LIU is back, St. Francis implodes and NKU advances.
Forgive me for my Beatles reference.
Last night was a strange, but compelling night in the land of mid-major conference tournaments. The major drama came in the NEC, where St. Francis Brooklyn blew a 55-47 lead with under five minutes to go and lost in overtime to Robert Morris. It was, frankly, agonizing for the Terriers, who will go yet another year without making the NCAA Tournament.
The LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds got things started at 6 p.m. with a narrow win over Sacred Heart. LIU-Brooklyn was last year’s NCAA Tournament representative from the NEC, but a difficult 15-15 regular season left them with a six seed. But Derek Kellogg’s group is peaking right now. The 71-62 win over Sacred Heart was their fourth straight win. In a wide-open NEC, it’s hard to count out the Blackbirds right now.
Bryant kept things close against St. Francis, but lost 67-63. Lastly, Fairleigh Dickinson obliterated Wagner 84-46. It’s a stinging loss for Wagner, which dominated the conference in 2016 and 2018.
The Horizon League had a very different tone. In those two games, defense was merely a theoretical concept. Youngstown State bothered Greg Kampe’s Oakland side early, but Oakland’s measured response ensured an 88-84 win (also helped by a +35 free throw differential). With five straight wins, the Grizzlies also appear to be getting hot at the right time. In the other game, Northern Kentucky defeated Detroit Mercy 99-88. Despite 30 points from Detroit’s Antoine Davis, the Norse tore apart Detroit’s defense in the second half en route to the victory. Tyler Sharpe’s 25 points led the way for the Norse, who will play Oakland next Monday.
There were more close games in the Ohio Valley. SIU Edwardsville surprised everyone by keeping Morehead State within range, but a second-half comeback ultimately fell short. In the second game in Evansville, UT-Martin survived a brilliant game from Eastern Illinois’ Josiah Wallace, who scored 26 points and was unstoppable in the paint. UT-Martin was down 38-36 at the half, but the sixth-seeded Skyhawks eventually wore down Eastern Illinois’ defense and forced a series of turnovers to close the game out.
That was all from the conference tournaments, but there was a ridiculous box score in Houston as Houston Baptist beat Incarnate Word 118-111, the fourth time Houston Baptist has scored 100 points this season. Houston Baptist averaged a ludicrous 1.48 points per possession and allowed an equally ludicrous 1.39 points per possession to Incarnate Word’s No. 289 Kenpom offense. Who needs defenses?!