NEC Thursday Night Recap: Wagner Alone in First

January 7th, 2011
First-year head coach Dan Hurley has done quite the job with the Wagner Seahawks, a team that won all of five games in 2009-10. Going into Thursday's game against two-time defending NEC champion Robert Morris the Seahawks were in a three-way tie for first place with a 2-0 league play. The player who has benefitted the most with the coaching change? Junior guard Tyler Murray, who has eclipsed the 20-point plateau five times and has failed to reach double figures just once this season. The Toronto native has increased his scoring average (17.6 ppg) by almost nine points per game from a season ago and scored 28 points in Wagner's 73-68 win at preseason favorite Quinnipiac on Monday. Shooting over 50% from beyond the arc, the 6 foot 5 Murray is a tough matchup for just about any team in the NEC due to his size and skill versatility. Murray paired up with freshman Latif Rivers has made Wagner a better team in a hurry despite their overall youth, and the potency of these two was on full display on Thursday night in Staten Island.

Murray (26 points, four assists) and Rivers (22 points, four assists) combined to score 15 of the Seahawks' 20 points in overtime, leading the way in an 83-78 victory to remain atop the NEC standings. Robert Morris (1-2, 5-9) was led by the superlative Karon Abraham, who finished with a season-high 32 points in defeat. Russell Johnson and Lijah Thompson added 10 points apiece for the Colonials but the point separation proved to be too much, especially with Velton Jones scoring just two points on 1-for-3 shooting and fouling out after 23 minutes of action. Orlando Parker added 13 points for the home team while Chris Martin tallied nine points and five assists as Wagner is now the lone undefeated team in league play. Next up for the Seahawks is Saint Francis (PA) while the Colonials head south to take on Mount St. Mary's. Both games are on Saturday. Three teams went into play on Thursday undefeated in league play and only Wagner moves forward unblemished.

Thursday's Results

Quinnipiac 72, Monmouth 70
Another game and another heartbreaker for the Hawks (1-2, 5-10), who were unable to knock off the defending regular season co-champions in West Long Branch despite 21 points from Mike Myers-Keitt. Ed Waite added 18 points and seven rebounds but it wasn't enough to prevent the home team from losing their fifth game out of their last six. Jamee Jackson scored a team-high 20 points (8-12 FG) for the Bobcats (10-3, 2-1), who had five players reach double figures to make up for the absence of preseason Player of the Year Justin Rutty (right elbow). Jackson's free throw with 14 seconds to go gave the Bobcats their first lead of the game since late in the first half as QU fought back from a 14-point second half deficit. Quinnipiac out-rebounded the Hawks 39-26, grabbing 20 offensive rebounds, resulting in a field goal attempt difference of 21 (65 to 44) to combat the Hawks shooting 56.8% from the field.

Sacred Heart 67, Fairleigh Dickinson 50
Dave Bike's Pioneers (1-2, 6-8) picked up their fourth win in the last five games in Teaneck, handing FDU its first conference loss behind 18 points from Jerrell Thompson and 13 off the bench from Chris Evans. But the story for Sacred Heart was their defense, limiting the Knights to 30.6% shooting from the field and 21 turnovers. Kamil Svrdlik led FDU (2-1, 3-9) with 13 points but the Knights' ability to get to the foul line (19-24) was nullified by a 1-for-16 performance from beyond the arc. Shooting has been the main problem for Greg Vetrone's team this season and it reared its ugly head in the second half as FDU shot 25% from the field and missed all eight three point attempts. FDU shoots just 38.6% from the field on the season, something that has to change if they're to be a factor in the NEC race as the season wears on. Next up for FDU is Quinnipiac while the Pioneers take the short trek to West Long Branch to take on Monmouth.

Central Connecticut State 61, St. Francis (NY) 43
Robbie Ptacek led the Blue Devils (9-5, 2-1) out of the gate with 12 early points, and Central was rarely challenged after getting off to a 20-7 start in their home victory. Ptacek scored a game-high 25 points while Ken Horton added 10 and 14 rebounds in moving the Blue Devils' win streak to five games. Ricky Cadell led the Terriers (7-7, 2-1) with nine points but SFNY shot a horrid 23.4% from the field, and the starting backcourt of Cadell, Dre Calloway and Akeem Bennett combined to shoot 7-for-32. CCSU also out-rebounded SFNY 46-35 in winning by a comfortable margin despite turning the ball over twenty times. Next up for CCSU is Long Island at home while the Terriers head east to take on Bryant.

Mount St. Mary's 63, Saint Francis (PA) 56
Julian Norfleet led all scorers with 18 points while Josh Castellanos and Danny Thompson scored ten points apiece off the bench in helping the Mountaineers (1-1, 4-12) end their eight-game skid while moving the Red Flash's losing streak to ten. The Mount out-rebounded SFPA 34-25 and exercised judicious shot selection (4-6 3PT) in taking care of Saint Francis, who was led by Mislav Jukic (19 points) and Umar Shannon (16) but shot just 35.6% from the field. Outside of those two the Red Flash (0-2, 2-12) shot 6-for-24 from the field and made just 25% of their three pointers (removing Shannon SFPA was 1-for-7) as a team. Next up for the Mountaineers is Robert Morris in what's become one of the more important rivalries in the NEC given the recent success of both programs, and the Red Flash head north to take on Wagner.

Long Island 75, Bryant 55
Jim Ferry's club won its fourth straight game in routine fashion, taking care of the struggling Bulldogs by 20 in Smithfield thanks to four starters reaching double figures led by Jamal Olasewere's 17. LIU (2-1, 10-4) got out quickly, leading by 19 at the half by making seven three pointers while limiting Bryant to 29.4% shooting on the other end. Alex Francis led the home team with 18 points but it wasn't enough to make up for the Bulldogs (0-3, 2-13) shooting 36.9% and being outscored by 18 points from behind the arc. Long Island next takes on CCSU in a matchup of 2-1 teams while the Bulldogs welcome St. Francis (NY) to Rhode Island.

Weekly Honors (announced Monday)
Player of the Week: Sacred Heart guard Shane Gibson
Rookies of the Week: LIU guard Jason Brickman and Bryant forward Alex Francis

Saturday's Schedule
1 PM Robert Morris at Mount St. Mary's
3:30 PM LIU at CCSU
4 PM Quinnipiac at FDU
4 PM St. Francis (NY) at Bryant
7 PM Sacred Heart at Monmouth
7 PM Saint Francis (PA) at Wagner