Bryant looks for record eighth NEC win at Monmouth

Bryant looks for record eighth NEC win at Monmouth


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Bryant goes for a new Division I program mark for Northeast Conference wins Saturday night on the road at Monmouth University. The Bulldogs enter West Long Branch fresh off a 78-63 victory over FDU Thursday night  and look to take their second-straight road win back to Smithfield. The game tips off from the MAC at 7:00 p.m.

Saturday's game marks the seventh all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and the Hawks. Monmouth is the winner of the last five series matchups, as Bryant looks for its first victory over the Hawks since the opener between the sides back on Feb. 5, 2009 (83-71). That win came at Boylan Gym, the Hawks' previous home court, and Bryant is 1-2 in West Long Branch, N.J. despite being winless against the Hawks in Rhode Island. Saturday's tilt is the only time the Bulldogs and the Hawks will meet in the 2012-13 regular season.

Andrew Nicholas and Jesse Steele pace a Monmouth side that is 8-14 overall and 3-6 in Northeast Conference action, scoring 13.9 and 10.0 point per game, respectively. The pair lead the team from 3-point land as well, dumping in 34 and 40 trifectas on the year, and Steele has a doled out a team-high 78 assists with 34 steals. Marcus Ware and Ed Waite lead the Hawks on the glass and in terms of accuracy from the field, with Ware's 4.6 boards per outing marking a team best. The pair shoots 45.1 and 50.9 percent from the floor and chip in 7.6 and 6.5 points per game, respectively. As a team, Monmouth  converts at a 39.1 percent clip and pulls down 32.6 rebounds each time out.

Down by 12 with 15:15 to play, Bryant reeled off 10-straight points over a five-minute span, but the late heroics would not be enough to top visiting Monmouth, as the Bulldogs fell, 78-68, at the Chace Athletic Center in the teams' last meeting.

Staring at as much as a 13-point deficit early in the frame, the Bulldogs' 10-0 stretch was part of a longer 13-2 run during which Bryant saw three different players find the basket to cut the score to 55-53. But the Hawks would never let the home side any closer, countering with seven-straight points to renew a healthy lead before eventually prevailing by the 10-point margin.

Point guard Frankie Dobbs collected his second-straight 20-point game in the outing, finishing the afternoon with a contest-best 23 points and six assists. Alex Francis was the only other double-digit pointgetter for the Bulldogs, dropping 19 to compliment five boards, four assists and an 8-for-8 mark from the free throw line. Monmouth saw three different players record double-digit scoring, highlighted by Jesse Steele's 22-point outing. Dion Nesmith and Austin Tillotson both added 11 points for the visitors, while the former hauled in a team-high six boards.

The Bulldogs finished the afternoon shooting 38.3 percent from the field (18-of-47) but made a season-high 86.2 percent of its free throw opportunities, going 25-of-29 from the charity stripe while four Bryant players were perfect in their efforts at the line. The sharpshooting Hawks converted 54.5 percent of their shots from the floor with impressive 30-of-55 shooting. Bryant went 7-of-23 from downtown (.304) while Monmouth shot an even 50 percent from beyond the arc (6-12). The Hawks took the rebounding battle by a slim margin, 30-28, while the teams combined for 34 turnovers, with Bryant committing four more than its counterpart.

The Bulldogs are 7-2 against the Northeast Conference in 2012-13 with a 22-55 record against current league members since joining the Division I ranks. All-time against current NEC schools, the Bulldog basketball program is 50-109 (.314), having most frequently faced off against former Northeast-10 Conference (DII) member Quinnipiac (18-42).

» First of All: With the 15-point victory over the Knights, the Bulldogs reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Northeast Conference standings.
» Record Watch: A win against Monmouth would earn the Bulldogs their eighth NEC victory of the season, breaking the program's current Division I single-season record of seven league victories, established in 2010-11 and tied Thursday at FDU.
» Road Warriors: Bryant took its seventh road victory of the year Thursday night in Hackensack, N.J., and now has as many true road wins in 2012-13 as in program's previous four Division I seasons combined (7 since 2008-09). The Bulldogs lead the NEC in the category and also rank near the top in the NCAA when it comes to true road wins.
» TV Land: With national audiences tuned in live via ESPN3, Fox College Sports and Cox, the Bulldogs earned their second TV victory of the year Thursday night with a 78-63 topping of Fairleigh Dickinson on the road. The game was the team's fourth televised contest in 2012-13 (at Indiana, at Providence College and at Central Connecticut), and Bryant will make its fifth TV appearance in its next home game Thursday, Feb. 7 when the Black and Gold welcome St. Francis Brooklyn to the Chace Athletic Center for a 7 p.m. tipoff (ESPN3, FCS, Cox).
» National Leaderboard: Numerous Bulldogs can be found ranked in the NCAA's Top 100 in multiple categories (see right), but none are ranked higher than sophomore sharpshooter Dyami Starks. Starks enters Saturday's matchup ranked 18th among all Division I players for 3-point field goals per game, also leading the NEC ranks at 3.05 trifectas per outing. Junior forward Alex Francis also highlights the national rankings, as his 55.6 percent shooting clip is good for 30th overall.
» January Juice: For the third-straight month, Bryant finished off January action with a winning record, going 7-2 over the 31-day stretch. The seven victories are the most recorded in a single month since the program's transition to the Division I level.
» Movin' On Up: The Bulldogs have now been ranked in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 for five-straight weeks, ranked No. 22 entering this week's action. Bryant cracked the prestigious list for the first time in program history on Dec. 31 at No. 25, then spent two weeks at No. 21 before moving to No. 17 last week.
» Tremendous Turnaround: Bryant remains the most improved team in the nation when it comes to pure win turnaround, as the Bulldogs already boast 12 more wins in 2012-13 than it had a season ago. The next best in terms of win improvement? Towson, at 10.
» 14 and Counting: The Bulldogs keep improving on their Division I single-season wins record, picking up their 14th victory of the year on the road against Fairleigh Dickinson Thursday night. Bryant has now won more games this season than in the last three campaigns combined (12).
» Bracketology Breakthrough: Bryant makes its third appearance of the season on ESPN's Bracketology with Joe Lunardi as of Feb. 1 and is currently awarded a 16 seed.

Juniors Alex Francis and Corey Maynard each saw new season highs for points scored Thursday against FDU. Francis finished the game with a contest-best 27 points off 10-of-13 shooting while Maynard picked up 16 off a 5-for-10 clip with 4-of-7 accuracy from 3-point land. Both bested his previous season high by a one.

Sophomore tranfer Joe O'Shea set a new career high as a passer Thursday night, dishing out a game-best seven assists to nearly double up his previous all-time high (4).

The Bulldogs outrebounded their opponents for the 11th time this season Thursday against the Knights but did so for just the first time in the last four contests, turning around what was becoming a worrisome trend. Bryant is just 5-4 when losing the battle on the glass but 9-2 when finishing with a rebounding edge. The season-best 13-board margin (39-26) marked the fifth time this year the Bulldogs have outrebounded an opponent by double figures, and Bryant's 17 offensive boards are also a new season high.

Three Bulldogs have combined to record 20 or more points in a game 17 times this season, most recently Thursday night at Fairleigh Dicksinson. Sophomore Dyami Starks leads the way with nine such outings, while junior Alex Francis has six after a season-high 27-point performance against the Knights. Senior Frankie Dobbs has chipped in two on the year, as well. Two players have recorded 20+ points in the same contest three times, with Starks (20) and Francis (21) doing so at Lehigh Dec. 29, Starks (29) and Dobbs (26) teaming up at Robert Morris Jan. 3 and Starks (20) and Dobbs (24) repeating the feat at home against Quinnipiac Jan. 10.

For all of Bryant's success this season, the Bulldogs have struggled mightily in one particular statistical category — blocks. The Black and Gold average just 1.05 blocks per game and rank dead last in Division I entering Saturday's matchup. Sophomore Joe O'Shea and senior Vlad Kondratyev lead the way with five stuffs apiece this season, but the Bulldogs have posted three or more blocks just twice so far.

The Bulldogs head back to Smithfield, R.I. for the next two and will welcome St. Francis Brooklyn to the Chace Athletic Center Thursday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff that will air nationally on ESPN3 and Fox College Sports, as well as locally on Cox (RI only).