NEC's top team visits Smithfield at 7 p.m.

NEC's top team visits Smithfield at 7 p.m.


Game Notes
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Twitter: @BryantGameday

The Bryant University men's basketball team remains at home for just its third game of the season within the familiar confines of the Chace Athletic Center and the team's second in a three-contest home stand. Thursday's contest ushers in the return of Northeast Conference play for the Bulldogs, who welcome league-leading Robert Morris for a 7 p.m. league matchup. Bryant enters the game looking to snap an 11-game losing streak and earn the team's first NEC victory of the 2011-12 campaign.

The Colonials enter Thursday's game with a perfect 3-0 mark against the Bulldogs in the all-time series. This will be just the second time Robert Morris has visited Smithfield, R.I., and the last time these two teams met was Feb. 3 of last season, a game the Colonials won in convincing 91-38 fashion. Junior Vlad Kondratyev has seen the most success against RMU, averaging 9.5 points per game in a pair of outings while shooting 50 percent from the floor, while classmate Raphael Jordan averages eight points of his own in two meetings. Last season, the Colonials held leading scorer Alex Francis to just a trio of points and five boards while the now-graduated Cecil Gresham paced the Bulldogs with 13 points.

Robert Morris re-enters Northeast Conference play with an unblemished 2-0 league mark and an 11-4 overall record that includes wins over such opponents as James Madison (82-77), Duquesne (64-60), and most recently Ohio University (70-67) all on the road. Velton Jones paces the Colonials, contributing 16 points per game and a team-most 23 steals on the 2011-12 campaign. Jones, along with a majority of his teammates, is strong from the line, shooting 74.5 percent, and has dished out a team-leading 58 helpers on the year. Coron Williams joins him in double digits on offense with 12.3 points per game and a 41.8 shooting percentage, one that improves to 43 percent from beyond the arc at 37-of-86. Williams converts just a shade under 90 percent of his opportunities from the charity stripe and is one of four 15-game starters for the Colonials. Another, forward Russell Johnson, pulls in 5.5 rebounds per outing and has 12 blocks on the season (8.5 ppg), while Mike McFadden leads the side on the glass at 6.2 boards per contest and eight blocks in just five games played. As a team, Robert Morris shoots 40.4 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range while collecting 37.1 rebounds on average.

The Bulldogs enter Thursday's matchup with a 14-38 record against current Northeast Conference members since joining the Division I ranks. This is the third of 18 league matchups on the 2011-12 season, and the Bulldogs will look to top the seven-win mark against their home league, a record achieved by last season's squad. All-time against current conference members, the Bulldog basketball program is 42-92, having most frequently faced off against former Northeast-10 Conference (DII) member Quinnipiac (18-40). Bryant is 0-2 this season against the NEC after falling to Central Connecticut, 83-51, in the home opener Dec. 1 and dropping an 83-72 decision at Quinnipiac Dec. 3.

Now-graduated forward Cecil Gresham paced the Black and Gold with 13 points and was the only double-digit scorer last time Bryant met up with Robert Morris as the Bulldogs suffered a 91-38 defeat at the hands of the Colonials at the Sewall Center in Moon Township, Pa. Five RMU players recorded double-figure outings, led by 18 points from Lijah Thompson and 16 from Velton Jones. Bryant forward Vlad Kondratyev knotted a game high with seven rebounds and recorded a block for the visiting Bulldogs, who shot just 22.7 percent from the floor on the game to RMU's 57.1 percent accuracy.

Outside of fellow Northeast Conference programs, Bryant and Robert Morris do not compete against any common opponents in 2011-12.

Sophomore leading scorer Alex Francis passed the 200-point mark in just the team's 12th game this season with a 17-point performance against the University of Arizona on Dec. 22, and the second-year forward is currently on pace to pass the 500-point threshold in 2011-12. Francis must average just over 16.5 points per game in the last 17 of the year to hit the mark, one he missed by just 57 points last year in his rookie campaign. The last time a Bulldog acheived 500 points or more in a season came back in 2005-06, when Hall of Famer John Williams scored 628 to average 20.3 points per game (31 games). Francis is currently sixth on the league scoring circuit at 16.8 points per outing. He also needs just six more rebounds to hit 100 for the 2011-12 season and is on pace to surpass the 200-rebound bracket for the second-consecutive season. His 7.2 rebounding average ranks fifth in the NEC.

Sophomore Clay McMath scored a career-high 14 points last time out against Lehigh University on New Year's Eve, topping the Bulldog stat sheet and shooting at nearly a 40 percent clip from the floor and from long range. The second-year forward from Down Under also set new career marks with his five made field goals and four made 3-pointers, three of which came in consecutive order in a span of less than two minutes midway through the second half. McMath also set new personal bests for field goals and three pointers attempted while scoring 14 of Bryant's 16 bench points in the game.

True freshman Ben Altit earned his fourth start of the year and third straight Saturday against Lehigh, and for the second-consecutive game the Bryant bigman posted a trio of blocks. He now leads the team with 14 stuffs on the year and ranks 11th in the league, having posted three blocks in a game on three different occasions.

Unlike its dry streak during December, the Bryant basketball program has enjoyed success in the month of January since entering the Division I era prior to the 2008-09 season. The Bulldogs have nine wins in the calendar's opening month, five of which came last season when the team finished above .500 in January (5-4), including a 3-3 mark in Northeast Conference play over the 31-day stretch. Six of those nine wins have come at home in the friendly confines of the Chace Athletic Center, a number the Bulldogs look to up Thursday against Robert Morris.

Junior walk-on Dan Calandrillo earned his fifth-straight start last time out on the road against Arizona and has played his way to big minutes in all five games. Calandrillo is averaging 31.6 minutes per game as a starter, and the guard is shooting 44 percent (11-of-25) when in the starting lineup. He is also 5-of-13 from long range with a block, three steals and five helpers. Calandrillo set back-to-back career-high point marks in his first two starting nods, tying his then-career mark with eight points against Yale and setting a new personal best with 12 points against Providence College Dec. 10. Moreover, Calandrillo has been reliable with the ball in his hands, committing just five turnovers in five starts and just six giveaways in total on the year. The junior guard has appeared in all 13 games this season but has committed a turnover in just four of them.

The Bulldogs can see one less-than-favorable result of their road-heavy schedule clear as day just by looking at their free throw margins. Bryant has recieved more free throws than its opponent just four times so far this season, and has been doubled up by its opponent's free throws on five occasions. Opposing teams are averaging 5.3 more freebie opportunities per game than the Bulldogs (and making more than five of those extras), with the largest discrepancy — a 21-shot difference — coming against both San Diego State (25-4) in the season opener and Quinnipiac (32-11) on the road on Dec. 3.

>> Ben There: Freshman Ben Altit remains in the Northeast Conference rblocking rankings for the second-straight week after back-to-back three-block games, coming against Arizona and Lehigh. The stuffs pushed the forward's average to more than one block per outing, good for 11th in the league.

>> To the Core-y: Sophomore shooter Corey Maynard has solidified his place not just in the Bulldogs' starting lineup, but among the elite guards in the Northeast Conference. Maynard current ranks in the league's top-20 in nine different categories, and in the top-10 in five, including 3-point percentage (8th), assists (7th), minutes (4th), 3-pointers made (3rd) and assist-to-turnover ratio, where he ranks third in the conference.

>> Alex the Great: Now-sophomore and reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Alex Francis is picking up right where he left off after a freshman season that saw him lead the Bulldogs in nearly every offensive category and finish in the top 10 of five different categories on the Northeast Conference circuit. Already in 2011-12, Francis ranks in the league's top 12 on five lists, including rebounding (fifth) and minutes (12th). But none of his sophomore numbers are more impressive than his 16.8 points per game, an average that ranks sixth among all NEC players and sits atop the Bulldog stat sheet. Francis has already recorded three double-doubles and a quartet of 20+-point performances and was named to the season-opening Basketball Travelers Classic All-Tournament Team. He has recorded double-digit points in every outing of the season, extending a streak that dates back to Feb. 24, 2010, and has paced his team in points seven times.

>> Five for Fighting: Point guard Frankie Dobbs is a mainstay in the NEC's top rankings as well, currently in the top 20 on five lists of his own. The junior ranks second in the league in both minutes played and assist-to-turnover ratio, and sits in third in assists. He also ranks 12th for 3-pointers made per game and 20th on the league's scoring charts.

>> Minute Men: Three Bulldogs currently rank among the Northeast Conference's top 12 minute getters in 2011-12. Junior guard Frankie Dobbs headlines that list and sits second on the conference circuit (36.92 mpg), while sophomore guard Corey Maynard averages 35.92 minutes per outing for fourth in the NEC and sophomore forward Alex Francis ranks 12th on the list, spending 32.46 minutes per game out on the floor. Central Connecticut is the only other NEC school with three among the top 12 in the category.