By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
TEANECK, NJ -- In many respects, they are two different seasons, the non-league portion of the schedule building up to the all-important conference slate. In the realm of a one bid league like the Northeast Conference, one needs no reminder how important conference play is.
Fairleigh Dickinson's women's basketball program finished its non-conference schedule at 8-3. The conference games opened Friday with a stern test, as FDU was defeated at Rothman Center by defending champion Robert Morris, 77-68. On Sunday, the team regarded as the one to beat in this ten-member conference came to town, as Saint Francis University; fresh off a 89-48 victory at Sacred Heart, provided the second straight stern test for Pete Cinella’s group. It was a test that would see FDU wind up on the short end of, losing 80-56.
For Saint Francis, there was a definite concern entering this one. FDU, early on, has gotten the attention of the conference.
“They have played really well in non-conference,” head coach Joe Haigh said before the tip. “They have some good wins, and as a group, are just better with experience. You know the first year or two, you kind of get beat up, but by the third year in, you adjust and mature. That’s just what they have done.”
Haigh went in thinking about the Knights’ ability to hit from three-point range. As a team, they entered the game shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc.
“That is something we want to take away or limit,” Haigh said. Showing their versatility, the Knights went inside the arc on their first two possessions, with senior forward Amina Markovic finishing inside.
A good start is essential facing opposition such as this. Another vital aspect is not defeating yourself and playing nearly flawless basketball. One can look at the first half, where Saint Francis had a 36-32 lead, and point to the fact the Knights had just five three-point attempts, making two. Of greater note were FDU's 15 turnovers translating into 13 Red Flash points. For a good part of the third period, FDU stayed about ten points down, but the way this was played out made the ten feel like twenty. In the final stanza, it became just that on the scoreboard. Jessica Kovatch of Saint Francis, a NEC preseason all-conference pick, buried four threes to basically end any hopes of a Knight comeback.
Going through the non-conference portion, Cinella hoped to improve rebounding.
“We did rebound better,” he said. “We outrebounded Robert Morris on Friday and Saint Francis today (38-32). Both are good rebounding teams.”
How was the improvement realized?
“Drills and video,” he said. “We watched a lot of video on technique and watched ourselves not boxing out. We really preached rebounding.”
Another priority was the cutting down on turnovers.
“I thought we improved on our turnovers,” Cinella said. “Saint Francis turns you over, so going in, we looked to keeping the turnovers around 15 or less.” On the afternoon, the final number was 27. Saint Francis put those errors to good use, scoring 28 points off the FDU turnovers.
“Obviously, those numbers are unacceptable,” Cinella said. “We have to go back and figure out ways to cut down those turnovers.”
Conference opponents have a familiarity with each other. In Cinella’s estimation, that doesn’t make anything any easier with nothing being certain.
“You have different styles with the different teams you face in your conference,” he said. “Naturally, that is something you must be ready for. You constantly adjust.”