Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.
LYNDHURST, NJ – Coaches talk about separation. The ability to get stops, score on your end and open a lead on an opponent. In the NEC race Robert Morris is starting to gain that separation. The race is not over with Quinnipiac just a game behind, but the Colonials, by virtue of a hot 9-1 January, are now on top of the NEC. Finishing in that spot would be a definite plus. The conference postseason tournament is at the higher seed’s home court throughout. Not having to leave ‘The Chuck’ (Charles Sewall Center) where Robert Morris is awfully tough to beat would be huge for Mike Rice’s club. Still, with three weeks remaining in NEC play, there is not enough time for Robert Morris to rest on its first place laurels.
Player of the Week: Devin Sweetney (SR), F, St. Francis (PA) – In a 2-0 week he averaged 25.5 PPG while collecting 8 rebounds an outing. Sweetney had 23 in the win over St. Francis (NY) and hit his third double-double of the season with a 28-point, 10-board effort in an overtime victory over LIU. Jones was instrumental in sparking a 12-2 Colonial second half run that turned the tide against the Blackbirds.
Rookie of the Week: Velton Jones (FR), G, Robert Morris – Jones became the third different Colonial in three weeks to earn this honor. Averaged 14.5 PPG while handing out 4 assists per game. Paced Robert Morris with a career high 21 points in the win over LIU.
Rivalry Week. The NEC Rivalry week called for a game February 4 and the two teams meeting at the other’s location two days later. Rivalries included FDU-Monmouth (Battle of New Jersey) , LIU-St. Francis (NY) (Battle of Brooklyn) and St. Francis (PA)- Robert Morris to name a few.
Codey Trophy. Two years ago Monmouth and FDU, recognizing their Garden State rivalry , instituted the Richard Codey Trophy. FDU won it the last two years. It goes to the school who has the best record in the head-to-head series for women’s and men’s games. In case of a tie, a total point aggregate settles the score. The trophy is named after the former Senate leader and twice acting New Jersey state governor who is an FDU (Class of ‘81) alum and has graced RTC in an article last year.
- Sacred Heart senior forward Corey Hassan became the sixth NEC player this year to hit the 1,000 point mark. Hassan also had ten three-pointers against Wagner which broke the school single game record of nine.
- The Wagner-Sacred Heart matchup featured coaches with a combined 929 wins. Dave Bike of Sacred Heart has coached 32 seasons with 493 victories. Mike Deane of Wagner has 436 wins in 25 seasons. Make that 437 as the Seahawks edged Sacred Heart recently.
- Jeremy Goode, a regular in this featured milestone category, broke into the top ten in conference career steals. Goode, with 234 thefts, has a shot at the top five. Clear leader of the group is Robert Morris’ Chipper Harris ( 1981-84) with 382. Goode is also fifth in NEC career assists at 560. Again, he could move up a few notches. But the leader, Drafton Davis with 804, is quite safe. Davis played at Marist, an NEC school back then, in the early Eighties.
- Bryant – Dropped home games to FDU and Monmouth last week. Senior captain Chris Birrell led the way averaging 13.5 PPG for the week. Shot selection? For the two games Birrell attempted 25 shots and 24 were from beyond the arc. A little closer to the basket, freshman forward Vlad Kondratyev averaged double figures for the week and sophomore center Papa Lo blocked two shots against Monmouth and is third in the NEC in blocked shots this season.
- Central Connecticut State – Swept Monmouth and FDU last week to get back in the thick of things. Senior guard Joe Seymore sparked the Blue Devils hitting 17.5 PPG for the week. Junior guard Shemik Thompson scored 24 versus FDU. The visiting Knights were down 19 the first half and rallied to take a lead late in the game. Thompson took over scoring eight straight and got a steal as CCSU never looked back. Thompson buried four threes and was 8 of 11 from the line.
- FDU – Defeated Bryant and lost at Central Connecticut. The Knights shot 56% the final half at Bryant and on the defensive end held the Bulldogs to 27% shooting. Senior guard Sean Baptiste led FDU with 21 points in the CCSU game. Baptiste is the leading scorer (14.7 PPG) for the Knights who have four players averaging double figures. Senior forward Alvin Mofunanya continues his strong inside play and is closing in on 100 career blocked shots.
- LIU- Dropped road games to Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA). Blackbirds put up some impressive numbers in those two close losses. They had a +13 rebounding edge over RMU and shot 26 of 33 (79%) from the charity stripe in the overtime loss at St. Francis (PA). The problem at Robert Morris was LIU’s season low 27% shooting from the floor. Senior guard Jaytornah Wisseh had his seventh 20-point outing during the week.
- Monmouth – Split on the road losing to Central Connecticut while defeating Bryant. Sophomore guard Will Campbell and freshman forward Ed Waite excelled offensively for the Hawks. Campbell hit four treys in the second half in the Bryant contest. Campbell’s shooting helped the Hawks rally from an 11 point first half deficit. Junior forward Nick DelTufo had a big hand in the Bryant game as well with a career high 15 points.
- Mount St. Mary’s – It’s been a rough go but the Mount swept the week with much needed wins over Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac. The games were at home where the Mount has now won 13 of its last 14 against NEC opposition. Junior guard Jean Cajous averaged 12 PPG and 5.5 RPG for the week. Cajous was instrumental on the defensive end as both times out he drew the opposition’s best scorer and did an admirable job. Senior guard Jeremy Goode has been lauded for his scoring and playmaking, and he is alsothe conference pace setter in steals.
- Quinnipiac – Defeated Wagner and lost to Mount St. Mary’s. The loss at the Mount snapped the Bobcats’ eight game win streak and leaves them a game out of first. Junior forward Justin Rutty had a pair of double-doubles, giving him 21 for his career. Rutty had a 15 rebound effort, to go along with 18 points in a losing effort at the Mount. Senior guard James Feldeine paced Quinnipiac with 21 points in the win at Wagner. The Bobcats have outrebounded the opposition in every one of their 21games to date.
- Robert Morris – Swept LIU and St. Francis (NY) to gain sole possession of first place in the conference race. The Colonials have captured seven straight and finished 9-1 for the month of January. A rookie and veteran mix, freshman guard Karon Abraham had a big week while another guard, senior Mezie Nwigwe averaged 15 PPG and 6.5 RPG for the two games. During the seven-game win streak the Colonials have surrendered only 60 points per game. A closer look shows the opposition hitting just 35% from the floor during that time. Overall, Robert Morris has an outstanding 89.0 defensive efficiency in NEC action.
- Sacred Heart – Dropped road games at Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. Senior forward Corey Hassan exploded for a 28.5 PPG scoring week. Hassan added 5.5 RPG and shot 59% from the field. He scored a career high 36 points in the Wagner game. The three-point shot has been a major part of the Pioneer arsenal. They rank fourth in the country with 9.3 three pointers per game and are fifth nationally with a 40% mark from beyond the arc. Sacred Heart’s 52.6 eFG% is second in the NEC.
- St. Francis (NY) - Dropped road games to St. Francis (PA) and Robert Morris. The Terriers had a four-game NEC win streak stopped with the 0-2 ‘Western’ swing. Sophomore guard Justin Newton is second in the conference assist/turnover ratio (1.88). Newton exited the Robert Morris game with a knee injury. In his absence junior guard Akeem Bennett will handle the point guard duties. Terriers have yet to hit 70 points this season and have an offensive efficiency of 90 (tied for second lowest) in NEC play.
- St. Francis (PA) - Swept games over St. Francis (NY) and LIU (in overtime). That gives the Red Flash seven wins on the season and exceeds the six-win total of each of the past two years. Defense did the job against the Terriers as SFPA had 14 steals and forced 24 turnovers. Senior forward Devin Sweetney had a huge 28 point, 10 rebound performance in the win over LIU. The win over LIU was only the third this season that the Red Flash pulled out when trailing at halftime. Junior guard Sorena Orandi hit two free throws with four seconds remaining to capture the 74-73 win over LIU.
- Wagner – Split two games, losing to Quinnipiac and edging Sacred Heart. Sophomore guard Chris Martin hit a runner in the lane with six seconds left to give the Seahawks the victory over SHU. Martin leads Wagner in scoring with 12.9 PPG. Senior center Michael Orock continues his fine inside play and leads the NEC with a 58% field goal percentage. The Seahawks have been hampered by a 26% TO RATE, the highest in the conference. You don’t want to lead in this category.
Upcoming Games of Note
- St. Francis (PA) at Bryant
- Robert Morris at CCSU
- Mount St. Mary’s at Monmouth
- Wagner at FDU
- Mount St. Mary’s at FDU
- LIU at Quinnipiac
- St. Francis (NY) at Sacred Heart