Teaneck, NJ - On New Year’s Eve the FDU Knights played host to Saint Francis (PA) at the Rothman Center to close out the 2021 portion of the schedule. FDU entered the game 1-0 in Northeast Conference play as Wednesday’s meeting with Mount St. Mary’s was canceled due to Covid restrictions in the Mount program. As per the NEC office games cancelled due to Covid would be a forfeit against the team unable to play. Saint Francis entered 0-1 in conference and was still in search of their first win of the season, showing an 0-12 mark overall.
The visiting Red Flash would exit Rothman and head back to Loretto, PA. still in quest of the elusive first entry on the ‘W’ side of the ledger. FDU posted a 65-47 victory to improve the conference mark to 2-0.
Defense set the tone for FDU in the opening ten minutes. The Knights held the Red Flash to eight first period points. Contesting shots, getting in the passing lanes and getting through screens- and forcing Saint Francis to work deep into the shot clock.
We had a lot of time to prepare," FDU coach Ang Szumilo noted. "Our last game was St. Peter’s (a 73-52 loss December 23rd) so we got back and stressed defense in our practices. We went over everything, screens, contesting shots…we got back to basics." The lesson was well received.
On the offensive end Madison Stanley proved to be a difficult matchup for St. Francis. Stanley stepped outside and utilized her 6’1" height inside as well. FDU led 14-8 after the first period.
At the half the Knight lead was one possession. 26-24. FDU built a 9 point lead in the second period only to see St. Francis score seven straight to close the half. Leading the way was Jenna Mastellone, a Graduate guard and game high scorer with 23 points. "They (Saint Francis) posed a problem," Szumilo admitted. "With their flex cuts sometimes they were able to get openings in the defense."
Szumilo’s Knights came out strong the third period. They opened the first four minutes on an 8-2 run to build the lead back to eight. The period wore on with the Knights getting things done on both the defensive and offensive ends. They put up nearly as many points (22) as they did the first twenty minutes while holding the Red Flash to single digits (9). By the beginning of the fourth period there was little mystery regarding the eventual outcome.
A catalyst in that second half run was Aniya Bell. The Junior guard tied Stanley for team scoring honors with 18 points. Bell was effective on the perimeter and used her strength to convert in the paint as well." "She (Bell) took last year off due to Covid," Szumilo said, "during her time off she worked and trained faithfully. This (scoring) is something we knew and expected of her."
The win put FDU at 2-0 in NEC play. There was a bit of an empty feeling however. "We got the forfeit over Mount St. Mary’s but would have preferred to play them," Szumilo stated. "Getting the forfeit win was out of our hands but we will get the chance later to face them down there."
Next up for the Knights is a trip across the Hudson River. They will meet Fordham in a non conference contest. The game was scheduled last year but cancelled due to Covid. It was rescheduled then called off two weeks ago. Now, Szumilo faces Stephanie Gaitley whom she worked for as an assistant at Fordham prior to heading to FDU. "It gives our team a chance to see where I coached before," Szumilo said. "Plus it will be a good defensive test as Fordham is very good."
Stanley blocked 6 shots. When informed of this she was as surprised as Szumilo. "That is something because as a team we do not block a lot of shots," the FDU coach said.
In the decisive third period Saint Francis shot 4 of 16 (25%) from the floor. The Red Flash finished with a game field goal percentage of 35% while FDU turned in an impressive 51% performance.
Saint Francis played highly regarded Wagner tough, dropping a 65-56 decision on Staten Island on Wednesday. To date Keila Whittington’s club has played just three home games. A few more meetings in the friendly confines of DeGol Arena can only help.
In attendance to observe the officiating crew was NEC Supervisor of Officials Jon Levinson.