Terriers take aim at NEC’s top seed
Visit Robert Morris in hopes of making first trip to NCAAs
The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers — one of only four collegiate men’s basketball programs not to have reached the NCAA Tournament since the modern reclassification of Division I in 1948 — aren’t the least bit interested in the past as they begin their quest for a Northeast Conference Tournament crown.
It’s only their next opportunity that counts.
“You take each game as it comes, you concentrate on that game, and you go out there and do the best that you can,” said SFC Head Coach Glenn Braica as his team prepared for Wednesday night’s NEC Tournament opener against top-seeded Robert Morris University in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
Seeded eighth in the field, the Terriers (13-17, 7-11 NEC) officially punched their ticket to the postseason with Saturday’s 85-79 victory at Central Connecticut State.
Junior guard Chauncey Hawkins poured in a career-high 38 points and grabbed six rebounds as SFC capped an uneven regular season with a win it hopes will propel it toward March Madness in the coming week.
“Before the Central Connecticut State game, we said it’s playoff time,” Braica said. “We wanted to win that game, and now there are hopefully three more opportunities to keep it going.”
The first of those chances comes against the Colonials (17-14, 13-5), who got past second-seeded St. Francis University (Pa.) on Saturday with a 78-68 triumph to nail down home-court advantage throughout the tournament.
The Terriers suffered a 78-52 loss to the Colonials in Moon Township back on Jan. 9, but returned the favor by blowing RMU out here on Remsen Street on Jan. 23, pulling away for a 78-57 rout behind a balanced scoring attack that saw five SFC players score in double figures.
That dominant effort against the conference’s top team has to give the Terriers hope, even if no No. 8 seed has ever knocked off a No. 1 in the 39-year history of the event.
“I think the pressure is on (Robert Morris),” Braica noted. “They are the higher seed, so we can go out there and play loose.”
Hawkins, who averaged a team-high 14.9 points per contest this year, leads a hungry group into the tournament opener.
The Terriers can best be described as a sneaky-good No. 8 seed. They possess talent both along the interior in the form of senior big man Deniz Celen (11.7 PPG and 6.2 RPG) and from beyond the arc, where freshman Rob Higgins hit a team-high 43 3-pointers this year.
Hawkins and Brooklyn native Unique McLean should give the Colonials fits from the back court, where they combined for 28 points vs. RMU in the most recent meeting.
But most importantly, SFC must be willing to battle tooth and nail for every loose ball and rebound available in what should be a very hostile environment inside the Colonials’ brand new UPMC Events Center.
“We have to be physical, we need to be tough, and we must be mentally, emotionally and physically strong to win the game on the road,” Braica insisted.
Two seasons removed from their own NEC Championship, the Long Island University Blackbirds are heading into the postseason as the No. 4 seed despite Saturday’s regular season-ending 76-67 loss at Sacred Heart.
Redshirt senior Raiquan Clark scored 15 points, including the 2,000th of his career with the Sharks (14-17, 9-9), who will host No. 5 Fairleigh Dickinson (11-18, 9-9) at Downtown Brooklyn’s Steinberg Wellness Center on Wednesday night.
Third-year head coach Derek Kellogg’s squad swept a pair of games from the defending NEC champion Knights this season to earn the home-court edge via a tiebreaker, and will be bidding for their second title in three years.
Over at Brooklyn College, the Bulldogs are boasting not one, but two CUNYAC Championships in women’s and men’s basketball, respectively.
The women’s team, which completed a perfect 16-0 run through conference play with last Friday’s scintillating 62-57 win over archrival Hunter in the CUNYAC title game at York College, advanced to the Division III NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years after falling short in 2019.
“We’ve been waiting 365 days for this moment,” beamed junior forward Chanel Jemmott after pacing the Lady Bulldogs with 14 points and 24 rebounds to earn CUNYAC Championship Game MVP honors.
“Prior to the season, I told the team it was theirs to win,” Head Coach Alex Lang added as his team prepared to travel to Brunswick, Maine to face Bowdoin College in Friday night’s first-round game.
“The team worked hard all season and made the plays tonight.”
The BC men’s squad had to go the Cinderella rout for its CUNYAC crown after entering the tournament as the No. 5 seed.
The Bulldogs knocked off No. 4 Hunter, No. 1 John Jay College and No. 2 Baruch to reach the NCAAs.
They will visit top-seeded Swarthmore in Pennsylvania Friday night for their first-round game.
“Seeing how we handled the adversity leading up to tonight, I knew we had a great chance to win,” said senior guard Anthony McClean after scoring a game-high 16 points in a 62-55 win over Baruch in last Friday night’s CUNYAC Championship Game.
“It was another team win and I couldn’t be prouder.”
“We always talk about handling adversity,” added BC Head Coach Jeffrey Jean-Baptiste. “If you are able to handle adversity, you are able to accomplish anything.”
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