Electric crowd not enough to produce magical win

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LORETTO — Rob Krimmel arrived at Saint Francis as a player in 1996, and he’s always wanted to see the school enjoy the kind of basketball atmosphere that was on display Tuesday night.

DeGol Arena was electric. It was magical.

The phenomenal, high-energy, high-basketball-IQ crowd should have been plenty good enough to help the Red Flash get over the hump and win the NEC final to reach the NCAA Tournament.

But oh those stinking free throws, an abomination that finished as a 4-of-17 eyesore.

Still, what was on display Tuesday night was a classic example of, if you win, people will come.

The Red Flash hosted the NEC Tournament final for the first time since 1991, and by all accounts, the crowd of 2,610 Tuesday was into the game every bit as much as the folks who were on hand for Mike Iuzzolino’s crowning achievement 28 years ago.

“This is the moment that I wanted to be a part of,” Krimmel said of his goal when he committed to Saint Francis out of high school.

“For the community, for the students, for the fans, for the administration, unbelievable atmosphere,” Krimmel added.

In reality, what was on display Tuesday was primarily because of Krimmel. He has done an incredible job turning the Saint Francis program into a consistent winner in the NEC, recruiting high-level talent and playing a style of basketball that’s fun to watch.

Seven years on the job as head coach, Krimmel has accomplished everything he could have set out to accomplish at Saint Francis — except one. He’s played in two NEC finals and won a regular-season title, but a trip to the NCAA Tournament is still dangling out there.

The bad news is that the goal wasn’t accomplished Tuesday night.

The good news is the Flash will have another chance next year, returning most of their key players, and that Krimmel has the program on a strong foundation that should lead to more solid seasons in the future.

More good news is that FDU is losing some of its best players. The Knights have tormented Saint Francis in recent years, eliminating them from the NEC Tournament in back-to-back seasons in Loretto and three times in the past four years.

“I couldn’t be more proud of a group for the way they responded in tough times, dealt with expectations,” Krimmel said of his team, which started 3-4 in the NEC before winning eight in a row.

Saint Francis now will return to the NIT for the first time since 1958, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this team give a good battle against a major program in the first round next week.

“Saint Francis is a really, really good team. They’re very, very well coached,” FDU coach Greg Herenda said.

All of that makes it even more difficult to lose the conference championship game in such a fluky manner with horrendous free-throw shooting. I watch hundreds of college basketball games each season, and you’ll virtually never see a good team shoot 4-of-17 from the free-throw line in a game.

Call it bad luck, but it just can’t happen in that type of game. And certainly not from an experienced team playing on its home court.

The raucous crowd was ready to explode all night long at DeGol Arena, but whether it was FDU hitting big shots or the Flash failing to cash in on their opportunities, the home team was just never able to get over the hump in clutch moments.

When senior point Jamaal King walked off the court at home for the final time with 13 seconds left, he got a standing ovation from the crowd.

“My No. 1 thing is I just wanted to see while I was here if I could pack DeGol Arena,” King said. “I’ll never forget this night.”

It was a memorable night at Saint Francis for so many reasons, with the lone exception being the final on the scoreboard.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ‘Toona 1430-AM.

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