St. Francis basketball jumps over .500 with strong defensive effort
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The St. Francis Brooklyn men's basketball team continued its impressive run through the non-conference portion of its schedule Saturday afternoon at Remsen Street's Pope Center, using a tenacious defense and strong second-half effort from freshman guard Sheldon Hagigal to turn back Canisius, 67-51.
The Terriers (6-5), who now trail only Bryant (7-5) in the NEC non-league standings, trailed 38-35 with 15:23 to play before holding the visiting Golden Griffins (7-4) to just 13 points the rest of the way.
Hagigal, named NEC Rookie of the Week for his recent efforts, scored nine of his game-high 15 points over the final 20 minutes to help St. Francis snap a two-game skid and climb back above the .500 mark entering Thursday night's contest with visiting Lafayette.
"I was proud of our guys effort, especially on the defensive end," noted Terriers head coach Glenn Braica, who hopes to lead St. Francis to its fourth straight NEC Tournament bid and first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in the new year.
"I never thought that we would be able to shut a great offensive team like Canisius down like that, but the guys were just tremendous," added Braica. "We struggled to make open shots, but if you play that hard on the other end you will always have a chance to win."
Junior guard Brent Jones' layup off a steal and feed from Hagigal sparked a 15-2 second-half run that helped put the Terriers ahead to stay, 50-40, before a partisan crowd of 278 which weathered some snowy conditions to take in St. Francis' latest victory.
“Give St. Francis credit," Canisius head coach Jim Baron said. "They just wanted it more than us. They played very physical, got on the floor for loose balls and made us turn it over. We have to keep working to get better. We need to be more physical when we are challenged and we need to make plays when we have the chance.”
Freshman Andy Fall scored a career-high 11 points, junior forward Jalen Cannon added eight points and 10 rebounds and Jones handed out eight assists for the Terriers, who held a 39-28 advantage in rebounding and committed only 10 turnovers.
First-year sensation Wayne Martin, who is emerging as a strong candidate for NEC Rookie of the Year honors, was limited to eight points, but did block three shots as St. Francis clamped down on Canisius throughout the final stanza.
Martin and sophomore guard Anthony White combined for consecutive layups to up the Terriers' lead to 54-42 with 8:23 to play.
Hagigal, a native of Westbury, N.Y. is averaging 13 points in six games since Braica wisely inserted the 6-foot-1, 185-pound guard into the starting lineup six games ago.
Hagigal shared the Rookie of the Week honor with LIU-Brooklyn freshman Iverson Fleming after the latter scored a career-high 22 points in the Blackbirds' much-needed 96-93 victory at NJIT last Thursday night.
The 6-foot-1 guard made all but three of his 11 shots from the field and grabbed three rebounds as the three-time defending NEC champs ended a two-game slide and posted their first road triumph of the campaign.
Making Fleming's effort more impressive is that 20 of his 22 points came in the second half after the Blackbirds' top scorer, Gilbert Parga, went down with an injury just before intermission.
LIU senior Jason Brickman took home the NEC Player of the Week award after breaking the league's all-time assists record in the win over NJIT.
The speedy point guard established a career high with 22 points, but it was the third of his six assists that evening that moved him past Marist's Drafton Davis for the NEC's all-time assists mark, which had stood for 25 years.
Brickman, who now has 808 assists as a Blackbird, leads the nation in that category and has an opportunity this year to become just the fourth player in NCAA history to compile 1,000 career helpers.
Over at Brooklyn College, the men's basketball squad went into its extended winter break with an 89-68 rout of borough rival Medgar Evers last Friday night at the West Quad Center.
Playing their third game in four nights, the Bulldogs (3-6) looked none the worse for wear as Egzon Gjonbalaj (FDR High School) and Jai Kellman (Westinghouse) scored 26 points apiece on a combined 18-for-30 shooting.
BC will take time off for holidays and exams before visiting Lehman in the Bronx on Jan. 3.
The drought is finally over for the LIU-Brooklyn women's team.
With losses in each of their first eight contests, the Blackbirds (1-8) finally got off the schneid Saturday afternoon in West Long Branch, N.J., with a 67-52 triumph over Monmouth.
Senior Cleandra Roberts matched her career high with 23 points en route to being named the NEC's Player of the Week and junior Letava Whippy also achieved a career best with 18 points as LIU shot a blistering 66.7 from beyond the arc, including a 3-for-5 effort by freshman Aleisha Myers.
The Blackbirds will have a 14-day break before facing Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on Dec. 28 as part of a two-game trip through Arizona prior to the beginning of NEC action Jan. 4 at Wagner.
The Brooklyn College women's team won its third in a row last Friday against visiting Medgar Evers, cruising to a 79-63 victory behind 18 points from borough native Nacirema Mann and 15 points and 11 rebounds by senior Megan Campbell.
Campbell posted her fourth consecutive double-double for BC, earning CUNYAC Player of the Week honors, as the Bulldogs improved to 6-3 this season, including 2-1 in league play.
"Tonight's effort was a full team effort," said BC head coach Alex Lang. "We got contributions from our entire roster, which was nice to see."
BC returns to the hardwood Jan. 3 at Lehman.
On the local high school girls' basketball scene, the Brooklyn Friends School will carry a season-high five-game winning streak into the holiday break.
After a slow 1-3 start, last year's Independent School Athletic League runner-ups have bounced back into contention for the league title behind inspired play from senior leaders like Julia Greenwald, Chloe Burton and Julia Breen.
The Blue Pride will be off until Jan. 8, when it will host York Prep at St. Francis College in a rematch of last year's ISAL title game, which BFS dropped by only three points.
"We lost to them in the championship last year, so it's a really big game coming out of the break," said long-time BFS Athletic Director and girls' basketball coach David Gardella.