Flash record No. 20
LORETTO — Saint Francis finished 6-23 the year before Rob Krimmel took over as head coach, then 5-24 in his first season in 2012-13.
A 20-win season seemed like a pipe dream back then.
That dream became a reality Thursday night.
“That’s a lot of wins, that’s a lot of wins,” senior guard Isaiah Blackmon repeated as he smiled after leading the Red Flash to win No. 20, a 75-62 dismissal of Mount St. Mary’s at DeGol Arena.
“Just glad to be a part of it,” Blackmon added, “knowing that we’re not finished.”
The Flash’s eighth straight victory gave them and Krimmel the milestone 20th victory of the season and kept their hopes alive for a Northeast Conference regular-season co-championship, which would be the program’s second in a row.
Saint Francis (20-8, 13-4 NEC) last won at least 20 games in 1990-91, the NCAA Tournament team led by Mike Iuzollino and Joe Anderson that finished 24-8. Prior to that, the last 20-win season was way back in 1966-67, when future NBA star Norm Van Lier was playing for the “college among the pines.”
If you’re doing the math, it’s now three 20-win seasons in 53 years for Saint Francis.
Krimmel wouldn’t let himself get overly caught up in the milestone Thursday night, though, because, “We have other things that we need to accomplish.
“We won tonight,” the coach added, “and that’s what’s important. … These guys have other things that they want to take care of as a team, and one game at a time. But at some point we’ll sit back and reflect on (the 20 wins).”
If the Flash can make it 21 wins Saturday at Robert Morris, they would earn the No. 1 seed for the NEC Tournament and would host all of their games, shooting for the program’s second NCAA Tournament berth.
If Saint Francis loses Saturday, then it would be the No. 2 seed, while Robert Morris would be the 1 seed. The Flash would host their first two tournament games next week, and would only have to go on the road if it were to be against the Colonials in the finals on March 10.
Saint Francis has won the last nine meetings against Robert Morris, so that and the current eight-game winning streak give the Flash a lot of confidence going into that big contest.
A conference co-championship also will be up for grabs for SFU. Merrimack won Thursday to finish 14-4 in the NEC, and the Flash can match that record with a victory Saturday.
Blackmon said the most important thing about Saturday is simply “just winning a game” rather than trying to focus on the other things on the line.
“We all come out with the same mindset — that we want to win that game,” he said. “We all are in the moment. We come out focused and ready to go.”
Blackmon paved the way Thursday with a game-high 22 points to lead the Flash past Mount St. Mary’s. He also had a spectacular 360 one-handed jam in the second half.
A couple of weeks ago, Blackmon would only give himself an 8 out of 10 on a tomahawk jam during a game. This time, he mentioned with a smile when pressed, “I’ll say that was a 10.
“SportsCenter’s been ducking us, so we needed one,” Blackmon added with a laugh.
Saint Francis trailed for much of the first half, then took control late in the half and was never really challenged over the final 20 minutes.
Keith Braxton had 20 points and is now just 21 shy of becoming the first NEC player with 2,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds.
Damian Qui led the Mount (11-19, 7-10) with 17 points, while Vado Morse had 10.
Tyler Stewart gave the Flash a big boost off the bench with 14 points. Stewart, a transfer from Binghamton, said, “It’s great to be a part of a winning program. Since I’ve been here the culture has been one of winning.”
Krimmel has led SFU to at least 18 wins for three years in a row now, solidifying the program as one of the best in the NEC.
“The No. 1 thing is we’ve had stability — stability in coaches and stability in the team,” Krimmel said. “It takes time. That winning culture that Ty talked about, there’s no magic formula for that.”
Part of any winning formula is confidence, and the Flash have a ton of it right now.
“It’s really a quiet confidence,” Krimmel said. “They go about their business. … There’s a good vibe and a good energy in the locker room.”
The players know they still can achieve a lot more, but they also seem to understand what they’ve already pulled off with the 20-win season and other accomplishments.
“Its just great to be a part of history here at Saint Francis,” Blackmon said.
MOUNT ST. MARY’S (11-19): M.Jefferson 3-5 1-2 7, Opoku 4-6 0-0 8, Chong Qui 7-12 0-0 17, Gibbs 2-8 0-0 5, Morse 3-8 2-2 10, Habwe 2-6 0-1 5, Leftwich 2-7 4-5 8, J.Jefferson 0-2 0-0 0, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Dedolli 0-0 0-0 0, Teel 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-56 7-10 62.
SAINT FRANCIS (PA.) (20-8): Flagg 1-2 1-3 3, Thompson 2-5 1-2 5, Blackmon 8-14 3-3 22, Braxton 9-19 2-2 20, Gaskins 0-3 0-0 0, Stewart 4-11 6-7 14, Kuzavas 3-4 2-2 8, Dixon-Conover 1-1 1-2 3, Labriola 0-0 0-0 0, Meredith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-59 16-21 75.
Halftime–Saint Francis 37-32. 3-Point Goals–Mount St. Mary’s 7-22 (Chong Qui 3-6, Morse 2-6, Habwe 1-3, Gibbs 1-5, Miller 0-1, Opoku 0-1), Saint Francis 3-13 (Blackmon 3-6, Gaskins 0-1, Braxton 0-2, Stewart 0-2, Thompson 0-2). Rebounds–Mount St. Mary’s 29 (Morse, Leftwich, J.Jefferson 5), Saint Francis 31 (Braxton 12). Assists–Mount St. Mary’s 9 (Morse 5), Saint Francis 13 (Braxton 6). Total Fouls–Mount St. Mary’s 19, Saint Francis 14. A–726 (3,500).
Merrimack became the first basketball team ever to win a conference title in its first season moving up to the Division I level from a lower level. Saint Francis can claim an NEC co-championship with a victory Saturday at Robert Morris.
Because Merrimack beat the Flash in the lone regular-season meeting, the Warriors actually earned the NEC’s top billing with regards to a potential NIT bid. However, Merrimack is not eligible for the NEC Tournament or the NIT as a first-year DI program.
If the Flash don’t win the NEC Tournament, they would not inherit Merrimack’s NIT bid, which mens the NEC will not have a team get an automatic bid into the NIT this season.