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Second half adjustments push Robert Morris past North Florida

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Less than two minutes into the second half of their First Four game against North Florida, Robert Morris faced a 13-point deficit against a team that seemed to find its rhythm offensively. After turning the ball over ten times in the first 12 minutes of the first half, North Florida took better care of the basketball and found higher quality looks (most notably Beau Beech, who finished with 28 points) against the Robert Morris zone.

In order to close that gap Andy Toole’s team had to change its approach, and in doing so the Colonials were able to turn things around and go on to win 81-77 in Dayton. As a result of this win, Robert Morris’ first NCAA tournament victory since 1983, the Colonials are headed to Charlotte where they’ll take on South Region No. 1 Duke Friday.

One of the changes Robert Morris made was to mix up their defenses, as they used more man-to-man looks despite the fact that they’ve played zone for the majority of their defensive possessions this season. As a result North Florida shot just 3-for-11 from three in the second half, and after building the 13-point lead mentioned above the Ospreys turned the ball over on five of the next seven possessions.

UNF turnovers kept Robert Morris afloat in the first half, and for the game the Ospreys committed 19 turnovers which were converted into 21 points by RMU.

Offensively Robert Morris was much better in the second half, as they did a better job of using dribble penetration to attack a defense that had issues keeping them away from the basket. Lucky Jones (21 points), Rodney Pryor (20) and Marcquise Reed (19), the three offensive leaders throughout the season, combined to score 41 of Robert Morris’ 52 second half points and as a team the Colonials shot 55.2 percent from the field in the second half.

Also of note in the final stanza was the fact that Robert Morris didn’t commit a single turnover, and their ability to take care of the basketball also factored in the outcome.

The next challenge for Robert Morris is a significant one, and that’s going to be the case for any 16-seed. But it’s a challenge they’ll be able to take on, and that wouldn’t have been the case had Toole made some adjustments before the game got out of reach.

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

NEC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

Jalen Cannon (AP Photo)
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Jalen Cannon (AP Photo)

St. Francis of Brooklyn is the oldest college basketball program in New York City, dating all the way back to 1896. They also happen to be one of just five programs that have been in existence since the NCAA tournament began in 1948 to never take part in the event. That could very well change this year, as the Terriers head into March having clinched the outright regular season title two weeks ago. They’ll be tested — Bryant has the league’s best scorer, Mt. St. Mary’s is coming off of a title run last season, and Robert Morris is the NEC’s best program — but they’ll also be favored throughout, playing every game at home. Is this the year the streak ends?

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket

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When: March 4, 7, 10

Where: Campus sites (better seed in all rounds, reseeded after quarterfinals)

Final: March 10, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: St. Francis (NY)

The Terriers were the best team in the conference this season. They also have the league’s best front court player in Jalen Cannon as well as the conference’s best guard in Brent Jones. But there are two things to note: St. Francis split with the other three teams at the top of the conference, and they were just 9-1 in games decided by single digits. They win close games, but they’re not steamrolling the league. They’re beatable.

And if they lose?: Robert Morris

Andy Toole has kept Robert Morris in the conversation as one of the nation’s best mid-major programs, and while they’re not the favorite to win the automatic bid, they’re anything but a pushover. Bobby Mo has had some roster turnover in recent years, but they have three guys this year — Rodney Pryor, Marcquise Reed and Lucky Jones — who can take a game over.

Sleepers:

  • Mt. St. Mary’s: Jamion Christian is another member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree that has found instant success at his new school.
  • Bryant: No one has done as impressive of a job rapidly developing a program as Tim O’Shea has at Bryant. It helps when the league’s leading scorer — Dyami Starks — is one your roster.

Player of the Year: Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY)

Cannon will go down as one of the all-time greats in the NEC, finishing his career as the all-time leading scorer in St. Francis history and one of just two players to ever score 1,500 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in conference history. Cannon averaged 16.5 points and 10.2 boards this season.

Coach of the Year: Glenn Braica, St. Francis (NY)

The Terriers were predicted to win the NEC this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected them to clinch the regular season title with two weeks remaining. Playing all three rounds of the league tournament at home will make SFNY the favorite to win their first ever NCAA tournament berth.

All-NEC Team:

  • Cannon
  • Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris – Pryor was the most dangerous weapon for Andy Toole’s club this season, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 43 percent from distance.
  • Dyami Starks, Bryant – Starks was the league’s leading scorer this season, a veteran guard that can take over a game.
  • Brent Jones, St. Francis (NY) – Midway through the season, there could have been a strong case for Jones to be conference Player of the Year over his teammate, Cannon. His scoring numbers slowed down by season’s end, but that didn’t hurt the Terriers.
  • Earl Brown, St. Francis (PA) – The Red Flash struggled late in the season, but Brown did finish with nine double-doubles in league play, averaging 15.8 points and 7.6 boards on the season.

CBT PREDICTION: St. Francis (NY) makes their first appearance in the Big Dance.

 

Central Connecticut State beats Wagner on Brandon Peel’s buzzer-beating three (VIDEO)

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It’s been a tough season for Howie Dickenman’s Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, as they entered Saturday night’s home game against Wagner with a 2-18 record. CCSU appeared to be headed to overtime, with Wagner’s Marcus Burton hitting a three-pointer to tie the game up at 50. Luckily for the Blue Devils there was still a second left on the clock and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

Faronte Drakeford hit teammate Brandon Peel with an accurate 65-foot inbounds pass, which Peel caught and released a turnaround three-pointer that fell after time expired. Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots as CCSU picked up its first conference win of the season.

This is how Wagner tied the game:

Video credit: Northeast Conference

Pregame Shootaround: NEC showdown headlines light Friday slate

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: St. Francis-Brooklyn at Robert Morris, 9:00 p.m. (ESPNU)

There are only seven games on the schedule Friday night, and this matchup in Moon Township is the one of greatest importance. Both the Terriers, who were the preseason pick to win the NEC, and Colonials enter with 3-1 conference records and the winner will keep pace with Bryant (4-1) and Saint Francis (PA) (3-1) in the loss column. Seniors Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones are combining to average just over 28 points per game for St. Francis-Brooklyn, but the Terriers aren’t a team that has shot the ball particularly well (40.7% FG, 29.6% 3PT).

Will that change against Robert Morris, whose opponents are averaging 70.6 points per game while shooting 43.3% from the field? That will have to be the case for the Terriers if they’re to win at Robert Morris, which boasts three players averaging at least 13.0 ppg led by freshman guard Marcquise Reed (13.6 ppg).

THE REST OF FRIDAY’S ACTION

  • MAAC leader Iona should take care of Niagara (7:00 p.m., ESPNU) in the first game of their two-game swing through western New York, especially with an offense that’s scoring nearly 84 points per game. Junior guard A.J. English (20.8 ppg) leads the way for a team with four of the MAAC’s top ten scorers.
  • Siena and Canisius enter tonight’s game in Buffalo with matching 3-3 conference records, with the Saints also having to navigate a lack of depth thanks to health issues. The Saints are averaging 72.7 points per game, but they’re also allowing 75.7. That could be an issue against the Golden Griffins.
  • Manhattan’s just a game out of first in the MAAC ahead of their game at Saint Peter’s (7:00 p.m., ESPN3), and two of the conference’s better forwards will be on display in Manhattan’s Emmy Andujar and SPC’s Marvin Dominique. Neither team is a high-scoring outfit, and the Peacocks will need to take care of the basketball against a team that’s forcing more than 17 turnovers per game.
  • The fourth and final MAAC game matches a struggling Marist (1-15 overall, 0-6 MAAC) squad and Fairfield (7:00 p.m., ESPN3), with the Stags having lost six of their last seven. Fairfield, which is 3-3 in league play, is led by talented forward Marcus Gilbert (15.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
  • St. Francis-Brooklyn/Robert Morris isn’t the only NEC game on the slate, with Sacred Heart visiting 3-1 Saint Francis (PA) (NEC FrontRow). The Red Flash haven’t started NEC play with a 4-1 record since the 1997-98 season, and senior forward Earl Brown (15.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg) leads the way for a team that has four players averaging between 7.9 and 15.0 points per game.
  • North Dakota State looks to move to 4-1 in Summit League play as they host Western Illinois. The visiting Leathernecks are shooting just 39.2% from the field this season, and they’re looking to snap a three-game losing streak against a team that is 8-0 at home this season.

Central Connecticut State star Kyle Vinales arrested after allegedly hitting girlfriend

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Central Connecticut State senior guard Kyle Vinales was arrested and charged with one count of third-degree assault and one count of disorderly conduct after an alleged altercation with his girlfriend last Friday.

According to a story from Matt Straub of The New Britain Herald, the police report states that the woman is accusing Vinales of striking her in the head before exiting her car shortly before 11:30 p.m. on Friday night.

A team spokesman told Straub, “Kyle is not currently participating in men’s basketball activities,” and Vinales’ long-term status with the team is unknown.

Vinales was released without bail on a promise to appear in court on Dec. 5.

According to the police report, the woman told police Vinales “punched her on the forehead” and “put his hand on her forehead and squeezed hard causing her pain.”

Police were previously called to deal with a verbal altercation between the duo on Sept. 6, although no arrests were made.

This is certainly not good news for Vinales or Central Connecticut State, as the two-time All-NEC guard is one of the best players in the league. The 6-foot-1 guard has been a prolific scorer his first three years of college and his scoring average of 17.3 points per game during his junior season was actually a career low.

Vinales was picked to the preseason All-NEC team, and if he plays the full season, is on pace to break the Blue Devils’ career scoring mark that is currently held by Ken Horton.

With Vinales returning along with fellow seniors Malcolm McMillan and Faronte Drakeford, Central Connecticut State is expected to compete for the NEC title this year as all three players averaged double-figures in scoring last season.