St. Francis falls short of Northeast Conference title, continues to NIT
The St. Francis Terriers’ quest for an NCAA tournament berth ended after they lost 66-63 to Robert Morris in front of a packed house at the Pope Physical Education Center on Remsen Street Tuesday night.
They might have lost the Northeast Conference title, but the Terriers will experience postseason play for the first time in the school’s history, as they earned an automatic spot in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).
“Obviously, it’s very disappointing, the result tonight,” said head coach Glenn Braica. “We’re all down, we’re all disappointed, but I’m also real proud of my guys. They had a great run. After going 0-5, they won 23 of 29 games, and we got the first postseason bid in the school’s history in 52 years.”
The Terriers jumped out to an early lead against Robert Morris and were up by six at halftime. Robert Morris came out firing from behind the arc to start the second, though, as Rodney Pryor nailed two threes and Lucky Jones hit one to give the team a 10-point lead.
“[That] changed the momentum of the game,” Braica said of the threes. “If we could have gotten a little separation [at halftime] it would have helped.”
St. Francis rallied to get back in it as Brent Jones capped an 11-3 run that made it a two-point game with 2:43 left.
After Glenn Sanabria nailed a three, Robert Morris led 64-63 with 17 seconds left to play. Lucky Jones hit a pair of free throws to increase the lead to three. After he was fouled attempting a three, Tyreek Jewell had a chance to tie it from the line. Unfortunately, he missed all three shots.
Lowell Ulmer took a 60-foot three-pointer attempt at the buzzer that looked like it would get a favorable bounce, but the ball hit the top of the backboard and hope on Remsen Street officially ended.
“I thought it was going in,” Braica said of Ulmer’s last-second heave. “I figured, after all of these years, I thought it was going in. It looked on line. I had a really great view and it really looked like it was going in. At least I was hoping.”
The biggest issue for St. Francis was the inability of its stars, Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, to get anything going offensively. Combined, they scored just 17 points and committed eight turnovers.
“I was thinking too much,” Jones said. “I wasn’t a player; I wasn’t myself. I was just thinking about trying not to turn the ball over. I wasn’t having fun. I was just trying to win the game instead of trying to have fun. I was thinking too much — thinking how I can get Jalen the ball, how I can set Tyreek up.”
“It was tough,” Cannon said. “They did a real good job. They [keyed on me] the first time [we played them this season], the second time I got a feel for it, but this time they did a good job and it was tough.”
St. Francis also shot poorly during the game, just 38.3 percent overall, and were 9-for-22 from the free throw line. Meanwhile, Robert Morris shot 44.7 percent as a unit and scored 20 points off of turnovers. Five players scored in double digits for Robert Morris, including Rodney Pryor, who had 17 points, and Elijah Minnie, who had 14.
It was a sight to see on Remsen Street, as more than 1,000 fans packed the Pope. Braica said he grew up wondering why Brooklyn couldn’t match the college basketball madness of Notre Dame, UCLA and Kentucky, but felt that St. Francis achieved that level of enthusiasm even just for a couple of days.
“We’re really grateful to everybody — the school, the Brooklyn community, all our friends and family,” Braica said. “This became a hot ticket. People couldn’t get tickets. Our guys were texting me that they were calling brokers trying to get tickets, and obviously, they didn’t have them…Who would have thought that would ever happen on Remsen Street?”
Even though the players were down following the loss, Cannon said that they would try to use the pain as motivation in the NIT. The Terriers don’t yet know who they play in that tournament, but it takes place at Madison Square Garden on March 31.
“It’s going to be a good experience,” Cannon said. “I can’t wait to see who we end up playing. Hopefully we get a bigger school so we can have some fun with it.”
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