St. Francis Men's and Women's Teams Roll Into X-Mas break
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This college basketball season in Downtown Brooklyn is shaping up as a "Miracle on Remsen Street".
Both the St. Francis men's and women's teams are in first place in the Northeast Conference, riding impressive winning streaks into the Holiday Season and threatening to make 2014 the Year of the Terrier.
The St. Francis men posted their third straight victory Monday afternoon at the Pope Physical Education Center as junior forward and All-NEC First Team selection Jalen Cannon scored 18 points in a 77-65 triumph over NJIT.
Senior guard Aleksandar Isailovic added 13 points and a career-best eight rebounds and third-year point guard Brent Jones added 10 points and six assists for the Terriers (7-5), who will enjoy a week off before returning to the hardwood next Monday, when they visit Delaware State in search of a season-high fourth straight victory.
Buoyed by the additions of freshmen sensations Wayne Martin of South Shore High School and Sheldon Hagigal, coach Glenn Braica's steadily improving unit has already notched impressive non-conference wins at defending Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami, Florida Atlantic and Stony Brook. The Terriers also nearly stunned national powerhouse Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in November.
Defense has been the key to the Terriers' success thus far, as they have surrendered an average of 59 points during their current win streak and have yielded more than 70 points just three times in their first 12 games.
"If you play that hard on the other end you will always have a chance to win." has been Braica's mantra during St. Francis' impressive start.
Though they have never won the NEC, nor appeared in an NCAA Tournament game, during their century-plus history here, the Terriers are finally starting to take shape as a legitimate conference title contender.
A point they hope to drive home Jan. 9, when they host three-time defending NEC champion LIU-Brooklyn at the Pope Center in their league opener.
While Braica's team continues to thrive, the St. Francis women are off to their best start since the 1976-77 campaign, having won eight of their first 10 contests, including last Friday night's 74-52 rout of visiting Lafayette.
NEC Co-Player of the Week Eilidh Simpson scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range, and fellow junior Jaymee Veney added 15 points and seven rebounds as St. Francis won its fourth in a row while improving to 5-0 this season at the Pope.
The Lady Terriers (8-2), also vying for their first-ever conference crown, will open NEC play at home on Jan. 4 against Mount St. Mary's. St. Francis will first have to take on Delaware State in Dover on Sunday.
“Obviously we’re really happy with our record," second-year head coach John Thurston told the Eagle last week. "We’re playing well. We’ve beaten some really good teams. We only have losses to a Big East school (St. John's) and an ACC school (Miami). When you put together a team of players who have played together for a few years, you’re going to see results like this."
Things haven't been nearly as cheerful across Atlantic Avenue, where the Blackbirds fell to 4-7 with Saturday night's 101-65 loss to Temple at the Barclays Center during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Classic.
Sophomore E.J. Reed had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Blackbirds, who shot a season-worst 29 percent from the floor en route to having their season-high two-game winning streak snapped.
Senior point guard Jason Brickman, the nation's assists leader, was held to nine points on 2-of-8 shooting and six helpers as LIU entered its brief holiday break off one of its worst performances of the season.
“They didn’t let [Brickman] get the ball back," LIU second-year coach Jack Perri explained. "So anytime he gave the ball up he couldn’t get it back, and that kind of stagnated our offense. They really covered the perimeter well and they followed him to the basket, and they just did a really good job of it.”
The Blackbirds, who are still hoping to have former NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd (knee injury) back in the lineup in time for NEC play, will return to the court Saturday at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Tex.