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Conference tournament recap: The NEC and Mountain West gave basketball fans a treat

Can you call yourself a college basketball fan if you don’t have a favorite and least favorite NEC team?

Northeast Men’s Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

I began Wednesday in a small softball press box, live tweeting a game between West Baltimore’s finest mid-majors. I ended it half asleep on a movie theater chair, struggling through an OVC matchup between two teams who honestly don’t have a chance at making the NCAA Tournament.

But seeing that I stayed up to watch that OVC game, it showed how great the past nine hours of basketball had been. We had buzzer beaters, major upsets and large leads blown late. The best part of this was there was only nine conference tournament games played in total! THIS IS MARCH! WIN OR GO HOME! All these games matter more! WE SLEEP IN MAY! AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

Insanity in the NEC

(3) Sacred Heart 61, (6) Mount Saint Mary’s 59
(4) LIU 73, (5) Fairleigh Dickinson 72
(2) Saint Francis (PA) 87, (7) Bryant 61
(1) RMU 59, (8) Saint Francis Brooklyn 58

On Wednesday night, the NEC proved why March is the best month of the year. PURE INSANITY in three of the four games played.

To start... LIU and Fairleigh Dickinson was something else. LIU dominated the first three quarters of the game. The Sharks led by 19 with 13 minutes left to play, and it looked like it was all locked up. Then they allowed the Knights to go a 20-4 run. FDU finally pulled ahead with 22 seconds left, and after LIU couldn’t find a good look on its last possession, each team took a timeout. With .8 remaining, Julian Batts hit the game winning layup. THE FIRST BUZZER BEATER OF MARCH! WHERE THE UNEXPECTED BECOMES THE ORDINARY!

Further west, more fun was brewing. Saint Francis Brooklyn finished the first half on a 12-3 run and made it close at the break against Robert Morris. The Terriers took a couple small leads over the top team in the tournament in the second half, but that wasn’t enough. Larry Moreno missed the would-have-been-game-winner for the Terriers as St. Francis remains in the Never Made The Tournament Club.

Then to end the fun, Jare’l Spellman scored his only two points of the game with 1.5 remaining to give Sacred Heart its first NEC Tournament win in 11 years. E.J. Anosike went crazy for the Pioneers, scoring 16 points and picking up 15 rebounds.

In Saturday’s semifinals, Sacred Heart will visit Saint Francis (PA) at noon ET and LIU will visit Robert Morris at 2 p.m.

Las Vegas, the Upset City

(9) Air Force 77, (8) Fresno State 70
(7) New Mexico 79, (10) San Jose State 66
(11) Wyoming 80, (6) Colorado State 74

In the Mountain West tournament opener, Air Force led for all but about a minute, shooting 54 percent to put Fresno State fans out of their misery. Lavelle Scottie and A.J. Walker combined for 45 of Air Force’s 77 points. This was officially the first low-seed-over-high-seed upset of the conference tournaments.

But the biggest upset of Wednesday happened in the Mountain West night cap. 11 seed Wyoming upset Nico Carvacho and 6 seed Colorado State in the first round of their tournament, 80-74.

This was only the Cowboys’ third win in 19 conference games. They were out-rebounded by 22 (thanks to 15 from Carvacho), but still dominated CSU, leading by double-digits nearly the whole game. The three ball and turnovers killed the Rams, as they were nearly doubled up in both categories. Wyoming’s win over Colorado State was the first victory by an 11 seed in Mountain West history.

As for New Mexico and San Jose State, the Lobos took control after the first few minutes. New Mexico had a season-high 16-point halftime lead and won by 13. Vance Jackson had a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Makuach Maluach had a career-high 22 points. UNM will face Utah State on Thursday, which it just beat by two points at the PIT.

Losing streaks were meant to be broken

(5) Tennessee State 74, (8) Morehead State 67 OT
(6) Eastern Illinois 67, (7) Jacksonville State 61

It took overtime and some dramatics, but Tennessee State picked up its first OVC Tournament victory since 2013. Morehead State finished the second half on a 13-4 run, which included a late shot from Carlos Marshall Jr. to force the extra period. The Eagles got outscored in overtime though, by a score of 15-8 to end their season.

In the night cap, junior guard Josiah Wallace went off for the Eastern Illinois Panthers. He helped EIU hold on through his 25 points.