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Late Night Snacks: Bubble teams Pittsburgh, LSU and Tulsa suffer home losses

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Bryant 91, Sacred Heart 85 (2OT)

Three of the four Northeast Conference tournament quarterfinal games were decided by nine points or more, with this wild affair being the exception. Up three late in regulation Sacred Heart decided to play defense, and the decision looked to be a good one…until Bryant’s Joe O’Shea knocked down a desperation three-pointer as time expired. O’Shea led the Bulldogs with 23 points and six rebounds, and Dyami Starks added 22 on 8-for-25 shooting from the field. Cane Broome, a freshman guard who’s going to be really good down the line, led six Pioneers in double figures with 23 points.

NEC semifinal matchups (Saturday): No. 5 Saint Francis (PA) at No. 1 St. Francis-Brooklyn; No. 3 Bryant at No. 2 Robert Morris

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES 

1. No. 12 Notre Dame 71, No. 16 Louisville 59

Jerian Grant had his issues in the second half, scoring two points on 1-for-5 shooting, but Bonzie Colson and Demetrius Jackson stepped forward for the Fighting Irish. Those two scored 11 points apiece in the final 20 minutes to lead the way for Notre Dame, which made its last seven field goal attempts. With the win Notre Dame wraps up the three-seed in next week’s ACC tournament, and the double-bye means that they won’t play until Thursday.

2. Miami 67, Pittsburgh 63

In a matchup of ACC teams in dire need of wins the Hurricanes won on the road despite not having Angel Rodriguez due to injury. Sheldon McClellan, who’s been banged up himself recently, scored 20 points and Davon Reed added 19 to lead the way. Michael Young led the Panthers with 22 points and seven rebounds, but the Panthers attempted 21 three-pointers and made just six. By comparison, Miami shot 6-for-12 from deep.

3. Michigan State 72, Purdue 66

Travis Trice scored 27 points to lead Michigan State to the six-point win at home, with the Spartans remaining in contention for a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. Matt Costello was also key for the Spartans, as his play on both ends of the floor (13 points, seven rebounds and four blocks) helped Michigan State hold their own against Purdue’s big men despite losing Branden Dawson to an injury after just nine minutes. Kendall Stephens led the Boilermakers, who host Illinois over the weekend, with 16 points.

READ MORE: Wednesday’s Bubble Banter

STARRED

1. Duke’s Grayson Allen

Allen scored 27 points, shooting 9-for-11 from the field, and grabbed four rebounds in the Blue Devils’ 94-51 win over Wake Forest.

2. UNC Asheville’s Andrew Rowsey

Rowsey made seven of his ten three-point attempts, scoring 34 points in the Bulldogs’ 80-70 win over Liberty.

3. St. Francis-Brooklyn’s Brent Jones

31 points and five assists in the Terriers’ 79-70 win over LIU-Brooklyn.

STRUGGLED

1. Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas

Thomas finished a 94-51 loss at No. 3 Duke with more turnovers (four) than points scored (zero).

2. LSU’s Jalyn Patterson

Shot 0-for-5 from the field, going scoreless in 33 minutes of play in the Tigers’ 78-63 loss to Tennessee.

3. La Salle’s Cleon Roberts

Roberts shot 1-for-9 from the field, scoring four points in the Explorers’ 55-50 loss at Saint Joseph’s.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • It was senior night for starter Quinn Cook as No. 3 Duke rolled to a 94-51 win over Wake Forest. Freshman Grayson Allen scored 27 points off the bench for the Blue Devils, who will be the two-seed in the ACC tournament.
  • LaDontae Henton became the second player in program history to reach the 2,000-point/1,00-rebound plateau (Ryan Gomes is the other) to lead No. 24 Providence to a 79-61 comeback victory at Seton Hall. Ben Bentil led the Friars with 21 points.
  • D’Angelo Russell scored 28 points and Jae’Sean Tate and Shannon Scott added 13 apiece as No. 23 Ohio State won 77-67 at Penn State.

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENTS

  • The America East tournament tipped off Wednesday night, with the four home teams all taking care of business. Albany and Vermont won comfortably, with Stony Brook beating Binghamton by five and New Hampshire needing overtime to beat Hartford. Sunday’s semifinal matchups: No. 3 Stony Brook at No. 2 Vermont, and No. 4 New Hampshire at No. 1 Albany.
  • Seeds six through eleven were in action at the Big South tournament, with No. 9 Longwood beating No. 8  Presbyterian 65-61 in the opener. No. 6 UNC Asheville and No. 7 Gardner-Webb were the other winners. Thursday’s quarterfinal matchups: No. 9 Longwood vs. No. 1 Charleston Southern, No. 5 Winthrop vs. No. 4 Radford, No. 7 Gardner-Webb vs. No. 2 High Point and No. 6 UNC Asheville vs. No. 3 Coastal Carolina.
  • Seeds five through eight tipped things off at the Ohio Valley tournament in Nashville, with No. 5 Morehead State beating No. 8 Southeast Missouri 79-74 in the opener and No. 6 Eastern Illinois beat No. 7 SIU-Edwardsville 78-66 in the nightcap. Thursday’s quarterfinal matchups: No. 5 Morehead State vs. No. 4 UT Martin and No. 6 Eastern Illinois vs. No. 3 Belmont.

OTHER NOTABLES

  • Tennessee shot nearly 70 percent from the field in the second half as they won 78-63 at LSU. Not only does the loss hurt the Tigers, but it also hurts the profile of a Texas A&M team that has two wins over LSU on its resume and not much else.
  • NJIT, which announced Wednesday afternoon that it will be playing in the CIT, beat Howard 71-62 for its 18th win of the season.
  • Cincinnati won 56-47 at Tulsa, dropping the Golden Hurricane into a tie for first in the American with SMU. Tulsa closes its regular season with a game at SMU, and the winner gets the conference title outright.
  • Rayvonte Rice led four players in double figures with 23 points and Illinois pulled away from Nebraska, 69-57.
  • Anthony Hickey and Le’Bryan Nash scored 20 points apiece to lead Oklahoma State to an 82-70 win over TCU. The win ends a four-game losing streak for the Cowboys.
  • Boise State moved one step closer to its first-ever Mountain West title, as they won 68-51 at San Jose State. The Broncos host Fresno State Saturday night. They remain tied with San Diego State, which won 60-58 at UNLV.
  • Oregon completed its regular season with a 65-62 win at Oregon State, moving to 13-5 in the Pac-12. Dana Altman’s team is playing well at the right time, and has likely sewn up an NCAA tournament bid as a result.

Joe O’Shea’s off-balance three-pointer forces overtime in Bryant’s double OT win over Sacred Heart (VIDEO)

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It goes without saying that while March can be a joyous month for some programs, it can be a painful one for other. Sacred Heart falls into the latter category, as they lost 91-85 in double overtime at Bryant in an NEC quarterfinal they led by three points in the final seconds of regulation. That’s where things got wild, with Bryant’s Joe O’Shea playing the role of hero.

In a scramble situation that started with a Dyami Starks missed three, Dan Garvin chased down the missed shot and passed the ball to O’Shea. Leaning forward between two Sacred Heart defenders, O’Shea made a three-pointer as time expired to force overtime. O’Shea finished with a team-high 23 points for Bryant, which is the three-seed in the NEC tournament.

Next up for the Bulldogs is a trip to Pennsylvania to take on two-seed Robert Morris in an NEC semifinal Saturday afternoon.

Video credit: ESPN

No. 17 UConn opens title defense with comeback win over Bryant

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UConn struggled to find itself at home against Bryant on Friday night, but the No. 17 Huskies rallied after trailing at halftime to win 66-53 at Gampel Pavilion.

After trailing 34-28 at the half, UConn fought back in the second half behind a better defensive showing and a superb second-half effort from senior guard Ryan Boatright. Boatright led the Huskies with a team-high 24 points on Friday, as he scored 16 of those points in the second half.

With UConn struggling to find a second consistent scoring option behind Boatright, the senior decided to take matters into his own hands, as he relentlessly attacked on the offensive end and defended hard on the perimeter. The Boat Show’s dunk with 8:51 left in the second half gave UConn a 47-45 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish after the Huskies trailed for much of the first part of the second half. Besides the 24 points, Boatright added eight rebounds, five assists and four steals on the night.

Playing without N.C. State transfer guard Rodney Purvis, who was held out of the game for playing too many offseason games, the Huskies took some time to find their offensive identity. UConn only finished with 12 assists to 10 turnovers on Friday night as only six players scored for the Huskies.

Junior guard Sam Cassell Jr. chipped in 10 points in his UConn debut and freshman guard Daniel Hamilton played much better on both ends of the floor in the second half as he finished with nine points and seven rebounds in his college debut. On the interior, UConn relied on sophomore center Amida Brimah, as the 7-footer had 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks.

This wasn’t a particularly promising start for the defending champions, but it’s going to take some time for the Huskies to find a new identity after the departure of graduated guard Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels. It’s a good sign that Boatright put the team on his back, however, and once Purvis is back, UConn should have an easier time scoring points.

Andrew Toole hoping Robert Morris can ‘get over the hump’ and back into NCAA Tournament in 2015

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

For 18 weeks last season Mount St. Mary’s carried a losing record. However, the Mountaineers picked up momentum beginning in March with four straight wins, three of which came in the Northeast Conference Tournament.

On March 11, Mount St. Mary’s ran away with an 88-71 win against top-seeded Robert Morris, dashing the Colonials NCAA tournament hopes for the second consecutive season.

A week later, one day after St. Patrick’s Day, the Mountaineers’ luck ran out, as Albany ended their season with a 71-64 victory in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. On the same night, Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole had a postseason game of his own, as the Colonials went into Carnesecca Arena and defeated St. John’s, 89-79, in the first round of the NIT.

For Toole it was his fourth postseason win in as many seasons since taking over the program in 2010, the biggest of which came in March 2013 when the Colonials upset reigning national champion Kentucky in the first round of the NIT.

Despite the postseason success and a 72-37 (42-11 NEC) record over the past three seasons, Robert Morris hasn’t appeared in an NCAA tournament since 2010 when it nearly upset No. 2 seeded Villanova.

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Lucky Jones shoots over Archie Goodwin (AP)

Toole has maintained the success of the program, never finishing lower than third in the conference during his tenure as head coach. There’s an established tradition at Robert Morris with 11 regular season conference titles, but bittersweet success is what is driving Robert Morris during the first few weeks of practice.

“It’s something that pushes us and motivates us,” Toole told NBCSports.com. “We keep saying that if we continually get back to that spot you’ll eventually get over the hump. It’s not easy to get back into those tournament championship games.” 

This year more than others there is uncertainty around the league. Many of the top players have graduated, including Robert Morris guard Karvel Anderson, who was named NEC Player of the Year in 2013-2014. Mount St. Mary’s graduated three 1,000 career scorers. Wagner is without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and Bryant forward Alex Francis, a two-time first team selection, is also gone.

“There is a lot of unknowns,” Toole added. “You look at that teams that return the most, a lot of people are choosing those teams toward the top of the league because they have more proven entities than some of the other groups.”

Central Connecticut State has four starters back, including a healthy Kyle Vinales. St. Francis (NY) returns six of its top nine scorers, including first-team all-conference forward Jalen Cannon. However, both those teams committed the most turnovers in the league last season. St. Francis (PA) has the same starting five as last year, but is this the year for the Red Flash to end a 23-year tournament drought?

Robert Morris, like Bryant, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s has its personnel losses to overcome, however, each of those teams have the pieces to be in the conversation come March.

MORE: Northeast Conference Preview

By the end of the season, the Colonials were down to just eight scholarship players. Two of those players — Anderson and starting point guard Anthony Myers-Pate — exhausted their eligibility. Fortunately for Toole, all six of those returning players logged 15 or more minutes, headlined by wing Lucky Jones, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in an all-NEC second team junior season.

The 6-foot-6 Jones has been a stapel in the Colonials lineup, starting 66 of 70 games in the past two seasons. He’s also a reliable big-game player, going for 25 points, nine boards and five assists in a NIT win over the Johnnies in March. The previous year, he scored a team-high 15 points in the monumental win over Kentucky.

“It’s huge [having Lucky],” Toole said. “He’s a guy that is so versatile and can do so many things on the floor, whether it’s rebounding, scoring or defending. He can give us a little bit of confidence as we go into games because we know what we can get from Lucky and we can build from there. Having him on the roster and him as a senior is invaluable to us.”

Will arguably the conference’s top player, six key contributors and a competitive non-conference schedule (North Carolina, Georgetown, Toledo) be enough to push the Colonials over that hump and into the field of 68? In a conference as unpredictable as the Northeast has been over the last few seasons it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for certain, Toole will have his guys ready.

“There are so many teams that can compete for a championship,” Toole said. “If you aren’t prepared or playing with the urgency you need to play with, I think that can beat you. That goes across the board, from top to bottom, in the conference. Like I said, there’s a lot of unknowns. Each and every game is going to be a challenge, as it has been every other year we’ve been in the NEC.

“It’s a long, long process and we can’t take any shortcuts as we build toward conference play because everyone is going to be at their best, everyone is going to try to win those league games and I think everyone believes they have chance.”

2014-2015 Northeast Conference Preview: Is it time for Robert Morris to dance again?

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has guided his program to back-to-back 20-win seasons, although his Colonials have no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. For two straight seasons, Robert Morris has been relegated to the NIT following an upset in its conference tournament at the hands of Mount St. Mary’s.

Despite having one of the best young coaches in the nation and arguably the conference’s top player again this season, the Colonials have had trouble navigating through the NEC field, and this season the conference could resemble a minefield.

The Colonials lose the back court of Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, but six returning players, led by all-NEC second teamer Lucky Jones, logged 15 or more during the 2013-2014 season. Toole also brings in a six-man recruiting class (two JuCo transfers), which should help add size up front and depth on the perimeter.

While Robert Morris looks to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010, St. Francis (NY) is looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time in school history. The Terriers bring back six key contributors from a season ago, including all-NEC first team selection Jalen Cannon, who averaged 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior. Bryant may be without Alex Francis and his 2,000-plus career points, but Dyami Starks gives Tim O’Shea a go-to scoring option for a team coming off a third-place finish.

One of the conference’s others top scorers, Kyle Vinales, was sidelined with a finger injury for Central Connecticut State last season. The 6-foot-1 Vinales is one of four returners for the Blue Devils, a team looking to jump from the middle of the pack to conference contenders. St. Francis (PA) also returns the bulk of its lineup, led by second-team selection Earl Brown.

Mount St. Mary’s, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, has to account for the loss of three 1,000 point scorers. Wagner will be without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and second-leading scorer, Latif Rivers. But both the Mountaineers and Seahawks have quality pieces that could continue to make this low-major conference and interesting one to track as the season shifts into March.

PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lucky Jones, Robert Morris

As a junior, playing alongside NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson, Jones averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, earning all-NEC second team honors. The 6-foot-6 wing will carry a heavy load for Robert Morris this season: on offense, on defense and on the glass. He’s been a stable part of the program’s success from its two regular season conference titles to his 15-point performance in the Colonials’ NIT upset win over Kentucky in 2013.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON NEC TEAM:

  • Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State: Scoring averaged dipped to 17.3 points per game this past season. Missed nine games with broken finger.
  • Dyami Starks, Bryant: The top returning scorer in the conference at 18.9 points per game in his junior season.
  • Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY): Only returning first-team all-conference selection from 2013-2014.
  • Earl Brown, St. Francis (PA): Nine double-doubles last season. Averaged 14.4 points and 8.0 boards per game

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @pioneer_pride

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Robert Morris
2. St. Francis (NY)
3. Bryant
4. Central Connecticut State
5. Mount St. Mary’s
6. St. Francis (PA)
7. Wagner
8. Sacred Heart
9. Fairleigh Dickinson
10. LIU-Brooklyn

2014 NEC Tournament Preview: Can Robert Morris regain control of the league?

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It’s been five years since anyone in the NEC other than LIU-Brooklyn or Robert Morris has won the league’s automatic bid. While the Blackbirds have one of the nation’s best point guards in Jason Brickman, they suffered through a down year plagued by injuries and likely won’t extend their reign over the league to a four-peat. Bobby Mo, on the other hand, won the conference by two full games and will head into the conference tournament as the favorite to earn the automatic bid.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 5, 8 and 11

Where: Higher seed hosts every game

Final: March 11, 7:00 p.m. ESPN2

Favorite: Robert Morris

The Colonials have had a bit of a tumultuous season, as three of their rotation players have left the program or gotten kicked off the team during the season. But Karvel Anderson is still around, as is Lucky Jones. And remember, Andy Toole’s team isn’t afraid of the spotlight. This is the same program that knocked off Kentucky in the first round of the NIT last season.

And if they lose?: Wagner

The Seahawks are far and away the best defensive team in the conference, according to KenPom. They contest shots on the perimeter and make life a nightmare for anyone trying to finish around the rim. The question is whether or not Bashir Mason’s boys will be able to score enough to win three straight games.

Sleepers:

  • Bryant: The Bulldogs are explosive offensively, as Alex Francis, Dyami Starks, and Corey Maynard make up the best top three in the league.
  • St. Francis (NY): St. Francis won at Miami in overtime this year and nearly knocked off Syracuse at the Carrier Dome two weeks later. They were 9-7 in league play.

Studs:

  • Karvel Anderson, Robert Morris: Anderson is the best player on the best team in the league, carrying a group that lost three rotation players for the season.
  • Jason Brickman, LIU-Brooklyn: Brickman is the only player in the country to average a double-double in points and assists.
  • Alex Francis, Bryant: Tim O’Shea’s best player is third in the conference in scoring (19.0 ppg) and second in rebounding (8.2 rpg).

CBT Prediction: Robert Morris over Bryant