WRITTEN BY DAVID MENZE
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, N.Y — St. Francis College Terriers (12-10 overall; 9-2 NEC) beat Northeast Conference rival Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils (10-11 overall; 7-4 NEC) by a 73-67 margin on Thursday night.
Junior forward Travis Nichols led St. Francis with 16 points on 75 percent (6-of-8) shooting overall, drained 80 percent (4-of-5) of his shots from long-distance and pulled down seven rebounds in just 20 minutes of play.
Much of Nichols’ damage occured in the first half when he came off the bench and caught fire scoring 14 points in just 10 minutes while shooting a perfect 4-4 from behind the arc.
Teammate Akeem Johnson matched Nichols’ scoring output with 16 and added five rebounds and three blocks in the contest.
Two other Terriers were also in double-figures against Central Connecticut, shooting guard Ben Mockford recorded 14 points in the match-up and point guard Brent Jones chipped in with 12 points as the sophomore racked up six assists and four rebounds in the process. Jones sank all four of his foul-shots in the closing seconds to seal the victory.
Ptacek led the way for CCSU with 22 points in 38 minutes of action while teammates Vinales (18) and Horton (13) combined for 31 points and12 rebounds. No other player for the Blue Devils scored more than four points. With the loss, CCSU falls to a 7-4 mark in the conference and are currently tied with Robert Morris for 4th place in the NEC.
According to northeastconference.org, St. Francis was predicted to finish 11th out of 12th place in the conference by the NEC coaches in a preseason poll, however, by beating the Blue Devils – who were predicted to finish third – the Terriers have now won nine of their last ten games and are tied with Wagner for second-place in the NEC with a 9-2 record.
The Blue Devils took an early 8-2 lead in the game behind senior guard Robby Ptacek’s six points but St. Francis stormed back with an 11-2 run of their own to grab the lead 13-10 after the first nine minutes of play capped off by three consective long-range bombs knocked down by Nichols.
Central Connecticut pulled within six points, 29-23, with 4:07 remaining in the opening half after a conventional three-point play by six-time NEC Rookie-of-the-Week Kyle Vinales. Terriers shooting guard Ben Mockford responded with five straight points and pushed the lead back up to double-digits, 34-23.
Each team rattled off nine points apiece to end the first half with St. Francis leading 43-32 at intermission.
Johnson scored the first basket of the second half for the Terriers but the Blue Devils went on a 15-6 run that edned with a Vinales layup to cut the lead 51-47 at the 15:11 mark.
St. Francis answered with their own 11-4 spurt to stretch the lead to 62-51 with 11:50 left to play. P.J. Santavenere and Mockford hit clutch three-pointers as freshman forward Jalen Cannon added three points followed by Nichols’ key mid-range jumper to cap the run.
The Terriers were up 65-54 with just over seven minutes to play after Mockford converted his fourth shot behind the arc before the Blue Devils battled back and rattled off eight straight points to cut the lead to 65-62 with 4:45 to go in regulation.
St. Francis managed to keep their composure as Johnson converted a critical layup with 2:41 left in the game before both teams went on a scoring drought until Jones calmly sank a pair of clutch foul-shots to go up 69-62 with just 56 seconds left on the game clock.
CCSU’s all-time leading scorer Ken Horton knocked down a three-pointer with 23 ticks left to cut the lead to 69-65 before Johnson and Jones each converted both of their free-throw attempts for the Terriers after they were intentionally fouled. The made foul-shots put the game out of reach 73-65 with just eight seconds remaining.
For the game, St. Francis shot 45.8 percent (27-for-59) from the field overall, 42.9 percent (9-for-21) from downtown and were 10-of-15 (67%) from the foul-line while only turning the ball over a season-low eight times.
The Blue Devils outrebounded the Terriers by a 41-34 margin but shot only 21.4 percent (3-of-14) from behind the arc and got just six points from their bench compared to St. Francis’ 26 bench points thanks in large part to Nichols and Santavenere. The Terriers also capitalized on CCSU’s miscues with 16 points off 11 Blue Devil turnovers.
St. Francis’ next match-up is against NEC foe Bryant University on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Final: SFC 73 – CCSU 67
0:08 – Jones sinks a pair of free-throws and puts team up 73-67
0:20 – SFC leads 71-65 after Johnson knocks down clutch free-throws
0:21 – CCSU keeps within striking distance, 69-65, after three-pointer by Horton
0:55 – Terriers take 69-62 after Jones sinks two clutch foul-shots
2:30 – St. Francis leads 67-62 after Johnson’s second chance lay-up
4:45 – Blue Devils down 65-62 after quick 6-0 spurt capped off by Efese’s first two baskets of the game
7:00 – St. Francis leads 65-54 after Mockford’s three-pointer
8:40 – CCSU trails 62-54 after lay-up by Ptacek
11:45 – Nichols follows teammate with three-pointer of his own as St. Francis takes 62-51 lead
12:30 – SFC leads 60-51 after three-pointer by Santavenere
14:00 – Terriers take 56-49 lead after Mockford’s three-pointer.
17:18 – Blue Devils start second-half with 8-4 run but still trail 47-40.
First Half Recap:
St. Francis junior Travis Nichols provided the Terriers a huge spark off the bench scoring 14 points in just 10 minutes of action. Nichols is perfect from the field (5-5) thus far knocking down all four of his attempts from long-distance. Teammates Ben Mockford and Akeem Johnson chipped in with eight points apiece.
As a team St. Francis is shooting 56.7 percent (17-of-30) from the field while converting 60 percent (6-of-10) from behind the arc and connecting on 75 percent (3-of-4) foul-shots.
Central Connecticut has gotten outrebounded by a 16-12 margin thus far and have commited to more turnovers than the hosting Terriers.
Robby Ptacek and Kyle Vinales currently lead the way for the Blue Devils with 10 points each as their team shot 44.8 percent (13-of-29) from the field overall while knocking down all five of their free-throw attempts.
Halftime: SFC 43 – CCSU 32
1:00 – Nichols hits from long-range again as SFC leads 41-30
2:00 – Terriers take 38-25 after Johnson’s second chance opportunity
3:18 – St. Francis takes largest lead of game, 34-23, after Mockford sinks both foul-shots
4:30 – Johnson’s monster dunk makes crowd roar as Terriers lead 29-23
4:45 – SFC up 27-18 after lay-up by Jones
7:20 – it’s raining three’s as Mockford hits from long-distance and give Terriers 23-16 lead
7:51 – SFC ahead 20-12 after going of 16-4 run
9:50 – Nichols knocks down another from long-distance and has nine points already as Terriers lead 18-12
10:10 – St. Francis leads 15-12 after media timeout
11:29 – SFC takes first lead of game 13-10 after another Nichols three-pointer
13:30 – Terriers tie score 10-10 after three-pointer by Nichols
16:11 – CCSU leads 8-4 after foul-line jumper by Ptacek
17:00 – St. Francis scores first points of game on basket by Johnson
17:40 – Blue Devils take early 6-0 lead
Central Connecticut leads the all-time series by a 21-20 margin however, they have dominated St. Francis as of late winning 10 of the last 11 meetings. Last season the Terriers defeated the visiting Blue Devils but dropped two games on the road including the NEC Quarterfinal match-up by a score of 64-62.
St. Francis (NY) swept St. Francis (PA) and Robert Morris on the road last week for the first time since 1998. The Terriers had lost five straight against namesake PA and three straight against the Colonials of Robert Morris. SFC has won seven of their last eight contests and are off to their best start in the NEC since the 2000-2001 campaign. At 11-10, this is the latest point in the season that they have been over the .500 mark in eight years.
Sophomore point guard Brent Jones has started the last four match-ups for St. Francis at point guard and delivered a career-high 19 points at Robert Morris. He’s tied for 10th in the NEC with 1.24 steals per game and has averaged 11.3 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds over the last eight contests.
Senior forward Stefan Perunicic, who has scored in double-figures in 12 straight games prior to beating Robert Morris, moved into the NEC’s top-ten list with 265 career three-point field goals, he needs just 29 more to surpass the Terriers all-time leader Angel Santana.
Junior forward Akeem Johnson tied his career-high with 22 points against St. Francis (PA) as he made 7-of-11 of his shots from the field. Johnson also hit 8-of-9 from the foul-line and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds. Currently he is second in the league in field-goal percentage converting .581 of his shots from the floor and 16th in rebounding with 5.2 boards per game.
Sophomore shooting guard and former NEC player-of-the-week (Dec. 19) Ben Mockford ranks 3rd in the NEC with 2.68 treys per game and is averaging 11 points, 2 rebounds and one assist per game this season while playing a team-high 31 minutes each contest.
Freshman forward Jalen Cannon recorded his 5th double-double of the season against Robert Morris with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Cannon is now 6th in the league in rebounding at 7.7 per game and also second in the league in field-goal percentage connecting on .635 of his shots in conference games. Over the last five contests, the Allentown, PA native is averaging 9.6 ppg. and 9.0 rpg.
Travis Nichols gave the Terriers a huge lift off the bench against Robert Morris as the junior forward scored 16 points in only 22 minutes of play, he went 5-of-7 from the floor and drained 3-of-5 from long-distance. Nichols also added 11 points at St. Francis (PA) in just 15 minutes of action.