Red Flash capture NEC crown

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Saint Francis accomplished a long-awaited and historic feat Thursday night by earning its first Northeast Conference regular-season title in 28 years.

The Red Flash pulled away late for an 83-72 win at Wagner to clinch at least a share of the NEC title. It’s just the second NEC regular-season crown in program history, and the first since 1991, when the Flash made their only trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“Just pure joy and excitement for everybody doing something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Flash standout Keith Braxton said by phone after the game.

There’s still some work to be done for the Flash to win the NEC title outright. They have a one-game lead over Fairleigh Dickinson with one game to play, so the teams could finish tied for first if SFU loses at Sacred Heart and FDU wins at Central Connecticut State.

If that occurs, Saint Francis still would have a good chance to be the No. 1 seed and be able to host all of its games in the NEC Tournament. The only scenario that would drop the Flash to the 2 seed — and give FDU the 1 seed — would be if all of the following happen Saturday:

n Saint Francis loses to Sacred Heart

n FDU beats CCSU

n Wagner beats Robert Morris, and

n St. Francis Brooklyn beats Mount St. Mary’s

Because there’s still work to be done, Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel didn’t let himself get too excited after winning Thursday and clinching at least a share of the title.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I think that’s probably intentional on my part,” Krimmel said by phone.

“It’s still typical coach stuff — on to the next one,” he added.

Still, no matter what happens Saturday, the Flash already have earned the title of NEC regular-season champs, and that has to mean more to Krimmel than anyone else.

He played at Saint Francis in the late 1990s, spent a dozen years as an assistant coach and has done a magnificent job in his seven seasons as head coach making the program not only relevant in the NEC, but elite.

“To put yourself in a position to win a championship and a regular-season title is a credit to a lot of people,” Krimmel said before going through a list of school administration, staff and players.

The Flash (16-12, 12-5 NEC) were the preseason pick to win the league, but things didn’t look good when they were sitting at 3-4 in the conference last month. Then they ran off an eight-game winning streak to surge into first place, and Thursday’s win made it nine out of 10.

Braxton said he and his teammates knew all of this was possible this season.

“We had everybody back and healthy, we’ve been through it before,” he said. “I definitely had high hopes.”

“It’s a fun group to coach,” Krimmel said.

If things go SFU’s way on Saturday, it would have the luxury of being the No. 1 seed and getting to host its NEC Tournament games. That would give the Flash a major advantage as they look to earn another elusive NCAA Tournament berth.

“It would mean everything for the players, for the coaches, for the school,” Braxton said being the top seed. “For the playoffs to come through Loretto would be a lot of fun.”

Thursday’s game was tight throughout and tied at 60 with 9:36 to go. Saint Francis then crushed Wagner (13-15, 8-9) down the stretch, going on an 18-3 run to take control and cruise to the victory.

It was just 66-63 when Braxton picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. But the Flash scored the next 10 points to pull away, getting two free throws from Luidgy Laporal, then a driving layup and a 3-pointer by Jamaal King.

Randall Gaskins Jr. drilled a 3, and Isaiah Blackmon closed the run on a layup with 3:40 to go for a 78-63 lead.

Braxton led SFU with 20 points, while Blackmon had 19 and King 14. Andre Wolford had a big impact with 15 points off the bench.

Elijah Davis led Wagner with 27 points. The Seahawks had beaten Saint Francis in Loretto earlier this season, but the Flash took care of business this time when it counted most.

ST. FRANCIS (16-12): Laporal 2-4 3-4 7, King 5-13 2-4 14, Gaskins 1-3 0-0 3, Blackmon 4-8 10-12 19, Braxton 5-8 6-8 20, Thompson 0-1 0-0 0, Flagg 2-4 1-5 5, Wolford 4-9 4-4 15, Dixon-Conover 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-51 26-37 83.

WAGNER (13-15): Sumbry 1-4 0-0 2, Saunders 4-11 3-6 13, Norfleet 3-12 0-0 7, Coulanges 2-6 2-2 7, Davis 8-12 7-9 27, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 5-9 0-3 11, Liggeons 0-2 0-0 0, Freeman 1-7 3-3 5. Totals 24-63 15-23 72.

Halftime–St. Francis 43-39. 3-Point Goals–St. Francis 11-24 (Braxton 4-5, Wolford 3-8, King 2-5, Gaskins 1-3, Blackmon 1-3), Wagner 9-29 (Davis 4-8, Saunders 2-4, Norfleet 1-4, Coulanges 1-4, Jackson 1-5, Liggeons 0-1, Sumbry 0-1, Freeman 0-2). Fouled Out–Wolford. Rebounds–St. Francis 38 (Blackmon 10), Wagner 32 (Saunders 9). Assists–St. Francis 13 (King 9), Wagner 11 (Saunders 5). Total Fouls–St. Francis 21, Wagner 25. A–1,848 (2,100).


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