Balanced Effort Leads CCSU to Northeast Conference Semifinals, First Tournament Win in 11 Seasons
Seven players had six or more points for second seeded Central Connecticut (18-12) in a 62-51 Northeast Conference Tournament quarterfinal win over seventh seeded Fairleigh Dickinson (10-20). Sophomores Kerrianne Dugan and Leanne Crockett each scored 11 points for the Blue Devils, who earned a spot in Sunday's semifinals against third seeded St. Francis (PA).
In a game featuring six ties and three lead changes, it was Central Connecticut's 9-0 run late in the second half that proved key. Leading 48-46 with 7:17 remaining, the Blue Devils scored nine straight over the next 3:27 to build a double-digit lead. Crockett hit two free throws to start the run. She closed it with a three-pointer and baseline jumper. Dugan had the other bucket during the stretch. The Knights went without a point until the 2:17 mark and did not make a field goal until less than a minute remained. Fairleigh Dickinson did not get closer than 10 points, 57-47, down the stretch.
"Both teams fought hard and battled," Central Connecticut head coach Beryl Piper said. "I'm just really really proud of our team and the composure they showed, especially of the fact of how young we are. Down the wire they really ran offense and made all the right decisions and did all the right things when we needed them to. It says a lot about this team."
Senior Jhanay Harris went 3-of-4 on three-pointers for nine points for the Blue Devils. Freshman Gabrielle Oglesby also had nine points off the bench, while classmate Shontice Simmons finished with eight points, six rebounds and five assists. Sophomore Justina Udenze and junior P.J. Wade each added six points. Udenze led the team with 10 rebounds.
Central Connecticut built a five-point lead, 17-12, over the game's first 12 minutes and led 21-14 when Harris hit a three at the 5:11 mark. Fairleigh Dickinson cut the margin to 21-20 with 3:44 remaining in the opening half, though. Harris quieted the FDU run with another three, and freshman Christie Leverette made it 26-20 with a fast break basket. The Blue Devils would ultimately lead 29-26 at the break.
Harris led the Blue Devils with six first half points. Udenze had seven rebounds. CCSU shot 12-of-27 (44.4 percent) from the field and had a 21-14 rebounding margin. Junior Jordan Sykes had nine points to pace FDU. Senior Shenika Chang added eight points and five rebounds.
Fairleigh Dickinson went ahead 35-33 less than five minutes into the second half, but Central Connecticut tied the game on a Udenze layup with 15:17 left to play. The Blue Devils did not trail the rest of the way. And after a Wade jumper put them ahead 37-35, Knight sophomore Alyssa Mayrose tied it for the last time on the following possession.
Central Connecticut finished the game shooting 23-of-56 (41.1 percent) from the field. The Blue Devils also ended the the game with a 46-32 rebounding advantage. Their bench outscored FDU's bench, 20-0. Chang led all players with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Sykes had 12 points, while Mayrose totaled 10 points.
"It's awesome to be a part of something like this," Crockett said. "To only win four games last year and now be in the semifinals of the NEC tournament is a big deal. It is an awesome thing to be a part of, I couldn't ask for a better way for this season to go."
The Blue Devils will play in their first Northeast Conference Tournament semifinal since the 1997-98 season, their first in the league, tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. against third seeded St. Francis (PA) in the Pitt Center on the campus of Sacred Heart.
NOTE: Central Connecticut's only other tournament win came against Fairleigh Dickinson on March 3, 1998. The Blue Devils won, 64-61.