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This week in the NEC: Saint Francis U looks to chip away at Robert Morris’ lead amid tournament seeding scramble

Already assured an NEC Tournament berth, the second-place Red Flash begin a three-game homestand tonight. It starts with the top team in the conference. Plus, two SFU players’ record-breaking month, win streaks across the board and more!

Saint Francis U guard Jess Kovatch broke the NEC career points record — for men or women — on Feb. 2.
Courtesy of Saint Francis University Athletics via Twitter

Saint Francis U might not be the go-to top team in the Northeast Conference anymore — before last season, the 12-time conference tournament champion Red Flash hadn’t made an NCAA Tournament since 2011 — but that doesn’t mean they’re not fit to compete every season.

This season, the Red Flash are two games out of first place, trailing 2016-2017 champion Robert Morris, in what has been a runaway NEC season for the Colonials. The major battle at second place — shared by Saint Francis U and Sacred Heart — has kept the Red Flash’s attention in the wake of Robert Morris’ ascension.

Starting tonight, the Red Flash finally have a chance to do some real damage against the Colonials as they face each other for the first of two meetings this season.

For Saint Francis U, the most realistic shot to take home a second consecutive NEC Tournament title is by nabbing the two-seed. It is also the most reliable way to break the deadlock in the two-spot because Sacred Heart lost to Robert Morris in its first meeting against the Colonials this season.

While Robert Morris has been just about lights-out in conference play, its most recent game was also its first loss on the season: a 61-55 decision to Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday. The Colonials allowed the Mountaineers to shoot 45.5 percent from the floor, well above their NEC defensive percentage of 33.7 percent. Although it was a close game throughout, the Mountaineers were able to pull away in the final quarter.

Meanwhile, Saint Francis U — which picked up all three of its conference losses consecutively (from Jan. 14 to Jan. 21) — is on a six-game winning streak heading into its biggest game of the season. The game that kicked off that streak was a 17-point defeat of Sacred Heart, as the Red Flash made the case early that they can contend with the best of the conference despite losing early to a handful of teams in the bottom half of the standings.

Last season’s series between Robert Morris and Saint Francis U ended in a split, as the Colonials took the first game by one point at home. Meanwhile, the Red Flash erupted for a 21-point victory in their home arena.

Winning this first leg of the series at home would give Saint Francis U a positive push toward the end of the season, while a second consecutive loss for Robert Morris might trigger a downward trend that the Red Flash would love to take advantage of as the season winds down.

The second meeting is March 7, in both teams’ regular-season finales.

Game information

Robert Morris Colonials (14-9, 11-1) at Saint Francis U Red Flash (12-12, 9-3)

When: Monday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: DeGol Arena, Loretto, PA

How to watch: ESPN3, NEC Front Row

Elsewhere in the NEC:

  • The NEC Co-Players of the Week are Saint Francis U’s Jess Kovatch and Wagner’s Taylah Simmons. Kovatch scored 57 points in the Red Flash Feb. 9 and Feb. 11 games, while Simmons notched two double-doubles in 79-of-80 minutes played on the same dates.
  • Brandy Thomas of LIU Brooklyn is the NEC Rookie of the Week. Thomas had two monster games last week, the most notable being against Mount St. Mary’s, where she scored an NEC season-high 36 points on 16-of-24 shooting and grabbed 19 rebounds.
  • Keep counting up the honors for Kovatch — the Saint Francis U standout is one of 10 finalists nationwide for the Senior CLASS Award. Just a few days before the announcement, Kovatch broke the NEC career scoring record for men or women. Her current total is 2,698 points.
  • Saint Francis U’s Courtney Zezza joined in on the record-breaking last week, making her 279th career block to break a 33-year-old school record.
  • Fifth-place Wagner and second-place Sacred Heart own the two next-highest NEC winning streaks (after Saint Francis U’s six) at four and three games, respectively. Today, Sacred Heart plays LIU Brooklyn (2 p.m. ET, NEC Front Row), while Wagner takes on Mount St. Mary’s (7 p.m. ET, NEC Front Row).

Full NEC schedule and results