SFC suffers third straight loss in wake of arrests
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It was a little less than two weeks ago that the St. Francis Brooklyn men's basketball team appeared poised to make a serious move up the Northeast Conference standings.
Heading into Thursday night's visit to St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., the Terriers (15-12, 6-6 NEC) find themselves mired in off-the-court controversy and in the midst of a season high-tying three-game losing streak.
They've also dropped from second place into a tie for fifth in the tightly packed NEC standings.
Coach Glenn Braica's unit has suffered through five player suspensions, two of which remain indefinite following the arrests last week of sophomore Anthony White and freshman Sheldon Hagigal, and back-to-back heartbreaking losses, including Tuesday night's 73-71 setback to Central Connecticut State in front of 378 fans at Downtown's Pope Center.
The three-game skid, which also features a blowout loss to first-place Robert Morris here on Feb. 8 and a one-point defeat to neighborhood rival LIU-Brooklyn at the Barclays Center last Sunday, has left the Terriers reeling instead of flourishing en route to their third straight NEC Tournament berth.
Tuesday's loss was particularly painful as the Terriers held a one-point lead with only 12 seconds remaining after reinstated junior guard Brent Jones hit a free throw to give them a 71-70 lead.
But CCSU's Kyle Vinales, an All-Conference guard, buried St. Francis' hopes of a monumental bounce-back win by draining a long 3-pointer from the left corner with just 2.6 ticks left on the clock.
The Terriers' final opportunity to force a tie or take the lead went awry when the ensuing inbound pass was deflected by a Blue Devils player, leaving the once-surging program winless since the sexual abuse and assault scandals rocked the Remsen Street campus earlier this month.
"It was a great game," conceded Braica, who has done his best to keep his players focused and motivated despite the ongoing criminal investigation.
"Vinales hit a big time shot to beat us,” he added. “I thought we turned the ball over a bit too much, but other than that we gave a good effort throughout the game."
The latest narrow defeat has to leave St. Francis fans wondering whether having White and/or Hagigal on the floor for either of the past two games would have made a difference.
Freshman sensation Wayne Martin, White, Jones and junior P.J. Santavenere were all suspended prior to the Feb. 8 RMU game. Both White and Santavenere remain sidelined indefinitely since that contest, while Martin was reinstated prior to last Sunday's game against LIU.
Hagigal, who was named the NEC Rookie of the Week on Feb. 10, has missed each of the last two games after suiting up against the Colonials 11 days ago.
It’s hard to imagine either player returning to the hardwood prior to next month’s NEC Tournament, which SFC will almost certainly participate in barring a total disaster over the final four regular-season contests.
Senior guard Ben Mockford and junior forward Jalen Cannon have played well during this tumultuous stretch and continued to do so Tuesday night.
Mockford led the Terriers with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, going over the 1,000-point mark for his career at SFC.
Cannon notched his eighth double-double of the campaign with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Jones scored 13 points in his best performance since his one-game suspension.
The latest two defeats kicked off a stretch of four games in seven days for the troubled Terriers, who will be in Moon Township, Pa., on Saturday afternoon to take on the NEC-leading Colonials.
SFC will wrap up the regular season at the Pope Center on Feb. 27 against Bryant and March 1 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson.
The Terriers can certainly salvage something positive from a season seemingly gone to waste over the next several weeks.
They’d better begin doing so Thursday night at SFU or the pressure will continue to mount for a program that has gone down precipitously just when it appeared everything was headed up.
Two local squads that are soaring into their respective conference tournaments are the men’s and women’s squads from Brooklyn College.
The BC men used a superb defensive effort and game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore Egzon Gjonbalaj to blow past John Jay, 87-52, on Tuesday night at the West Quad Center.
The Bulldogs, who held the Bloodhounds to 25 percent shooting from the floor, improved their CUNYAC record to 8-8 in the regular-season finale, nailing down the No. 4 seed in the upcoming CUNYAC Championships.
Sophomore Jamel Gist added 17 points for the Bulldogs, who will host No. 5 Hunter College in the CUNYAC quarterfinals on Saturday.
The Lady Bulldogs will enter the CUNYAC Tournament as a No. 3 seed after completing the regular season with Tuesday night’s 67-43 win over the Lady Bloodhounds.
Prior to the start of the game, seniors Allison Donovan, Zoe Randolph and Megan Campbell were all honored as part of Senior Night celebrations.
Campbell celebrated on the court as well, registering 15 points and nine rebounds as BC led from start to finish en route to completing the campaign with an impressive 19-6 mark, including 12-4 in CUNYAC action.
BC will host No. 6 John Jay at the West Quad Center on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the opening round of the league championships.
Though his Blackbirds are currently on the outside looking in at an NEC Tournament berth, senior point guard Jason Brickman is in the thick of the race for the annual Bob Cousy Award.
Brickman, who has a chance to lead the entire nation in assists for the second straight season, is one of 24 candidates for the prestigious honor, given to the nation’s top point man.
"The 24 athletes on this list represent the most committed, determined and skillful point guards in college basketball," said John L. Doleva, President and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame. "We are honored to be recognizing their strengths and are excited to move forward in the selection process."
"The men on this list all have the athletic qualities of an exceptional true point guard in the game of college basketball, the same qualities that made Mr. Cousy an iconic player," said Ken Kaufman, Chair of the Bob Cousy Award and former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). "All of these young men are on this list because they deserve to be competing for this well-respected award."
Downtown basketball fans interested in casting their vote for Brickman can do so by visiting www.cousyaward.com from now until March 10.
Brickman and the Blackbirds will be in Moon Township, Pa., on Thursday night to take on conference-leading Robert Morris.
The San Antonio native is currently averaging 10.9 points and an NCAA-best 10.1 assists per contest. He has quarterbacked LIU to an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths out of the NEC.