Bryant aims for consecutive wins Thursday

Bryant aims for consecutive wins Thursday

Bryant travels to Wagner, faces Seahawk side ranked 22nd in the mid-major polls (Thursday, 7 p.m.)

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SMITHFIELD, R.I. -- The Bryant University men's basketball team hits the road after wrapping up a three-game homestand Saturday and will play the next three away from campus, starting with a Thursday night matchup against Northeast Conference rival Wagner College at 7 p.m. at the Spiro Sports Center on Staten Island. The Bulldogs look for their first back-to-back wins of the 2011-12 season after snapping their 12-game losing skid in the team's last outing, a 59-56 win over Saint Francis (PA).

The young rivalry is heating up between the Bulldogs and the Seahawks, who have faced off three times over the last three seasons. Wagner leads the all-time series, 2-1, while two of the three outings have gone down to the final whistle to determine the winner, including an overtime bout the last time these sides met. Bryant took its only win of the 2009-10 season with a last-second 53-51 road victory over the Seahawks on Feb. 18, 2010, thanks to a pair of made free throws from then-freshman Raphael Jordan with eight-tenths of a second to play, a win that snapped the Bulldogs' season-long 26-game losing streak. Last year, it was Wagner who walked out of the visiting gym victorious, clinching an 80-75 overtime win at the Chace Athletic Center despite a game-tying 3-pointer from Cecil Gresham to force the extra frame with just seconds left on the clock. In two meetings, Jordan averages nine points per game against the Seahawks and is perfect from the line (6-6), while current starters Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs and Corey Maynard all recorded double-digit points against Wagner last time out.

Ranked 22nd in the mid-major top 25 poll, Wagner enters Thursday's game riding a five-game winning streak that stretches back to the team's stunner 59-54 victory over then-13th-ranked Pitt on the road. Since then, the Seahawks have taken wins over Air Force and Santa Clara, as well as NEC bottom-dwellers Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth. Latif Rivers paces the Wagner side, averaging 15.5 points per game with an impressive 90.5 percent clip from the free throw line. Jonathon Williams chips in 13.8 points per outing and leads the team on the glass, pulling in 5.3 boards per game. Tyler Murray's 12.2 points per contest round out the Seahawks' double-digit scorers, while Kenneth Ortiz has dished the ball out 62 times — but also has 41 turnovers — to lead the team in both categories. Naofall Folahan averages two blocks per game with 30 on the year, nearly half the team's total. As a unit, the Seahawks shoot 44.1 percent from the field, and all but two Wagner players boast field goal percentages better than 35 percent. Thursday's hosts put up 74.7 points per outing and pull down more than 35 boards per game.

The Bulldogs enter Thursday's matchup with a 15-39 record against current Northeast Conference members since joining the Division I ranks. This is the fifth 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 43-93, having most frequently faced off against former Northeast-10 Conference (DII) member Quinnipiac (18-40). Bryant is 1-3 this season against the NEC, having earned its first league win Saturday against Saint Francis (PA), 59-56.

Outside of fellow Northeast Conference opponents, Bryant and Wagner have matched up against just a single common foe in Lehigh University, with both teams suffering the same fate. The Seahawks hosted the Mountain Hawks Dec. 10 and fell in a gut-wrenching 70-69 decision, while the Bulldogs wrapped up 2011 with a New Year's Eve bout against the Patriot League opponent, falling, 72-55, at the Chace Athletic Center.

Down by three with 19 seconds left in regulation, then-senior Cecil Gresham nailed a clutch 3-pointer to knot the score at 67-67 and send the Bulldogs to their second-straight overtime game, but Bryant could not hold off Wagner in extra time as the Bulldogs fell, 80-75, at the Chace Athletic Center.

The Bulldogs closed down a five-point gap with 3:37 to play in regulation with a 7-2 run capped off by Gresham's game-tying trifecta to force the extra frame, but it was visiting Wagner who went on the 7-2 run to open the overtime stanza, taking a 74-69 edge on a Josh Thompson fastbreak. The Bulldogs worked to close the gap to as little as two, 75-73, with 1:28 to play, but despite good looks at the basket, Bryant could not get the shots to fall, allowing the visitors to hit free throws down the stretch and claim the five-point victory.

Gresham paced the Bulldogs with a game-high 18 points while Alex Francis added 16 points and eight rebounds. Frankie Dobbs chipped in with 12 points while Corey Maynard and Raphael Jordan each added 10 to round out the double-figure scorers for the home side. The Seahawks had five players reach double figures in the contest, including Latif Rivers, who scored a team-high 16 points. As a team, the Bulldogs shot 43.1 percent from the floor while the Seahawks shot at a 49.2 percent clip. The game was tight throughout, tied at 36-36 at the half and featuring four leads changes and five score knots.

>> 20's Plenty: Alex Francis recorded his team-leading fifth 20+ point game of the season last time out in a 59-56 win over Saint Francis (PA), scoring a game-best 23 points off 7-of-11 shooting. The sophomore owns five of the team's nine such efforts in 2011-12 and has met or passed the 20-point mark 11 times in his career. The other four 20-point outings? Junior Raphael Jordan scored a career-high and game-best 21 points last Thursday night against Robert Morris, sophomore sharpshooter Corey Maynard recorded a pair — a 21-point game at Army Nov. 22 followed by a game-high and career-best 22-point showing Dec. 22 against the University of Arizona — and junior point guard Frankie Dobbs notched 24 against Southern Utah Nov. 13.

>> Half-Hearted: Bryant took a 25-19 lead into the locker room at the intermission Saturday against the Red Flash, the largest halftime edge for the Black and Gold this season. The margin was in the Bulldogs' favor for just the third time all season, after a 30-29 halftime mark against Providence College on Dec. 10 and a 36-31 advantage over Army on Nov. 22.

>> On the Rebound: The Bulldogs outrebounded their opponent for just the third time this season Saturday against Saint Francis (PA). The seven-rebound, 41-34 margin was the second largest of the season, bested by a 43-30 performance against Army Nov. 22. Bryant also outrebounded UC Davis, 37-33, and are 2-1 in games in which the Bulldogs win the board battle.

>> Seeing Double: Alex Francis has registered double-digit points in 14-of-15 games this season, with the lone exception coming in a six-point performance against Robert Morris last Thursday night. In 45 career games, Francis has scored less than 10 points just eight times.

>> Big Ben: True freshman Ben Altit leads the team with 14 stuffs on the year and ranks 10th in the league, having posted three blocks in a game on three different occasions.

>> Switching to Missiles: The Bulldogs knocked down 11 treys against last Thursday Robert Morris, the most since hitting 12 against Quinnipiac over a month ago (Dec. 3). The number marked the fourth time this season Bryant has drained double-digit 3-pointers, with its season high coming against UC Davis in the second game of the year (13).

>> On the Other Hand...
Two days later, the Bulldogs drained just four triples in 28 tries, a new season low, but still got the win over the Red Flash, 59-56, for their first Northeast Conference victory of the season.

>> Here Comes the Boom: At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, sophomore Alex Francis has brought the boom back to the Chace Athletic Center... and nearly every other arena in which the Bulldogs have played. The second-year forward has 19 dunks so far this season, and averages more than 1.2 slams each time out. Francis has at least one dunk in 10 contests this year, including two last time out.

>> Road Warriors: Thursday's game against Wagner marks Bryant's 12th road game of the 2011-12 campaign. The Bulldogs have played at home just four times more than midway through the season and didn't host their first home game of the year until the second month of the season, a Dec. 1 matchup against Central Connecticut. The Black and Gold spent the better part of two months — 11 of their first 12 games — playing on the road, but the team's current three-game road trip are the first road contests in 2012.

Junior Raphael Jordan has stepped in well in a starting role over the last three contests, scoring a season-high 12 points against Lehigh Dec. 31 before dropping a game- and career-high 21 on Robert Morris last Thursday night, where he went 6-of-8 from the floor with a near-perfect 6-of-7 mark from downtown. Jordan is averaging 12 points per game over the last trio of games, second most on the team, and is averaging 33.7 minutes per outing. Over his recent starting span, the Bel Air, Md., native is also shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, 50 percent from 3-point land and is perfect from the free throw line.

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 10 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. But seven of those 10 wins have come at home in the friendly confines of the Chace Athletic Center, including the team's most recent win Saturday over Saint Francis (PA). Bryant is 1-1 on the month in 2011-12.

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 six times so far this season and three of those games have come at home in Smithfield, R.I. The Bulldogs have been doubled up by their opponents' at the line on six occasions, five of them on the road. In nine true road contests, opposing teams are awarded an average of 9.6 more freebie opportunities per game than the Bulldogs (they are making 8.2 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.

The Bulldogs have been manufacturing 3-pointers in impressive fashion in 2011-12. The Black and Gold have received treys from nine different sources and 43.8 percent of the team's shot selection has come from beyond the arc. Bryant is converting those takes at a rate of 32.6 percent and is led by the accuracy of junior shooting guard Raphael Jordan, who ranks second in the NEC at 47.8 percent, and sophomore guard Corey Maynard (37.6 percent, 14th), while Maynard and junior point guard Frankie Dobbs contribute 2.5 and 2.1 triples per game, respectively. Of the Bulldogs' 922 total points this season, 354 of them — or 38.4 percent — have come courtesy of the three.

The Bulldogs continue on to Emmitsburg, Md., for the second installment of a three-game road trip. Bryant will take on Mount St. Mary's on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. before heading to Central Connecticut to wrap up the road stretch Jan. 19 in New Britain, Conn.