STOP #3: Pope Physical Education Center, Brooklyn Heights, NY
Saturday, January 19, 2013 - 2pm
ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN TERRIERS 64 (6-10, 3-2), FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON KNIGHTS 56 (8-8, 3-2)
St. Francis Brooklyn and Fairleigh Dickinson have been two of the biggest surprises so far in the early conference season. While the Knights have been to the postseason four out of the last five seasons, they lost their second leading scorer in program history to graduation, in Mariyah Laury. FDU hasn’t had a winning overall season since 1993 and hasn’t recorded a winning conference season since 2004. The Knights, picked tenth in the pre-season poll, came in at 3-1 in conference play, good for third in the conference standings. On the other side, the Terriers are just a few years removed from a winless conference season, and last year won just four games overall. St. Francis didn’t let an 11th place pre-season pick deter them, as they came in already with five wins on the year, including an upset on the road two weeks ago of the reigning champs, Sacred Heart.
The thing that stood out to me was the great job St. Francis did defensively on FDU from the opening tip. While Stephanie Isaacs drained two threes to give the Knights a 6-4 lead at the first media timeout, she had to take those threes because the Terriers were denying everything inside. For example, Erika Livermore, one of four NEC players averaging a double-double, early on tried to get to the basket driving the baseline. She saw her path immediately cut off by Jessica Kaufman and had to pass back out. Another time, the Knights tried to get Livermore the ball by the baseline, only to have Kaufman jump in the way of the passing lane and tip the ball out of her grasp. Livermore didn’t get her first clean look at the basket until over six minutes in, and she had to work for it, with a spin move in the lane. Livermore would pick up her second foul with 4:43 remaining in the first half. With Livermore out of the game, the Terriers finished the first half on a 13-5 run, to take a 33-28 lead into intermission. FDU shot just 8 for 28 (28.6%) from the floor in the first half.
Multiple times FDU tried to take it to the basket and every single time they were challenged. Danielle Pankey, the Knights leading scorer, tried to drive to the bucket, only to run into two defenders, arms outstretched high like trees, altering her shot and forcing it to be off the mark. Another time, Pankey tried to drive to the basket and was rejected. On the scoreboard though, the Knights did manage to stay close the entire second half, a tremendous feat considering how hard they had to work to just get good looks.
The game came down to the final few minutes, tied at 53 with 3:37 remaining after Erika Livermore showed off her range with an 18 foot jumper, a step inside of the three point line. The Terriers would net the next two buckets before the Knights drew within one, 57-56, after a three by Miah Register with 1:40 to go. The dagger would come just seconds later, as Kaufman drove to the basket along the baseline, knocking the ball through off of the glass while drawing a foul. Even though she would miss the ensuing free throw, the Knights would not be able to draw any closer. The Terriers would go on to make their free throws and send the packed Pope PE Center home happy with a 64-56 win.
St. Francis Brooklyn is a team that definitely would be leading the NEC in “hustle plays” if there was such a stat. This is a team that somehow has developed a much different attitude and energy that they didn’t have the last few seasons. The way they hustle on every play, loose balls, rebounds, getting in good positions and making smart plays on defense, it’s fun to watch. Even the little things, like the bench on their feet cheering their teammates after every play, have a different feel than year’s past. I said it after I saw the Terriers two weeks ago and I’m even more confident in it now…the Terriers will be in the race for a playoff spot this year. And even if they don’t get there, they are going to be a pesky team that no one wants to play in February, because they battle hard as a team and don’t give any teams an easy night. They remind me a lot of last year’s Mount St. Mary’s team, as a team that gave opponents a 40 minute battle every single night, win or lose.
Kiley Grabbe did a phenomenal job off the bench today. She scored seven points and recorded a career high four blocks. Even more impressive was what didn’t show up in the box score. First was her energy, second was her defensive presence. She was one of those tall trees that greeted any Knights who tried to enter the lane. Sarah Benedetti led the Terriers with 18 points and Leah Fechko started and scored 13. For FDU, Erika Livermore picked up her lucky 13th double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Pankey led the team in points with 14. The Terriers had 10 different players take the floor, and all 10 found their way into the scoring column. SFC held a 39-35 edge in rebounding, 19-12 on the offensive glass. St. Francis also forced 19 turnovers, scoring 19 points off those turnovers.
The Knights will look to rebound when they return home on Monday for a MLK day matinee against LIU-Brooklyn. Meanwhile, St. Francis Brooklyn will welcome in the other NJ school, the Monmouth Hawks. Both teams currently sit at 3-2 in conference play, and will meet up again February 18th in Hackensack.
CD POST GAME RECAP
1. Kiley Grabbe, SFC – 7 points, 2 rebounds, 4 blocks, 18 minutes
2. Sarah Benedetti, SFC – 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 33 minutes
3. Leah Fechko, SFC - 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 27 minutes
Located on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights, NY, the Pope Physical Education Center serves as the home of the Terriers. On this day, a local kids group, the New York Road Runners, were in attendance. I’ve been covering women’s basketball at St. Francis Brooklyn for the last decade, and I haven’t seen the seats as packed for a women’s hoops game as I did on this day. Bravo to Brooklyn! I also found out that there’s a Shake Shack a short walk from the gym. If there’s anything that I’m knowledgeable/passionate enough to talk about as much as NEC women’s basketball, it’s good tasting food. I should devote a future “Road Trip” blog entry to “A Taste of the NEC” featuring some of the best eateries at or around NEC schools. After my Shackburger and Red Velvet custard today, the Shake Shack would definitely be on that list.
AROUND THE NEC
SACRED HEART 71, ST. FRANCIS 50 – The Pioneers came out with one of more impressive, dominant performances in recent memory, going on the road to hand St. Francis their first conference defeat of 2013. Erika Norman recorded 16 points, 9 assists, 8 rebounds, and 7 steals in the victory. The Red Flash, who came into the day scoring 65.4 points per game and shooting 39.8% from the field, were held to 50 points and 29.8% shooting. After struggling the last two Saturdays, this was a much needed win for the reigning champs.
CCSU 82, WAGNER 53 – CCSU scored 52 of their season high 82 points in the paint in a victory over the Seahawks. Central also collected a season high 61 rebounds on the afternoon. After missing out on the NEC tournament last season, the Blue Devils currently sit at 3-2 in the NEC standings.
MONMOUTH 63, LIU-BROOKLYN 62 – Elsewhere in Brooklyn, the Monmouth Hawks completed a thrilling comeback, stealing a victory at the WRAC against the Blackbirds. A year after their last regular season meeting ended with a Chanel Gomez buzzer beater, these two took it to the final seconds once again. The Hawks had erased a 15 point second half deficit, but with 16 seconds left, the Blackbirds were in front by one. Off an inbounds, Chevannah Paalvast drove to the basket for the game winning layup with just 3.6 seconds to spare.
QUINNIPIAC 61, ROBERT MORRIS 52– Quinnipiac moved to 5-0 in NEC play, the lone remaining NEC unbeaten, with a road victory at Robert Morris. Three Bobcats were in double figures scoring. Felicia Barron netted 14, Brittany McQuain scored 12 with seven rebounds, and Jasmine Martin added 11. The Bobcats defense forced 28 turnovers, and recorded 29 points off of those Colonials miscues. A Bobcat win at St. Francis on Monday night would equal their program’s best start, when they went 15-2 to begin their 2008 regular season championship run.
MOUNT 86, BRYANT 84 (OT) – Mount trailed by 17 at halftime, and managed to come back to take the lead late in the second half. Mount led 77-75 after a Sydney Henderson layup with four seconds left. Danielle Douglas went to the line and calm, cool, and collected, converted a pair of free throws with 0.2 left on the clock, to force overtime. In the bonus session, the Mount held an 86-84 lead. Bryant saw three layup opportunities from right in front of the basket to try and tie the game, but couldn’t convert before the final buzzer sounded. Mount’s 4-1 NEC start is their best mark through five games since 1999-00.
Not just one, but two, NEC women’s basketball games will be hitting the airwaves next weekend. First, the Knights will visit the Quinnipiac Bobcats for a 2:30pm game televised on FCS and ESPN3. Then, about a half an hour down the Merritt Parkway, the Sacred Heart Pioneers will host the Monmouth Hawks in a 2012 NEC Championship Game rematch. The Pioneers took down the Hawks last March at the Pitt Center, 58-48, to capture their program’s third conference championship. The game will also air on FCS and ESPN3.