Bulldogs hold off SFU for first NEC win

Alex Francis (Athletic Communications)
Alex Francis (Athletic Communications)

Francis's 23 points pace Bulldogs to first Northeast Conference win of the season, 59-56, over Saint Francis (PA)

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Trailing by seven points with less than seven minutes to play, the Bryant University men's basketball team used a 10-0 rally to take a lead it would never relinquish, completing a thrilling comeback for the team's first Northeast Conference victory of the season, edging Saint Francis (PA), 59-56, Saturday afternoon at the Chace Athletic Center.

Two players registered double-digit scoring figures, as sophomore Alex Francis (Harlem, N.Y.) led all players with 23 points while hauling down a team-high eight rebounds, propelling the Bulldogs (2-13, 1-3 NEC) to their first home win this season and first in their last six tries (an overtime win against CCSU Feb. 12, 2011). The win also snapped a 12-game losing skid for the Black and Gold, who haven't tasted victory since Nov. 12. The Red Flash (3-12, 2-2) fell for the fifth-straight contest.

Along with Francis – who recorded his fifth 20-point outing of the season – sophomore Claybrin McMath (Adelaide, Australia) helped to guide the home team in a contest that was tight throughout, recording 13 points and five boards. SFU's Scott Eatherton chipped in 15 points and 11 rebounds for the game's lone double-double, while Anthony Ervin (12) and Kameron Ritter (10) rounded out the game's double-figure scorers.

Down seven, 47-40, with 6:18 to play, Bryant sophomore Corey Maynard (Adelaide, Australia) initiated the Bulldogs' 10-0 comeback run with a made layup, drawing a foul to complete the three-point play. The guard would finish with five points in his first game back since missing the last two due to injury and played 32 minutes in a starting role.

A steal and consequent slam by Francis trimmed SFU's lead to one with 5:34 to go, and moments later a wide-open McMath nailed a trey from the left corner to put Bryant ahead, 48-47. Maynard added another layup at the 4:31 mark to cap off the 10-0 run and push the Bulldogs ahead, 50-47.

The final minutes remained tight from that point through the final whistle -- both the Bulldogs and the Red Flash would score nine -- but the three-point advantage was all Bryant needed to hold on and clinch the win.

Still, the Red Flash nearly mounted a comeback of their own in the waning seconds. With eight ticks left in the game, SFU had a chance to tie the score when Stephon Wyatt stepped to the line down by two with a pair of free throws to shoot. But Wyatt made just one of those chances, allowing Bryant to move back ahead by three on back-to-back free throws from Francis for a 59-56 score that would go final.

The Red Flash had one final opportunity to send the game to overtime, but Maynard rejected a last-second 3-point attempt as time expired to send the Bulldogs to their first conference win of the year.

After ice-cold shooting in the first half, both teams shot above 50 percent in the second frame, logging identical 52.2 percent field goal percentages on 12-of-23 shooting clips. On the afternoon, SFU earned a slim edge from the floor, holding a 38.5 percent mark to Bryant's 35.6 percent clip. The Bulldogs also set a new season mark in free throw shooting, finishing the day at 81.3 percent (13-of-16) from the stripe.

In the first half, Bryant took control early after both teams were tied at 5-5 at the 13:34 mark, using a 13-6 run to move ahead by seven points with less than eight minutes to go in the frame. The home team would lead by as many as seven points in the half, but the Red Flash clawed back to within three with 57 seconds remaining in the stanza.

Junior Raphael Jordan (Bel Air, Md.) closed out the half on a positive note, draining his only long ball of the contest to send Bryant into the locker room on top for just the third time this season, 25-19.

Both teams combined for just 16 points in the first 10 minutes of play, with subpar shooting from the field emerging as the theme for the half. The Bulldogs fired at a meager 25 percent clip on 9-of-36 shooting, while the Red Flash weren't much better, logging a 27.6 percent clip on 8-of-29 accuracy from the field.

Where the Bulldogs did excel, however, was in second-chance scoring, a theme that carried throughout the game. The Bulldogs held a 12-0 edge in second-chance points in the first half, a margin that would end up 16-2 in Bryant's favor.

The Bulldogs will return to action and look to feed off their success next Thursday in one of their toughest conference matchups of the season, as the Black and Gold take on Wagner in Staten Island, N.Y., Jan. 12. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.