Saturday in the Heights Upstart St. Francis Looks to Crash Robert Morris’ Party

Watch out Robert Morris: the upset-minded St. Francis Brooklyn men’s basketball team has you in its sights.

St. Francis hosts Robert Morris (13-11; 8-1 NEC), currently the Northeast Conference’s (NEC) top team, in a matinee match-up at 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Pope Center. Sporting an 8-1 home mark, the program’s best since going 10-3 at the Pope during the 2010-2011 season, the Terriers (15-9; 6-3 NEC) look to make a believer out of the Colonials.

From the season’s opening tip—where visiting St. Francis beat defending ACC champs University of Miami 66-62 in overtime—the little college of big dreams has been looking to prove their critics wrong, particularly the NEC coaches who tabbed the Terriers for seventh place in the conference.

Now St. Francis takes on a Robert Morris squad that has been as successful as any NEC team in recent memory. With a 93-24 NEC record over the past seven seasons, including back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2009 and 2010, the Colonials are Goliath to the Terriers’ David.

St. Francis Head Coach Glen Braica acknowledges the substantial challenge that lies ahead on Saturday for his up-and-coming squad.

“Robert Morris is a terrific team and has an outstanding coach in Andy Toole,” said Braica, who has a 2-4 record against the Colonials in his four seasons at St. Francis. “Anytime the first-place team comes into your building you hope you’re prepared to play. We’ll have to be at our best to come away with a victory on Saturday.”

Professing a “game at a time” approach, Braica added, “We take every game as they come and try not look too far down the line in terms of tournament seeding.”

With the enticing prospect of playoff games at the Pope Center—where the Terriers have been almost unbeatable this season—Braica couldn’t resist thinking ahead. “We play them twice in a span of two weeks so if we can win them both we have an opportunity to finish at the top of the league” and stay at home for the NEC tourney.

Like his St. Francis counterpart, Robert Morris Coach Andrew Toole has been on the Colonials bench the last four years. Even though his teams have enjoyed enormous success—including a program-changing win over defending NCAA champion Kentucky in the first round of the 2013 National Invitation Tournament (NIT)—Robert Morris has yet to capture a NEC title under Toole’s leadership.

In what appears to be a down year for the conference, the Colonials coach knows that his charges cannot take any team lightly, including the Terriers.

“They play really well at home,” said Toole, about a St. Francis squad that gives up an average of 68 points a game. “We’re going to have to be a disciplined team if we’re going to have a chance to be successful. They’re one of the top defensive teams in the league, so we’re going to have energy and urgency on offense.”

One of the biggest challenges for the Colonials is that their bench has been drastically shortened by expulsions and injuries. Toole is clearly unfazed by this reality.

“I like the eight guys we have. Since our bench has been shortened, my assistant’s have done a good job keeping me up to date during games about the number of minutes our guys have been playing.” Perhaps stating the obvious, Toole added, “It will be important that we keep guys out of foul trouble.”
Certainly it helps that the Colonials feature one of the NEC’s most prolific scorers in senior Karvel Anderson, who averages 19 points a game and leads the conference in three-pointers.

For the Terriers, Saturday’s game is their biggest at home since beating Sacred Heart 92-80 in the 2012-13 regular-season’s final game, thereby qualifying for the NEC tournament. To win tomorrow Braica and his players, particularly junior Jalen Cannon, who leads St. Francis with 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, will need to deliver.

Braica for one is ready for whatever the matchup with the Colonials brings. “I expect it to be a great game and fun for our fans.”

St. Francis College, Brooklyn Men’s Basketball vs. Robert Morris University, 2 p.m., Saturday, February 8. Generoso Pope Athletic Complex, 180 Remsen Street (between Court and Clinton Streets). For more information contact Meghan O’Brien at 718-489-5411 /

Photo: St. Francis Head Coach Glenn Braica makes his point.

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