It should have been a battle for first place in the Northeast Conference, but instead it turned into a 72-50 blowout as the St. Francis Terriers lost to Robert Morris University in Brooklyn Heights on Saturday after four players were suspended prior to the game.
Junior Brent Jones, the Terrier’s starting point guard, sophomore Anthony White, freshman Wayne Martin and junior P.J. Santavenere were all suspended indefinitely for a “school matter” on Saturday morning before the game.
“It’s a school matter and I can’t comment on it,” head coach Glenn Braica said. “I hope that they’ll be back shortly. It’s out of our hands, but we know the right thing will be done. ”
After the game both Jalen Cannon and Ben Mockford insisted that the news of the suspension didn’t bother them, but the team’s best offensive weapons were limited to 10 points and six points respectively. Cannon did concede that he struggled because he was rushing himself, but wouldn’t admit that it had anything to do with his suspended friends.
“We just came out prepared like usual,” Cannon said. “They just punched us in the face and we couldn’t do anything about it.”
“I don’t know what’s going on so I can’t really say,” he added when asked if he was let down by his teammates’ actions that led to the suspension. Mockford said even less on the subject.
With Jones out of the lineup, Braica elected to start freshman Yunus Hopkinson instead. In 21 minutes, Hopkinson struggled with his shot, 1-for-7 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the lin, and failed to create much offense with just three assists. Coach Braica said that he felt like the rookie did a decent job considering he probably wasn’t even expecting to play a few hours before the game.
“He did fine given the circumstances,” Braica said. “He was thrust into a different role and he’ll be better for it because he gained some experience. He was plugged into a difficult situation and he’s been through that before. In our first game against Miami, he was thrown in the second half cold in his first college game and played nine minutes and helped us win the game. It’s a different game, a different style and he’ll grow from it.”
Without Cannon and Mockford doing their usual thing and Jones unavailable to create offense from the point, the Terriers struggled early on. Robert Morris quickly had a nine-point lead in the first quarter when Lucky Jones scored 11 points in the first three minutes and 14 of its first 18 points. St. Francis never cut the lead to less than six points after that and trailed by as much as 14 in the first half.
“He’s a problem in the four because he’s really a three,” Braica said of Jones. “That’s where he’s played his whole career and they’ll give you spurts of him at the four. That gives them four perimeter guys and that’s very difficult to match up against.”
The second half wasn’t competitive at all. The closest the Terriers got was within 13 points when Amdy Fall hit a pair of free throws to make it 57-44 with 6:45 to play. Robert Morris followed that up with a 10-0 run that practically ended the game.
“I have to give Robert Morris credit,” Braica said. “I thought they played great defensively and they made some tough shots. They really outfought us for some loose balls and rebounds which usually doesn’t happen.”
St. Francis looked like it was going to have little problem qualifying for the NEC tournament with a solid chance to win the entire thing. Without those four players that is going to be a big struggle though. The Terriers now have a 6-4 conference record with six games left to play.