has been unguardable at times, showcasing a lethal quick release on the perimeter while flying by defenders when he puts the ball on the floor. Truth be told, he’s one of the toughest players to guard one-on-one, a scary predicament down the road for opposing NEC coaches. He’s posted a KenPom offensive rating of 100 or higher in 10 of 16 league games, compared to 4 of 10 in non-conference play. Any player who’s showing his productivity by shooting 56% from 2, 37% from 3 and 76% from the free throw line in league play, should be viewed as a serious candidate for an all-conference team.
And now for some honorable mention guys:
Deion Bute, Central Connecticut (102 ORtg in 2017-18 to 111 ORtg this season) Joe Hugley, Central Connecticut (105 ORtg in 2017-18 to 109 ORtg this season)
Both junior college transfers have seen a steady growth the second year in Donyell Marshall’s system, although for Bute, it could be argued that he would’ve been more efficient in 2017-18 had he not injured his knee halfway through league play.
Elijah Davis, Wagner (95 ORtg in 2017-18 to 101 ORtg this season)
As awesome as Romone Saunders is, Davis may be just as critical to Bashir Mason from an offensive standpoint. In games where Davis has posted an offensive rating north of 100, Wagner is 10-3.
Chris Coalman, Robert Morris (93 ORtg in 2017-18 to 108 ORtg this season)
Coalman may have a limited role in Andy Toole’s rotation, yet something is going right when you’ve made 61% of your shot attempts, some of which came from downtown.
Randall Gaskins, Saint Francis U (intra-season improvement)
Gaskins struggled with his offense during the non-conference campaign, but has since rebounded big time to post a 64.3% effective field goal rate against conference foes.