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Huh? How? Why? SFU goes from beating Pitt to losing 6 straight

Photo by Saint Francis Athletics: Ronell Giles Jr.

Saint Francis pulled off one of the greatest victories and certainly the most shocking victory in program history with an 80-70 win at Pitt in the season opener Nov. 25.

The Red Flash haven’t won a game since.

There are legitimate reasons why. There have been mitigiating circumstances.

But still. It’s incredible, no doubt, that a team could go on the road and beat an ACC team such as Pitt, then find itself in this situation a month and a half later with nothing else to show for it in the victory column.

“(It’s) 2020, 2021,” SFU coach Rob Krimmel said Friday when asked how he can wrap his mind around what’s happened.

The Red Flash struggled mightily in the second half Friday in a 71-58 loss at LIU, getting eaten by the Shark for the second day in a row. LIU barely won the first game of the back-to-back Thursday, 78-75, and Saint Francis led Friday, 31-30, in the opening minutes of the second half.

Then Saint Francis fell apart.

LIU went on a 13-2 run and blew it open, leading by as many as 20 with less than two minutes remaining.

Krimmel was asked about what happened to his team since that Pitt victory.

“We haven’t played with the same lineup that we played with at Pitt,” he said. “That was (Nov.) 25, we haven’t had the same group of guys available since that game — for injuries, COVID reasons, whatever it might be. So, I’m gonna say a prayer that we can get everybody in uniform and play with that group that played at Pitt. That’s how you can build the momentum.

“What we’ve had to do over the course of the last several weeks is put guys in spots where probably they weren’t ready for, the significant minutes. So that’s the big thing that we’re hoping, that we can get into a little bit of a rhythm with the same guys every night. Now, that might be too much to ask for in a year where you’re not sure what’s gonna happen tomorrow.

“But that’s our biggest challenge, is to get everybody healthy so that we can continue to get these guys to play with some confidence and put them into situations where they can have success.”

Ramiir Dixon-Conover led Saint Francis with 21 points Friday. The point guard also had 21 at Pitt, then suffered an ankle injury in the second half of the next game against UMBC. The Flash lost that game, then had no chance in their next two at Virginia and a very good Liberty team.

A trip to Mount St. Mary’s without Dixon-Conover produced the fourth straight loss. Then Saint Francis missed a month, having a game at St. Bonaventure cancelled because of COVID before a long break in the schedule.

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They finally returned to action Thursday at LIU and had a good chance to win late.

That wasn’t the case Friday against a team with a lot of veterans that knows how to win.

Saint Francis had that kind of team the past few years, led by Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon. But this year’s team is much different with those two program legends now gone.

The Flash do have some outstanding young players, including freshmen guards Maxwell Land and Ronell Giles Jr.

Still, while Krimmel may have been hoping to reload this season — especially after the win at Pitt — this has the look of a rebuilding year with the Flash now 1-6 overall and 0-3 in the NEC.

Krimmel, as any coach would, said he doesn’t like have to choose between those words — reload or rebuild.

“I don’t like to use those terms,” he said. “It’s one of those, we knew that there was some young guys coming in that it was gonna be a little bit of a challenge on top of getting in a rhythm. The thing we struggle with most is that rhythm that you need to hit by January, the interruptions that we’ve had and the things that have gotten us to this point.

“So, the talent is in there, just they the need the experience. That’s the tough thing. You look great in five on (zero) on offense in practice, but it’s those game experiences that you need to bounce back. These young kids, especially. A guy like Ronell, who played really well (Thursday night with 19 points), we told him, ‘You’re gonna be on the scouting report, people are gonna know about you.’ He’s got to work a little bit harder. But it’s easy to say that, he’s got to experience it.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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