SFU men end 18-year postseason drought

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – St. Francis won its biggest game in 18 years Wednesday night, upsetting Bryant in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament.

Ronnie Drinnon enjoyed a career night with 20 points and 18 rebounds, and he scored the crucial final four points as the Red Flash rallied past the Bulldogs, 55-54. St. Francis, the No. 6 seed, trailed by 11 with 9:31 left but stormed back to stun the No. 3 seed.

“I’m on cloud nine right now for these guys,” St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said by phone after the game.

The Flash won a conference tournament game for the first time since 1996, when they defeated Long Island in the first round.

There have been a lot of lean years for the program since then, and St. Francis entered this tournament with just a 9-20 record.

“This win is a statement win for this program, for coach Krimmel,” Drinnon said.

“From here we want to take that next step to winning games like this regularly,” he added.

The next chance will be at top-seeded Robert Morris on Saturday in Moon Township.

“One of the great things about making the tournament is, once the regular season is over, you can stand up as a coach and say, ‘Listen, everybody is 0-0,'” Krimmel said.

His players took that to heart.

The Flash trailed by one late in Wednesday’s game when Drinnon scored inside with 42 seconds left for a 53-52 edge. Bryant missed a 3-pointer on the other end, and Drinnon grabbed the rebound before getting fouled.

Drinnon missed the front end of a one-and-one, but the rebound bounced back out to him, and he was fouled again. He sank both free throws this time for a 55-52 lead with 27 seconds to go.

Bryant’s Dyami Starks, who scored 19 points, cut the deficit to 55-54 on two free throws with 16 seconds left. Drinnon had trouble inbounding the ball, and the Bulldogs came up with a steal with 14.1 seconds remaining.

Bryant’s Corey Maynard missed a 3-pointer, and Alex Francis grabbed the offensive rebound with 8 seconds left. The ball was stripped away, though, and ended up in the hands of St. Francis point guard Malik Harmon, who was fouled with 1.6 seconds to go.

Harmon missed the front end of a one-and-one, but all Bryant (18-14) could manage was a 75-foot heave that missed to finish off SFU’s upset.

“It’s a blessing to be in this position and to be around these guys,” Drinnon said.

The Flash were able to enter the game with confidence despite losing their final two regular-season games by 29 and 23 points.

“It was rough losing those two games, and we didn’t just lose them, we got smacked by those two teams,” Drinnon said.

The players, though, managed to get past all of that and focus on the task at hand.

Krimmel said his message to the team was “just try to be in the moment and not worry too much about 15 years ago or 15 minutes ago.”

Several times it appeared Bryant was about to run away, but St. Francis hung tough. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-10 lead in the first half, but the Flash charged back and took a 28-25 lead into the locker room at the break.

Bryant again looked as if it was ready to seize control, going on a 10-0 run for a 40-33 lead with 13:19 left. The Bulldogs stretched the margin as high as 49-38, but they scored only five points over the final 9 minutes as St. Francis closed with a 17-5 run.

Drinnon dominated inside and was the only SFU player to score in double figures. He overshadowed one of the NEC’s best players in Bryant forward Alex Francis, who came in averaging 19 points and 8.3 rebounds and scored more than 2,000 points in his career. Francis managed only seven points and six boards in the final game of his career.

Krimmel said the game plan against Francis was to make him uncomfortable and not allow him to catch the ball in space with a chance to drive. Drinnon and Earl Brown did just that.

Earl Brown, Dom Major and Greg Brown had eight points apiece for the Flash, who outrebounded Bryant, 34-25. That margin was 19-9 at the half as St. Francis established itself early on the glass.

“We challenged the guys to defend and rebound for 40 minutes,” Krimmel said.

It took all 40 minutes of doing that, but St. Francis finally ended its long postseason drought.

“It’s something we’re going to remember for a lifetime,” Drinnon said of the win. “For now it’s motivation [for the next game].”