NEC Daily Ball Screen: 12/8/21
Coming into the game as >15 points underdogs, Mount St. Mary's had it tied at Santa Clara early in the 2nd half before an 18-4 run effectively put this one out of reach. The Mount tried to make a run with less than three minutes remaining, cutting the lead to 7, but it was too little too late, as they ultimately lost 88-77. However, there's a lot to feel good about if you're Dan Engelstad.
When it comes to being efficient in basketball, it's not always about making shots, as evidenced by what Mount St. Mary's was able to do out on the west coast last night. They had their best offensive performance of the season, scoring 1.06ppp. Oh, and they did it despite having an eFG% south of 50%. Wut? That's what happens when you turn it over just three times in a 73 possession game.
It was all about sharing the basketball for Dan Engelstad's team; they had 25 assists, including 8 from Jalen Benjamin, 5 each from Dakota Leffew and Elijah Elliott (in just 5 minutes), and 4 from Josh Reaves.
Unfortunately, the Mount couldn't consistently make shots; they were just 8 of 23 from three and 8 of 22 from the mid-range. While Benjamin was nails as a playmaker, he struggled again from the field; 4 of 15 overall.
On the defensive side of the ball, Mount St. Mary's continues to be...not quite Mount St. Mary's. Santa Clara scored 1.21ppp, and had no issues at the rim (24 of 29). However, the big difference came at the charity stripe; the Broncos got to the free throw line 22 times, making 18, while Mount St. Mary's attempted just two foul shots. Two! Nothing like the home whistle.
Nana Opoku led the way for the Mount with 21 points on a ridiculous 10-11 from the field, plus 9 rebounds and 2 blocks. Mezie Offurum had 18 points, including 2 of 3 from downtown which is a good sign, and also added 6 boards. Dakota Leffew, after playing just 8 minutes over the past three games, scored 11 points in 24 minutes (3 of 4 from three), plus 7 rebounds and those 5 assists.
Santa Clara's Jalen Williams scored a game-high 22 points on 8 of 11 from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line. He also added 7 boards and 6 assists, against just 1 turnover. The Broncos had five players in double-figures.
Brown 76, Merrimack 56
The night's biggest disappointment, as far as the Northeast Conference is concerned, occurred up in North Andover. Coming in as 2-pt home 'dogs, the Warriors were absolutely blitzed by Brown, which led 25-6 halfway through the 1st half, and 35-11 with 2:30 left before intermission.
Brown dominated inside, outscoring Merrimack 32-22 in the paint, including 19 2nd chance points to MC's 5. Jaylen Gainey, the Bears' 6'9" big, was a perfect 8 for 8 from the field for 17 points in just 20 minutes. Combine what Brown was able to do inside with being an efficient 10 of 23 from beyond the arc (Paxson Wojcik was 4 for 5 and Kino Lilly 4 for 7), and it all added up to 1.17ppp.
Merrimack made just 5 of 22 from beyond the arc, and had just 8 assists against 14 turnovers. Jordan Minor, as usual, led the Warriors with 16 points on 5 of 11 shooting (and 6 of 6 from the FT line). Malik Edmead scored 16 points in 18 minutes off the bench.
I'm sure today's flight to the west coast, where Merrimack will take on Gonzaga on Thursday evening, will not be fun.
Rhode Island 72, Sacred Heart 62
The Pioneers went out to Kingston, RI without Aaron Clarke and battled for 40 minutes before falling to the Rams, which never led by more than 13.
As it often is for SHU, last night was the Tyler Thomas show. The 6'3" junior scored a season-high 30, including 7 of 14 from beyond the arc. The 6 turnovers were somewhat problematic, but the Pios needed Thomas to make plays, which he did more often than not. The 6'3" junior currently leads the league in scoring at 20.4 ppg.
Unfortunately for Sacred Heart, they just couldn't get stops on the defensive end. URI doesn't take a ton of threes (just 5 of 12 last night), but they hammered the Pios on the glass (13 offensive boards, 42%) and outscored Sacred Heart in the paint 46-14.
Rhode Island's twins Makhel and Makhi Mitchell combined for 25 points and 9 boards, while Ishmael Leggett added 12/5/4 for URI. Alex Watson was the only other Pioneer in double-figures with 14, including 2 of 5 from downtown, plus 4 assists and 0 turnovers.
La Salle 81, Fairleigh Dickinson 55
Despite playing without Devon Dunn, the Knights were able to keep the La Salle lead at single-digits until the 1st media timeout of the 2nd half, when the Explorers went on a 32-8 run to put the game out of reach.
The young FDU squad continues to struggle to get stops; last night was the 7th time in 8 games they've allowed more than 1.13ppp, and according to Torvik's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, it was their worst defensive game of the season, largely due to allowing the Explorers to make 13 of 28 from three (58.9% eFG%).
Fairleigh Dickinson made just 3 of 19 from beyond the arc, scoring just 0.81ppp, which is their worst since their loss to Northwestern on 11/18. Brandon Rush had a team-high 19 points, but he made just 2 of 8 from three. John Square continued a nice stretch, scoring 9 points on 4 of 6 from the field. Freshman Antoine Jacks had 3 assists and 0 turnovers in 20 minutes.
Josh Nickleberry scored a game-high 24 points, including 5 of 8 from three. Jack Clark added 18 points and 8 boards.
The FDU staff continues to mix-and-match the rotation, as freshman Oscar Berry started and played 27 minutes after not playing in the season's first 4 games. Sophomore wing Joe Munden has rotated between high-minute starter and little-used reserve (just 11 minutes last night). Freshman wing Ray Ford played a season-high 16 minutes last night after seeing just 2 minutes over the last 4 games. Because of that, I wouldn't read too much into Devon Dunn missing this one; Brandon Rush missed a game last week, and Joe Munden didn't play a few weeks ago.
Wagner at Penn St., 7pm, Big Ten+
St. Francis (PA) at American, 7pm, ESPN+
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Saint Peter's, 7pm, ESPN3
New Hampshire at Bryant, 7:30pm, NEC FrontRow
Things to Watch:
1) The NET Rankings. Seriously; Wagner comes into this one ranked #24 in the NET, while Penn State is at #140. Are the Seahawks better than the Nittany Lions? I think it's a reasonable question; Wagner has jumped from #192 to #134 at Kenpom after just 4 games, while Penn State dropped from #66 to #92, with losses at UMass (81-56), LSU, Miami, and Ohio St. A massive game for Bashir Mason, and the NEC as a whole. Too bad it's on Big Ten+.
2) Can the Red Flash stay hot? Over their last 4 games, during which they've gone 2-2, they've scored nearly 1.13ppp. American's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency is 114.2, which is 350th nationally, and they've lost 7 games in a row, all on the road. It's rare to see an NEC team as a road favorite, but SFU is rolling right now, and if they can continue to take care of the ball and crash the offensive glass (top 100 in both categories), they should be able to make enough shots to win this one.
3) Can the Terriers make shots? Look at these numbers; they're shooting 26.6% from three (335th nationally), 44.6% from two (293rd), and 65.4% from the free throw line (300th). According to Torvik, their 87.3 Adjusted OE (excluding pre-season numbers) is the worst in the NEC and 338th nationally. Unfortunately, the Saint Peter's defense is one of the best in the MAAC, as they've forced turnovers on 24% of their possessions, and have limited 2nd chances.
4) If Bryant is going to win this one, they will have to take away the 3-ball from New Hampshire. UNH is making threes at a 35% clip, with 43% of their shots coming from beyond the arc (78th nationally). However, the Bryant defense is predicated on taking away good perimeter looks, especially when Hall Elisias is in the paint protecting the rim (10.3% block rate, 40th in the nation). In fact, while Bryant opponents are making an absurdly high 39.7% from deep, only 27% of their opponents attempts are coming from beyond the arc. That's a tough juxtaposition to process, and probably speaks to the level of competition Bryant has played (Houston, Clemson, Cincinnati). In fact, against non-Power 5 teams, they've allowed a more manageable 36% from deep. They're due for some regression, and hopefully it happens tonight.
Once Merrimack fell down big last night, I knew we weren't hitting the under as Joe Gallo had no choice but to increase the tempo to try and get back in the game.
Season Record: 13-14
Today's Bet: Wagner (+9) at Penn St.
Kenpom has Penn St. -7, while Torvik sees PSU as -6. Either way, I'm not convinced the Nittany Lions are a better team than the Seahawks. Not only that, but 9 points is a lot considering both teams like to slow down the pace (Penn St.'s Adjusted Tempo is 346th in the nation). Plus; the Nittany Lions start B1G play this weekend at Michigan St. They're ripe for the picking. Wagner may not pull off the upset, but I see this as a one-possession game late.