STOP #5: Pope Physical Education Center, Brooklyn Heights, NY
Saturday, February 2, 2013 – 2pm
St. Francis Red Flash (11-8, 6-2) at St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (7-12, 4-4)
In a "Battle of the Franciscans," St. Francis Brooklyn College tangles with St. Francis University on Saturday afternoon in Brooklyn Heights, NY. It will mark the 52nd all time meeting. This will be one of two games on the NEC Saturday schedule featuring both teams at .500 or better. The Red Flash are currently 6-2 in conference play, and sit at second place in the league standings. The Terriers are 4-4, good for seventh place. If the season ended today, the St. Francis schools would meet in the first round of the NEC Tournament. SFU has appeared in the post-season each of the last four years, making three title game appearances, and winning two championships. The Terriers are looking to make the post-season for the first time since 2008.
ALL TIME SERIES
The Red Flash lead the all-time series 38-13, and have won the last seven straight meetings. In fact, SFU has won their last 13 consecutive games against the NEC’s two Brooklyn-based schools combined. The Terriers will look for their first victory over the Red Flash since a February 18, 2008 win in Brooklyn. Last season, in their lone meeting, the Flash defeated the Terriers 60-51 in western PA. The schools have twice squared off in the NEC Tournament, meeting in the 1999 and 2005 quarter-final round. Both playoff encounters resulted in Red Flash wins, en route to eventual tournament titles. One interesting tie between the two schools is longtime SFC assistant coach Dionne Dodson. Dodson originally started her coaching career in Loretto, working on the staff of Myndi Hill from 1999-2002. During her time with the Red Flash, the program won two NEC Tournament titles and participated in the NCAA Tournament. Another interesting nugget is that SFU freshman Brooklyn Taylor will play her first collegiate basketball game in the city that shares her name. Taylor, hailing from Greenville, PA, has averaged 4.5 points in eight conference contests so far this year. Finally, as far as who holds bragging rights in the “St. Francis” name department, St. Francis-Brooklyn College was first established in 1859, which came twelve years after St. Francis University was founded in 1847.
MEET THE NEW BOSS
The St. Francis Red Flash are the most accomplished program in NEC Women’s Basketball history. NEC championship record books read almost like their own personal media guide. The Red Flash have taken home a record 11 tournament titles, including back to back championships in 2010 and 2011. Last season, two of their key players (Shene Fleming and 2011 NEC tournament MVP Brittany Lilly) went down before the year even started due to injury. SFU would end up finishing tied for fourth place in the standings and bowing out in the quarter-final round against their arch-nemesis, Robert Morris.
In the off-season, Susan Robinson-Fruchtl left SFU to become new head coach of the Providence Friars. Longtime top assistant Joe Haigh was called upon to slide a few chairs down the bench to the head coach's spot, getting promoted to become the seventh head coach in program history. The Notre Dame alum also became the first male coach called upon to lead the Red Flash. Haigh had served on Fruchtl’s staff for the previous four years, so his hire allowed for a sense of familiarity and stability to stay with the program. In 2012-13, Haigh has led the Red Flash to four more victories than this point last year and his squad is also averaging over four points per night better. Coach Haigh and his wife Sherri are both Notre Dame alums. Sherri (Orlosky) played four seasons for the Irish basketball team under legendary coach Muffet McGraw. The Red Flash visited South Bend for a non-conference contest back on New Year’s Eve, with the Irish coming away with a 128-55 victory.
ALLI WILLIAMS P.O.Y. RESUME
With the 2013 conference season just about at the halfway point, Red Flash junior Alli Williams may very well be at the top of the list for NEC Player of the Year candidates. Williams currently paces all NEC scorers with a 19.3 point per game average, and ranks fourth in rebounding with a 10.9 average. In league play, Williams is the only player averaging over 20 points, coming in at 21.9. Along with Artemis Spanou, Naana Ankoma-Mensa, and Erika Livermore, Williams is a member of a select group of NEC WBB student-athletes currently averaging a double-double.
Over the course of the season, Williams passed the 1,000 career point, 600 rebound, and 200 steal marks. She joins NEC Hall of Famers Beth Swink and Jess Zinobile as the lone players in program history to get over 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, and 200 steals in their career. Williams is 15th on the Red Flash all-time scoring list, just eight points behind current SFU Director of Basketball Operations, Allison Daly. Entering this season, Alli Williams only had 14 career double-doubles. Through 19 games, she has recorded 13 this year alone, and counting.
For her efforts this past week, Williams took home her fourth NEC Player of the Week award, averaging 13.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 steals. She helped end St. Francis’ two game losing streak with back to back wins against Wagner and Robert Morris.
One year ago, Leah Fechko was a team captain for the Twinsburg (OH) High School Tigers. On February 8, 2012, Fechko recorded one of the best performances of her high school career, with a 20 point, 10 rebound, 6 assist, and 6 steal showing. The game was against Stow-Munroe Falls, and it fell on Fechko's senior night. Now a week shy of one year later, Fechko is displaying the same type of confidence she had on that particular evening, at the collegiate level. The Terrier freshman has taken home the last two NEC Rookie of the Week awards. Fechko is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds over her last four games. Last weekend against the Blue Devils, Fechko recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Two nights later against the Blackbirds, she would take home the prestigious “Battle of Brooklyn” MVP award with a career high 18 points, along with pulling down nine rebounds. She is the first freshman in a decade to win MVP honors in the annual matchup between inter-borough rivals.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
This marks the third time this season I will have the opportunity to see the Terriers play in person. Both previous times I came away commenting how much of an admirer I was with the way they play defense. They challenge everything, never give up on a play, hustle after every loose ball, and perhaps most importantly, communicate and work together as a team. The Terriers boast the second best scoring defense in the NEC, allowing just 59.5 points per game. SFC also stands fifth in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot 37.4%. St. Francis has also forced their opponents to commit 15 or more turnovers in five of the last seven games. SFC’s gritty defense will surely be tested on Saturday afternoon, as the Red Flash come to town standing second in the NEC in scoring, averaging 65.9 points per game.
ODDS & ENDS
St. Francis Brooklyn has recorded at least one made three pointer in 221 straight games. The last time the Terriers failed to convert a three was in a 2005 game against Lafayette. SFC is second in the NEC in three pointers made and three point field goal percentage. Sarah Benedetti leads the NEC individually with 56 made threes…A win on Saturday would give SFC their eighth overall and fifth conference win of the season, their most since finishing the 2008 campaign with a 10-20, 7-11 record under Brenda Milano…A win would give SFC just their 10th season of at least five wins in NEC play in program history…The Red Flash had started the same five players for the first 18 games of the season. The first change to the starting unit was made last Monday night when Rebecca Keegan replaced the injured Nickia Gibbs…Alexa Heyward recorded seven three’s on Monday night against Robert Morris, one shy of matching the program record. Her seven trifecta's were the most since Allison Daly’s eight against Robert Morris in the 2010 NEC Tournament semi-finals... Last year against SFC, Heyward led all scorers with 19 points.
LAST TIME OUT
In the 20th annual “Battle of Brooklyn,” the St. Francis-Brooklyn Terriers defeated their inter-borough rivals, LIU-Brooklyn, 69-58. The Terriers snapped a four year losing streak in the annual game. The last St. Francis win in the Battle of Brooklyn game came back in January 2009, with Kara Ayers being named MVP.
On this evening, the Terriers led wire to wire, leading by as many as 23 points in the first half. The Terriers were able to utilize a 21-2 run midway through the first half, holding the Blackbirds to just one field goal over a span of nine minutes, to pull away. The SFC lead would not go back under double-digits for the remainder of the contest. The reigning two-time NEC rookie of the week, Leah Fechko, was named the Battle of Brooklyn Most Valuable Player. Fechko netted a career high with 18 points and nine rebounds. Sarah Benedetti, Jessica Kaufman, and Eilidh Simpson also finished in double figures scoring for SFC.
As for the Red Flash, they managed to end a three game losing streak against their rivals from Moon Township, recording a 72-63 victory over Robert Morris on Monday night. Sophomore Alexa Heyward, who grew up just about 20 minutes from the Colonials campus, was on fire shooting the basketball. The Beaver Falls, PA native netted a career high 28 points, including five three pointers in the first half and seven overall for the game. The seven overall threes were one shy of a program single game record.
In a rare occurrence, Alli Williams was held scoreless through the game’s first 29:20 of regulation. In the second half, with the defense extending out to try and defend Heyward, it opened things up for Williams to do some damage. Williams scored all 21 of her points in the final 10:40. With the Red Flash holding on to a one point lead with less than three minutes to go, Williams would lead a 12-4 SFU run to clinch the victory. She would score 10 of the final 14 Red Flash points. In addition, the Altoona native would record her 13th double-double of the year, bringing down 11 rebounds to go with her 21 points. For the Colonials, Artemis Spanou would record another monster game with 21 points and 20 rebounds in the losing effort.
AROUND THE NEC
The St. Francis showdown in Brooklyn is one of two games on the NEC Saturday slate that features a pair of teams both at .500 or better. The other game is down in Emmitsburg, MD where the Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers host the Sacred Heart Pioneers. Both teams sit at 5-3 in the conference standings, and are currently in a four team logjam for third place. This will be the lone meeting between the two schools in the regular season, putting the utmost importance on victory due to possible tiebreaker implications down the road.
On the other side of the borough, LIU-Brooklyn will host Robert Morris at noon in front of a national audience on ESPN3. At the moment, both schools are sitting on the outside looking in of the top eight in the NEC standings.
Elsewhere, the Bobcats will look to improve to 9-0 in conference play when they visit the Wagner Seahawks. With a win, the Bobcats would be the fifth team in the last 11 years to start a season 9-0 vs. the NEC. In the Garden State, the Monmouth Hawks will welcome in the Bryant Bulldogs to West Long Branch, and the FDU Knights will match up with the CCSU Blue Devils.
Saturday’s action will mark the ninth game of the conference season, the halfway point of the 2013 NEC schedule. I’ll hand out some mid-season awards to go with the usual post-game recap of the SFU/SFC game here on the NEC WBB Road Trip Blog.