St. Francis sweeps season series over CCSU

LORETTO – It’s only two games, but it’s a winning streak, and those haven’t come along very often for St. Francis in recent years.

The Red Flash rallied from an eight-point deficit in the second half and beat Central Connecticut State on Thursday, 69-63, at DeGol Arena. St. Francis has one more game left on its five-game homestand and has a chance Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson to extend the winning streak to three.

How rare would that be? The Flash have only had two winning streaks of at least three games since the 2008-09 season. They won five in a row in 2010-11 and four straight in 2009-10, both under previous coach Don Friday.

“It feels extremely good,” SFU forward Earl Brown, who scored 25 points, said of the two-game streak.

The Flash (5-15, 3-4 NEC) led at the break, 35-29, but Central Connecticut incredibly hit its first 11 shots in the second half on its way to an eight-point lead. Blue Devils center Faronte Drakeford buried seven consecutive shots to start the half and scored his team’s first 14 points for a 43-40 edge.

The deficit swelled to 48-40 before Brown put St. Francis on his back to reclaim control of the game. Brown scored 10 of his team’s 12 points during a key spurt that brought SFU within 53-52, then he dished off a key assist to Ronnie Drinnon for a fast-break layup to put the Flash back up by one.

“That was a play that probably took a little bit of air out of us because we had been going, going, going and getting stops at the time and scoring,” CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. “They get it up ahead and score, that was one of the turnaround plays at the time.”

The Blue Devils (5-15, 1-6) answered with a bucket to briefly retake the lead, but Ben Millaud-Meunier knocked down a 3-pointer with 8:10 remaining to put St. Francis back on top, 57-55. The Flash never trailed again.

The fact that SFU had the lead at that point was improbable given that CCSU was shooting 80 percent from the field (12-of-15) for the first 12 minutes of the second half. It’s hard to beat a team that’s not missing shots for that long of a stretch, but the Flash weathered the storm and still found a way to prevail.

Krimmel credited it to playing 40 minutes of good basketball, rather than suffering through big lulls, which is a problem that has plagued SFU.

“We challenged our guys to play well in one game but not to take a step back the next game,” Krimmel said.

Doing so, he added, is “a sign of this team growing up and maturing.”

The game was still in doubt inside of two minutes when, leading 61-57, Millaud-Meunier took an ill-advised deep 3-pointer that missed badly. What ensued a few seconds later showed just how valuable of a player and leader Brown has become to the Flash.

Central Connecticut tried to run a fast break off the miss but wound up throwing the ball away deep. At that point, Brown pulled Millaud-Meunier aside near the free-throw line for a couple of seconds to do some coaching on the floor.

“It was winning time, and I figured that I need to go tell him that we need to take better shots,” Brown said.

“He got on me, and he had the right to absolutely, and I was in the wrong,” Millaud-Meunier said.

When a player understands his role like that, it’s easy to see his value to the team, even more so than just what the box score shows.

“You can tell he’s the leader,” Dickenman said of Brown. “He’s the most respected player on the team, from my point of view. He certainly has the respect of Central Connecticut State University.”

Whatever Brown said to Millaud-Meunier, it worked. St. Francis, up just 61-59 with 44 seconds left, needed to seal the victory at the free-throw line, and Millaud-Meunier stayed focused and buried six straight foul shots in the final 30 seconds to ice it.

Brown had 10 rebounds to go along with his 25 points, while Millaud-Meunier and Drinnon had 12 points apiece.

The Flash swept the season series against the Blue Devils, who were led by Drakeford’s 21 points, and now they have their first two-game winning streak of the season.

“To put back-to-back wins together was huge for our confidence as a group,” Krimmel said.