Posts Tagged ‘Hartford’

Some America East musings on a rain-soaked day

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

It’s been raining dogs and cats (and black bears and Great White Sharks and just about an other manner of animal and fish you can think of) over Massachusetts for what seems like a month (pretty sure I saw an arc getting swept down my street by a tidal wave the other day).

But while the roiling black skies have been raging along the northeast, the America East (and the college basketball world as a whole) is relaxing in the eye of the storm. Other than a late-straggler signing or speculation about the future (of players, programs and conferences), the league is in a down period, with players putting in grueling work far from the spotlight in the work in empty, sweaty, echo-filled gyms.

So you’ll excuse me if I stare out my rain-battered window and daydream — muse, rant and ramble — about the America East: (more…)

Refuse to Lose

Sunday, March 10th, 2013

UMBC head coach and the Retrievers bench exploded when senior guard Brian Neller drilled a dagger-three with 1:16 remaining to seal sixth-seeded UMBC’s upset win over three-seed Hartford (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Albany, New York) – With 1:13 remaining, UMBC head coach Aki Thomas knelt on the edge of the court, pumped both his fists and let out a mighty roar that rose above the din of the crowd and ricocheted off the far walls of SEFCU Arena.

For the better part of a decade, emotional outbursts – tantrums, tirades and all manner of explosions – emanating from the Retrievers head coach have been common place on the UMBC sidelines.

But nothing like this.

Two days earlier, Thomas had been signed to a one-year contract and named the Retriever’s head coach, after spending the previous season – his first at the helm in Catonsville – wearing the “interim” tag. Now, he watched from the sidelines as senior sniper Brian Neller’s sixth three pointer of the night, a back-breaker from the right corner, found nothing but the bottom of the net, sealing the sixth-seeded Retrievers 69-62 upset of third-seed Hartford in the America East Tournament Quarterfinals.

What followed was a moment of pure euphoria and unadulterated joy. The Retrievers bench – downtrodden and defeated for the previous three seasons – followed their coach’s lead, leaping in excitement, embracing one another and bellowing towards the rafters.

“It’s never really been too much about me, it’s always been about the players and I always knew I was going to be okay. It’s always been for them – they’re the one that have been doing three tough seasons,” said Thomas after the game.

UMBC senior guards Ryan Cook and Brian Neller flat-out refused to watch their careers end on Saturday afternoon, willing the Retrievers to their first America East Tournament victory in four years. Playing in what could have been the final game of their careers, the duo put their team on their backs and combined for 44 points on 15-of-26 shooting.

Cook, who began his college career as a Division II walk-on before walking-on to his home-town team as a junior, was everywhere, pouring in a game-high 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting while playing frenetic defense. The 6’2” senior scored from everywhere on the court – step back jumpers, dizzying drives to the bucket, post-up hoops in the paint, while making one hustle play after the next. Cook single-handedly rattled off a 12-0 second half run, turning an eight-point deficit into a four-point lead. (more…)

Numbers lie, Effort Doesn’t

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Nate Sikma watches, along with the capacity crowd at Patrick Gymnasium, as his three-pointer at the buzzer hangs in the air. Sikma’s shot found the bottom of the net, giving the Hawks a 61-58 win (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Burlington, VT) – The saying goes that numbers don’t lie, but on a cold Sunday in The Green Mountain State, they did just that.

In nearly every statistical category, host Vermont pasted visiting Hartford: The Catamounts out-rebounded the Hawks by a staggering 20 boards, 34-14, while outscoring Hartford 28-10 in the paint and 27-18 off the bench. Vermont outshot Hartford from the floor (50 percent to 43.9 percent), outscored them in second-chance and fast-break points while taking seven more free throws than the Hawks, who were whistled for 10 more fouls.

But when sophomore forward Nate Sikma’s pick-and-pop three from the left corner found the bottom of the net as the final buzzer echoed off of the back wall of Patrick Gymnasium – a shot that survived the ensuing official review – it was Hartford who walked off the court the 61-58 winner.

Toughness, effort and energy – along with dead-eye sharpshooting from behind the arc – proved to be the great equalizer for the Hawks, who snapped a 15 game losing streak against the Catamounts with their first victory over Vermont since 2006.

“They flat out beat us tonight,” said Vermont forward Luke Apfeld, “They just came out and kind of took it to us on our home court.”

“If you have toughness and energy, if you have those two you can win a lot of games,” said third-year Hartford head coach John Gallagher, whose team improved to 17-10 on the season and 10-6 in conference play.

It wasn’t always pretty, but the Hawks simply played harder for longer than the comatose Catamounts, out-hustling Vermont to loose-balls, getting under the Catamounts’ skin in scrums and flustering and frustrating Vermont’s offense with frenetic D: The Catamounts committed 20 turnovers to just seven assists.

“They were tougher than us across the board today and the turnovers were a clear indicator of that,” said Apfeld.

Playing the majority of the game without star forward and go-to scorer Mark Nwakamma, the Hawks buried 12 three’s while shooting a blistering 48 percent from behind the arc (12-of-25).

“We have toughness; we find ways to win,” said Gallagher. “We’re a program now – we’re much more than just one player.” (more…)

Lucky and Good

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

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Hartford sophomore forward Mark Nwakamma poured in 23 points in the Hawks 60-55 win over first place Stony Brook on Sunday. It was Nwakamma’s third straight game of 20 or more points (Photo by Sam Perkins)

(West Hartford, CT) – The saying goes, it’s better to be lucky than good. On Sunday, the University of Hartford Hawks were both.

The Hawks executed their game plan to perfection down the stretch, sophomore forward Mark Nwakamma played a near perfect game and Hartford got an assist from the perfect storm to knock off the first place Stony Brook 60-55. The Hawks rode blistering shooting, relentless effort, stifling defense, and their horse in Nwakamma, to erase a nine-point second half deficit and end a nine game losing streak against the Seawolves.

“It’s just a great quality win and speaks to the strides these players have been committed to since they’ve gotten here,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher.

“Give credit to Hartford; they played well for 40 minutes tonight. They made shots, and we didn’t play enough defense or make our free throws tonight,” said Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell. “They played better for 40 minutes, and they deserved to win.”

Nwakamma poured in a game-high 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, his third straight game of 22 or more points, to go with six rebounds and two assists. The 6’6” sophomore put the Hawks on his back, blowing past double teams while carrying his team in the clutch. After a 5-0 Stony Brook run put the Seawolves up 45-44 with just under eight minutes remaining, Nwakamma responded seven straight points, staking Hartford to a 51-46 lead they would not relinquish.

Hartford shot 51.1 percent from the floor (23-of-45) and 43.5 percent from downtown (10-of-23), while holding Stony Brook to 44 percent from the floor (22-of-50) and just 18.2 percent from three (2-of-11). Hartford weathered the Seawolves storm in the first half, with Stony Brook shooting a blistering 53.8 percent (14-of-26) to go into the locker room leading 33-27. Hartford regrouped and held Stony Brook to just 33.3-percent from the floor (8-of-24) after the intermission, while shooting an unconscious 60 percent from the field (12-of-20) including a ridiculous 63.6 percent from downtown (7-of-11).

The Hawks were out-rebounded 32-25, and beaten badly on second chance points (16-4) and points in the paint (40-16). But the Hawks turned the tide on the defensive end, turning15 Seawolves turnovers into 18 points. Hartford also outscored Stony Brook 22-8 in bench points.

Freshman point guard Evan Cooper came off the bench to score 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-6 from downtown, for Hartford, to go along with two assists and two steals. Sophomore forward Nate Sikma added nine points, hitting 3-of-6 treys. Sophomore guard Yolonzo Moore II and graduate-transfer forward John Peterson added six points apiece.

Stony Brook was led by sensational freshman center Jameel Warney, who continues to look the part of not simply the Rookie of the Year, but quite possibly the conference Player of the Year. Warney shrugged off constant double-teams to pour in 21 points while ripping down a game-high nine rebounds. The 6’8” 250 pound center has emerged as the best America East freshman big since the legendary Taylor Coppenrath and on Sunday was completely unstoppable whenever he got the ball in his hands, hitting 9-of-11 shots while committing a lone turnover. (more…)

Tough Enough

Monday, February 4th, 2013

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Hartford forward Oren Faulk sends Boston University guard D.J. Irving’s shot packing in the first half Saturday night. Faulk rejected two shots and the Hawks scored a resounding 66-58 win (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) – America East team’s that don’t double Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma do so at their own peril, and any player forced to cover the 6’6” sophomore one-on-one should be afraid – very afraid.

Nwakamma shrugged off a foul-plagued first half to play a herculean second, pouring in 22 points while ripping down 12 rebounds to lead Hartford to a 66-58 win and season sweep over visiting Boston University. A one-man wrecking crew, Nwakamma single-handedly demolished the Terriers’ front line, hitting 9-of-15 shots in his second career double-double. The Leander, Texas, native added three assists, two steals and two monster rejections, while committing just two turnovers.

“He was terrific in the second half,” said Boston University head coach Joe Jones of Nwkamma, “he brought them home at the end.”

“Coach has confidence in me and I have confidence in myself: when I’m single covered to go right at them,” said Nwakamma.

Hartford shot 51.1 percent from the floor (23-of-45) and 43.8 percent from behind the arc (7-of-16), and held the Terriers to just 37.5 percent from the field (21-of-56) and 34.6 percent from three (9-of-26).

“We got great ball reversals, great post touches, I think 16 three’s is the perfect number of three’s for us to be taking,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher. “I think we established physicality early. We are slowly becoming a physical team, which is exciting – very physical.”

Hartford won the rebounding battle 36-27, and in a heated and physical game that saw tempers flair and the benches empty after the final buzzer, thoroughly out-worked, out-fought and out-toughed the Terriers all night.

“They completely outplayed us in every facet of the game,” said Jones. “They executed at a higher level, they played harder, longer – they chased down loose balls.”

“I thought our guys, coming off an excruciating loss up eight the other night, we just showed our character,” said Gallagher, referencing Wednesday night’s home loss to Vermont, in which Hartford coughed up an eight point second half lead.

After spending their previous five games allergic to the low-blocks – bombing away bricks from behind the arc – Hartford outscored BU 30-24 in the paint. The Hawks also smothered the Terriers dribble-penetration – the lifeblood of their offense – turning Boston University into a jump shooting team.

Guard Wes Cole scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting in 15 minutes off the bench, reserve forward John Peterson added nine and guard Yolonzo Moore II chipped in eight for the Hawks, who had 10 different players log four or more minutes, with eight contributing in the scoring column. Reserve forward Oren Faulk added two blocks.

The Terriers were led by junior guard D.J. Irving, who scored 14 points but required 13 shots to do it, to go with eight rebounds and three assists. Travis Robinson added 11 points off the bench, shooting 4-of-6 from the floor and 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Freshman point guard Maurice Watson scored 10 points while dishing out four assists and freshman forward Nate Diuedonne added eight points and six rebounds off the bench. (more…)

Gutting it out

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

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Vermont forward Luke Apfeld and Hartford forward Mark Nwakamma battle on the low-blocks for positioning Wednesday night (Photo by Sam perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) – When you live by the three you die by it a lot more.

With 11:37 remaining in the second half, the Hartford Hawks had the ball, a 36-32 lead over visiting Vermont, the momentum, and what looked like a straight-line path to a big upset win.

Hartford didn’t relinquish the ball for the next 1:37 of playing time, ripping down six offensive rebounds during that stretch. But the Hawks didn’t put a single point on the board, clanking all seven of their shots from the floor – including five hastily heaved shots from behind the arc – during the stretch.

“You have certain possessions that are key possessions in a game, because it was four at that time, if one of those goes down it’s seven, the momentum comes back to us,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher.

After Vermont finally wrestling the ball away from the Hawks, forward Clancy Rugg buried a three at the other end. After the Hawks misfired on another salvo from deep, Forward Brian Voelkel converted two free-throws, giving Vermont the lead and the Catamounts never looked back, pulling away for a 49-43 win.

“Feel fortunate to get a win tonight in all honesty. I thought Hartford was the aggressor tonight for most of the game and we were playing on our heels and I give them a lot of credit,” said Vermont head coach John Becker. “We found a way tonight: this was a game, similar to the Boston University and Maine games on the road where we couldn’t find a way [to win] and tonight we did.”

Hartford held the Vermont to 13 points below their season scoring average and nearly 15 points below their average in conference play. But the Hawks squandered a stellar defensive effort by shooting themselves in the foot and out of the game, building a brick house of three-point bombs, shooting just 5-of-29 from downtown.

“For us right now, defense isn’t the issue; it’s offense,” said Gallagher. (more…)

Debacle in Durham

Friday, January 25th, 2013
Hartford forward Nate Sikma embodying the first-half performances of both teams in Thursday night's Debacle in Durham (photo by Sam Perkins).

Hartford forward Nate Sikma captures the first-half performances of both teams in Thursday night’s Debacle in Durham in microcosm (photo by Sam Perkins).

(Durham, New Hampshire) – Temperatures in Durham dipped into the single digits Thursday night with bone-chilling blasts of arctic air bombing down Main Street.

They had nothing on the frigid shooting and ice-cold offense inside Lundholm Gymnasium.

The New Hampshire Wildcats and the University of Hartford Hawks engaged in a reverse-game of HORSE Thursday night; any shot you can miss, I can miss… better. The Hawks eventually emerged as the lesser of two evils in the battle of horrifically bad offenses, pulling away for a 51-40 win.

“In the first half it was not a picturesque game,” said New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion.

In the opening 20 minutes of basketball, neither team could crack 20 points – or hit water if they fell out of a canoe – and the two teams went into the halftime locker rooms deadlocked at 19. Hartford shot just 32 percent from the floor (8-of-25) and 18.2 percent from behind the line (2-of-11) in the first half – and they had the hot hand. New Hampshire shot 31.6 percent from the floor (6-of-19) and 0-for-4 from behind the arc. Each team played stifling defense… when they had the ball in their own hands.

It was a barn-burner alright: If the action was any livelier, a funeral may have broken out on the court.

The difference in the game was that Hartford had a go-to scorer in forward Mark Nwakamma, and New Hampshire didn’t have an answer.

“We have a guy, sitting to my left – Mark Nwakamma – who can take over a lot of games, and we were fortunate to have him on our team tonight and that’s just the bottom line,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher.

“They went to the kid Nwakamma and we had no answers. He’s really good – he’s really, really good,” said Herrion. “He’s a First Team All-Conference guy. He’s a premier player,” raved Herrion.

The league’s leading scorer in conference games at just over 17 points per contest, Nwakamma was largely held in check in the first half, but broke through the ice in the second, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 points after the intermission, almost single-handedly carrying Hartford to victory. The 6’6” sophomore hit 11-of-20 shots from the floor while showcasing a complete offensive arsenal, scoring on the blocks on an array of low-post moves; off the bounce blowing by overmatched defenders; and in the mid-range game, knocking down jumpers. Nwakamma added eight rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block.

“He can score in, out, up, down. He’s a prolific scorer,” said Gallagher.

“I’ve been in this league, a long time – he’s a really good player,” said Herrion. “He can post you, he’s very quick, he can face [up] 15, 17 feet.”

Hartford shot 41.7 percent from the floor (20-of-48) and 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from behind the arc. Outside of Nwakamma, the rest of the Hawks roster combined to shoot just 32.1 percent (9-of-28) from the floor. New Hampshire managed just 34.9 percent shooting (15-of-43) while missing all 10 of its three-point attempts – the first time in more than 20 years that New Hampshire had failed to hit at least one three in a game.

“We’re obviously not in a good spot, at all,” said Herrion. “Our confidence is shot, there’s no question about it. I think it affects both ends of the floor.” (more…)

Flying High

Thursday, January 10th, 2013
Hartford freshman guard Evan Cooper slices through five Maine defenders to finish off a Mark Nwakamma (not shown) pass for a big second-half bucket. Cooper scored 13 points and Hartford won 68-61 (photo by Sam Perkins).

Hartford freshman guard Evan Cooper slices through five Maine defenders to finish off a Mark Nwakamma (not shown) pass for a big second-half bucket. Cooper scored 13 points and Hartford won 68-61 (photo by Sam Perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) — There’s a world of difference between high volume and high percentage shooting, and it’s the difference between current University of Hartford Men’s basketball team and its previous incarnates.

The Hawks have always played hard – furious, frenetic energy is a staple of teams playing under fiery third-year head coach John Gallagher and a prerequisite for players he recruits. Now, the Hawks are playing smart; forgoing the bombs away offense relying on forced three’s in favor of running their offense through their front court, hitting the glass and taking what defenses gave them.

On Wednesday, playing a matinee which tipped off at noon before a raucous crowd of nearly 3,000 – almost all students from local grade and high schools – in a battle between unbeatens in America East play, the Hawks played a near-perfect game and knocked off visiting Maine 68-61.

“I thought our guys really, really came out ready to go,” said Gallagher after the game. “We have the talent, now we’re starting to really learn how to play together.”

Sophomore forward Mark Nwakamma led Hartford with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting, dished out a career-high eight assists to just three turnovers and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds – all on the defensive end. Freshman point guard Evan Cooper scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with three steals and two assists and sophomore guard Yolonzo Moore II scored 16 points while drilling 4-of-8 three’s, while dishing out five assists and swiping three steals.

Hartford shot 52.2 percent from the floor (24-of-46), 47.6 percent from behind the arc (10-of-21), and dished out 18 assists to 13 turnovers. (more…)

Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard

Monday, January 7th, 2013
Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) buries one of his six three's of the game. Cole scored a game-high 22 points and Hartford knocked off Boston University 77-74 on Saturday in Boston (Photo by Sam Perkins).

Hartford guard Wes Cole (Right) buries one of his six three’s of the game. Cole scored a game-high 22 points and Hartford knocked off Boston University 77-74 on Saturday in Boston (Photo by Sam Perkins).

(Boston, MA) – “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard.”

It is a well trod saying in the lexicon of sports, referencing effort as the great equalizer. No team in recent history has better epitomized that saying than the University of Hartford men’s basketball program, and no where was the saying more fitting than in summarizing the Hawks 77-74 come from behind road win over Boston University on Saturday.

Effort, energy and intestinal fortitude were the deciding factors, as the Hawks refused to lose, out-hustling and out-muscling the Terriers to every loose ball and rebound while charging back from three separate eight-point deficits. During the games frantic final minutes, Hartford shifted into overdrive, while Boston University simply ran out of gas.

“You have to credit the defense in the second half for that stretch there where we got stops,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher, visibly exhausted after the game.

“I’m just really disappointed in our effort,” said Terriers head coach Joe Jones. “They just beat us to loose balls, chased down loose balls; we got out-rebounded by a team that we’re even bigger than.”

Sophomore’s Wes Cole and Nate Sikma combined to score 41 points for Hartford. Cole came off the bench to score a game-high 22 on 7-of-15 shooting including six 3’s, and Sikma added 19 to go along with a game-high eight rebounds.

Bulldog sophomore guard Corban Wroe scored just three points, but played an equally huge role in the Hawks win, playing balls-out defense on the Terriers vaunted back-court, swiping three steals, drawing three second-half charges and making an incalculable number of hustle-plays. (more…)

Head-First: Corban Wroe steals the show, Mark Nwakamma explodes, and the Hawks earn redemption with 80-77 win over Central Connecticut State

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Hartford freshman Taylor Dyson drills a dagger with 4:16 remaining to put the Hawks up 70-62 over Central Connecticut State, as (from left to right) forward Nate Sikma, assistant coach Matt Blue and head coach John Gallagher react. The Hawks would hang on for an 80-77 win (Photograph by Sam Perkins).

(West Hartford, CT) – With 4:25 remaining in the game, and the Hartford Hawks clinging to a 67-62 lead over Central Connecticut State, Blue Devils sophomore Kyle Vinales had the ball in his hands at the top of the key, with only Hartford sophomore Corban Wroe standing between him and another bucket. One of the most explosive scorers in the nation, Vinales ranked third among the national scoring leaders at 25.7 points per game, and was in the midst of a scoring deluge, having poured in 24 or more points in four straight games. Averaging just 16 minutes and a whopping two point per game average, Wroe would seem to be at the losing end of a decided mismatch.

But while Vinales got the better of his defenders for most of the night, pouring in a game and season-high 32 points, in the games biggest moment, it was Wroe who made the biggest play. The 6’2″ Australian-import and one-time Rugby star poked the ball loose into the back court. At an all out sprint, Wroe chased Vinales down from behind. When the star shooting guard slowed to corral the ball, Wroe launched himself like a missile head-first, flying past Vinales, diving on the ball and calling a timeout before he could be tied out.

It was the game in microcosm.

“Today, when clutch plays needed to be made – Corban Wroe’s play – we made the toughness plays, so I can circle that down as why we had the ‘W’ today,” said head coach John Gallagher

Nearly a year ago to the day, the Hawks were annihilated, 92-58, by the Blue Devils, getting out-played, out-hustled, out-toughed, and thoroughly embarrassed in a game which was no where near as close as its lopsided final score. On Saturday afternoon, the Hawks got a measure of revenge and redemption, making all the gut check plays down the stretch to out-fight and out-work the Blue Devils for an 80-77 win.

“We have to realize that those [hustle] plays – that’s the foundation of who we are; those toughness plays,” said Gallagher.

“[Coach Gallagher] had them motivated and they played with more emotion than we did,” said Central Connecticut State head coach Howie Dickenman. “We were well prepared for this… But emotionally we weren’t there; we weren’t mentally tough.”

Sophomore Forward Mark Nwakamma exploded for a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, while pulling down seven rebounds and dishing out five assists, adding a block and a steal. Sophomore guard Yolonzo Moore II scored 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep. Freshman point guard Evan Cooper scored 10 points in 22 minutes off the bench. But it was Wroe who made the biggest and toughest plays in the deciding moments. (more…)