Flash hold off American in win

LORETTO — Saint Francis was blowing out American by 23 points with 16 minutes remaining Wednesday night, and as good as that might have felt, a win like that wouldn’t have really taught the Red Flash much about themselves.

The way the game finished, though, turned out to be a good learning experience for coach Rob Krimmel and his players.

“It’s always easier to teach after a win,” Krimmel said. “Certainly got too close, but these games down the stretch will be more meaningful when they’re closer.”

The Red Flash saw their huge lead dwindle to seven points with eight minutes to go, but they regrouped and finished off a 100-89 win at DeGol Arena in their first home game of the season against a Division I opponent.

American is not a very strong opponent as it was picked to finish next to last in the Patriot League. Still, the Flash, the preseason favorites to win the Northeast Conference, can draw on what happened in the game the next time they build a lead and see the opponent come back.

And at this stage in the season, particularly working with a team that includes several key players learning new roles, that experience is valuable.

“It’s definitely a good learning point,” SFU guard Keith Braxton said. “We had to sit down and get a couple stops (on defense). It’s definitely helpful to have a game like that instead of blowouts.”

Braxton led six Flash players in double figures with 20 points to go along with 12 rebounds.

Saint Francis (3-3) got terrific scoring balance as Andre Wolford had 19, Jamaal King 17, Deivydas Kuzavas 16, Randall Gaskins Jr. 15 and Mark Flagg 11 off the bench on 5-of-5 shooting.

The Flash shot 67.7 percent from the first in the first half and 60 percent for the game.

“It just speaks to us playing together,” Wolford said of the balanced attack. “We move the ball pretty well.”

Wolford hit five 3-pointers, four in the first half as Saint Francis jumped out to a 52-39 lead. Wolford, a sharpshooter who came to SFU as a walk-on, had a funny response when asked if he’s ever been that hot before in his life.

“Yeah,” he responded with a little smile. “Here it’s my first time shooting the ball this well.”

The Flash opened the second half with a 10-0 run, capped by two 3-pointers from King, and led 66-43 after a pair of Wolford free throws with 15:52 remaining.

American (2-4) trailed 76-56 when it began its rally, scoring 13 straight points to pull with 76-69 with 7:44 left.

The game was never really in doubt down the stretch, though, as the teams traded buckets for a few minutes and the SFU lead never dropped below seven.

“When they made their run, we didn’t start pointing fingers, and we didn’t start going in opposite directions,” Krimmel said.

“You can’t simulate that experience in practice,” he added. “These guys had to go through losing a lead and then having to respond.”

American got most of its points from three players, led by Sa’eed Nelson’s game-high 24. Larry Motuzis had 23 and Cheikh Diallo 20.

Saint Francis travels to Stony Brook on Saturday, then comes a game the players will never forget as the Flash travel to No. 1 Duke on Tuesday. It will be the first time in program history to play the nation’s top-ranked team.

“It’s definitely interesting,” Braxton said, “because as a kid you see all the Dukes and big programs on TV, and just to be able to play against one of those programs in real life is amazing. I never thought I’d be able to do that.”

AMERICAN U. (2-4): Little 2-2 2-3 6, Motuzis 8-13 5-6 23, Nelson 8-18 8-13 24, Bragg 3-6 0-0 7, Diallo 8-13 0-0 20, Macarchuk 1-1 0-0 2, LaMont 1-3 0-0 2, Cimino 2-3 0-0 5, Washington 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-59 15-22 89.

SAINT FRANCIS (3-3): Kuzavas 6-7 4-4 16, Braxton 7-14 4-4 20, Gaskins 6-9 3-4 15, Wolford 6-9 2-2 19, King 5-8 4-5 17, Flagg 5-5 1-1 11, Wallace 0-0 0-0 0, Harmon 0-2 0-0 0, Meredith 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 36-60 18-20 100.

Halftime–St. Francis (Pa.) 52-39. 3-Point Goals–American U. 8-24 (Diallo 4-8, Motuzis 2-6, Cimino 1-2, Bragg 1-4, LaMont 0-2, Nelson 0-2), St. Francis (Pa.) 10-23 (Wolford 5-8, King 3-5, Braxton 2-3, Harmon 0-2, Meredith 0-5). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–American U. 19 (Little 6), St. Francis (Pa.) 32 (Braxton 12). Assists–American U. 21 (Nelson 9), St. Francis (Pa.) 18 (King 6). Total Fouls–American U. 18, St. Francis (Pa.) 22. A–1,013 (3,500).