Bryant travels to Saint Francis Saturday

Photo by Tom O'Brien
Photo by Tom O'Brien


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The Bulldogs remain on  the road as they look to tie their program-best winning streak and sweep the opening weekend of Northeast Conference action with a victory Saturday afternoon at Saint Francis University. Saturday's game is the second half of a men's/women's doubleheader and will tip off from DeGol Arena at 4:00 p.m.

Bryant holds a slight 3-2 series edge over the Red Flash in five all-time meetings after the teams split last year's season series, with each side winning on its home court. Last season's road loss was the Bulldogs' first defeat at DeGol Arena in three appearances, and the Black and Gold have taken their three over Saint Francis U. by a combined margin of just 10 points. The Red Flash will make a return trip to Smithfield, R.I., for the regular-season finale March 2.

Saint Francis U. enters Saturday's game fresh off its first victory of the season, a 67-60 home win over Central Connecticut in the NEC opener Thursday night. Umar Shannon paces the Red Flash on the year, averaging 14.4 points per game and seeing over 10 minutes more floor time per game than any other player on the SFU roster. Ollie Jackson's 8.9 points per outing rank second on the team while Earl Brown leads the way on the glass at 6.2 boards per contest. On the season, Saint Francis averages just 60.2 points per game and is shooting 41.1 percent as a unit with a .320 mark from downtown. The Red Flash have a rebounding margin of -6.6, averaging just 28.3 per game and have suffered four losses of 10 points or less this season.

Bryant trailed by just five points at the halftime break Feb. 18 at DeGol Arena, but the Bulldogs couldn't overcome a slow start to the second half in a 76-61 loss to the Red Flash in the 2011-12 road finale. Alex Francis scored a game-high 17 points and pulled in a contest-high eight rebounds while Frankie Dobbs chipped in 11 more points for the visitors, who shot 43.4 percent from the field despite the loss. Five different Red Flash players recorded 10 or more points in a balanced team effort for the hosts, led by 14 points from Kameron Ritter as Saint Francis shot 51.9 percent in the victory with a 9-of-17 mark from beyond the arc. The SFU win evened the season series at 1-1.

The Bulldogs are 1-0 against the Northeast Conference in 2012-13 with a 16-53 record against current league members since joining the Division I ranks. All-time against current NEC members, the Bulldog basketball program is 44-107 (.291), having most frequently faced off against former Northeast-10 Conference (DII) member Quinnipiac (18-41).

» Opening Night: Thursday's 84-77 win over Robert Morris was the program's first victory in a Northeast Conference opener since first playing a full league schedule beginning with the 2009-10 season.

» Tremendous Turnaround: Just two seasons ago, the Bulldogs fell to the Colonials at the Sewall Center, 91-38. Thursday night's 84-77 victory marks an impressive 60-point turnaround for the Black and Gold, just another indication of the program's improvement in 2012-13.

» Reaching New Heights: Bryant has recorded new season-high point totals in each of the last three games, scoring 79 at home against Dartmouth on Dec. 22, 80 at Lehigh Dec. 29 and 84 at Robert Morris in Thursday's NEC opener.

» Sweet 16: Fifth-year senior point guard Frankie Dobbs is just 16 points shy of scoring his 1,000th career point.

» Seventh Heaven: Sophomore sharpshooter Dyami Starks recorded 20 or more points for the sixth time against RMU, connecting on a career-best seven 3-pointers. His 21 points scored from beyond the arc marked the first time any Bulldog player has converted seven triples in a game since Cecil Gresham did so against Monmouth nearly two years ago (Jan. 22, 2011).

» Twenty Somethings: Dyami Starks scored a career-high 29 points while senior Frankie Dobbs tied his own personal best with 26 Thursday against Robert Morris, marking the second-straight game in which two Bulldogs have recorded 20 points or more (Alex Francis, 21; Starks, 20 at Lehigh Dec. 29).

» Double Vision: Junior forward Alex Francis has averaging a double-double over the last three contests, posting 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per outing while shooting 58.8 percent from the field since Dec. 22.

Only four players scored points for the Bulldogs through the first 38:22 of Thursday's NEC opener at Robert Morris. It wasn't until Corey Maynard connected from the free throw line with 98 seconds left in the game that anyone besides Dyami Starks (29 points), Frankie Dobbs (26), Alex Francis (18) and Joe O'Shea (7) got on the board. Bryant would finish with only five scorers in the win.

For the third time this season, Bryant surpassed 50 points in a single stanza against the Colonials, totaling 51 in the second half Thursday night. The Bulldogs scored 54 points in the second frame against Dartmouth Dec. 22, shooting at a 73.9 percent clip in the session, as both numbers are good for the highest single-half outputs of the year. Bryant first hit the mark at home against Binghamton Dec. 8, picking up 51 points in the first half.

Bryant also shot better than 50 percent from 3-point range for the second time against Robert Morris, finishing the game at a 52 percent clip (13-25). The first came at home against Binghamton Dec. 8, when the Black and Gold converted a season-best  12-for-23 from downtown (52.2 percent).

The Bulldogs' 29 freebies against Robert Morris was not only a season high, but also the second-most single-game free throw makes in the Division I record books, second only to the 30 Bryant scored from the charity stripe at Quinnipiac Jan. 31, 2011.

Bryant's 80-79 stunner over perennial mid-major stronghold Lehigh University on the road Saturday night earned the program a spot in the latest College Insider Mid-Major Top 25, marking the first time in program history the Bulldogs have received a national ranking. Bryant takes the No. 25 spot in its national poll debut, and the Bulldogs are the only Northeast Conference team to make the esteemed list. Lehigh falls from No. 4 to No. 6 in the poll following its first loss at home since the 2011-12 campaign.

The Bulldogs have been a different team with the arrival of sophomore transfer Dyami Starks. Starks leads the team in points per game (17.9), field goals made (75), 3-pointers made (38), 3-point field goal percentage (.388) and minutes per game (34.6) in 2012-13, and the Columbia transfer averages 20.6 points per game with a .487 shooting percentage in Bryant's eight wins this year. The Minnesota native has scored 20 or more points six times this season, including a career-high 29 at Robert Morris Jan. 3 when he connected on a career-best seven 3-pointers. His 21 points scored from beyond the arc marked the first time any Bulldog player has converted seven triples in a game in nearly two years (Cecil Gresham vs. Monmouth, Jan. 22, 2011). Starks, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, was awarded the program's first-ever Northeast Conference Player of the Week accolade on Nov. 26.

After averaging 20.7 points per game in the Bulldogs' last three games ­— not to mention scoring the game-winning layup with 1.3 seconds to go on the road at mid-major powerhouse Lehigh — fifth-year senior captain and starting point guard Frankie Dobbs has been getting some much deserved attention as of late. He earned the first Northeast Conference Player of the Week accolade of his career to open the new year and was named the Lou Henson National Player of Week a day later, becoming the first Bulldog to ever received the countrywide recognition. This season, Dobbs is averaging 13.9 points and 4.0 assists per game while seeing 34.6 minutes of floor time per contest as the court general for the Black and Gold.

Guiding the Bulldogs to their best start in the Division I era and quadrupling his team's win total from a season ago, Bryant head coach Tim O'Shea has been named the mid-season Hugh Durham Award winner, presented to the top mid-major coach in the country by College Insider.

The Bulldogs' 80-79 win over Lehigh marked the 650th in Bryant men's basketball program history. Head coach Tim O'Shea approaches his 150th-career victory, entering Saturday's contest with 148.

Bryant returns to Smithfield for its first home game of 2013, hosting NEC foe Quinnipiac at the Chace Athletic Center Thursday, Jan. 10 at 7:00 p.m.