Saturday, January 21, 2012

Down Goes Quinnipiac!! Sacred Heart Pulls Off the Season Sweep

Merely six games into the Northeast Conference season, it had already felt like a long year for this Sacred Heart fan.  Of those six games, three of them were lost in excruciating fashion to NEC title contenders Central Connecticut, Long Island, and Robert Morris.  In each game, the Sacred Heart Pioneers (9-11, 3-4 NEC) were always a play or two away, two free throws swished, or a couple of defensive stops from bettering their conference record.  Instead, the Pioneers lost all three and found themselves mired in the bottom half of the NEC standings at 2-4.

Against an equally desperate Quinnipiac Bobcats (9-9, 2-5 NEC) team on Thursday night, in front of 1,100 energized fans at the Pitt center, Sacred Heart finally won a close game by succeeding in several clutch moments.  And they won in spite of missing their 6-foot-9 center Justin Swidowski with a shoulder injury.

To do it, they followed a recipe cooked up by the coaching staff.  SHU assistant coach Anthony Latina explained after the game, “We had four goals coming into this game – get to the free throw line, compete on the glass, get to the loose balls, and limit our turnovers.  We did three of those four things tonight.”

Ironically, despite getting manhandled on the boards by the bigger, more athletic Quinnipiac front-court, it was SHU coming up with two monster offensive rebounds in the final minute.  Up a meager point with a minute remaining, Stan Dulaire picked up an offensive rebound in traffic off a wild miss from Phil Gaetano.  And then Nick Greenbacker, who had earlier drilled two unlikely three-pointers to spur a 14-4 SHU run, grabbed another offensive rebound off a Chris Evans miss.

Those rebounds allowed the offensive hero of the game, Louis Montes, to sink two free throws and put SHU up three with 35 ticks left on the clock.  Shortly after, a James Johnson miss – one of his 15 missed shot attempts of the night – and an Evan Kelley rebound (again very timely) sealed the game for the Pioneers.  It was a must win, especially with CCSU, Wagner, and Mount St. Mary’s next up on the difficult schedule.

Here are some statistical highlights that allowed SHU to sweep the season series against Quinnipiac for the first time since the 2007-08 season:

- SHU was more aggressive, slashing to the hole instead of settling for jump shots.  The aggressive strategy paid off, with the Pioneers getting 22 points and shooting a respectable 73% from the free throw line.  They outscored Quinnipiac from the charity stripe, 22-13.

- Louis Montes scored a career high 28 points on 13 shot attempts, serving as a terrific compliment to Shane Gibson and his 23 points.  Overall, it was a fantastic effort for Montes, who provided SHU with some clutch play as well.  Last in the game, he forced a Quinnipiac turnover in the backcourt thanks to his hustle and he calmly sunk those aforementioned free throws with thirty seconds remaining in the contest.

- Nick Greenbacker, who I’ve been critical of in this blog, came up big in the second half by scoring eight straight points when it looked like Quinnipiac was ready to pull away in the middle of the second half.  The Jeff Franceour of SHU basketball had 10 points and 4 rebounds – along with 0 turnovers – in 33 minutes.  It doesn’t sound like much of a stat line, but he had to absorb a lot of contact down low between the more athletic Jamee Jackson, Ike Azotam, and Ousmane Drame.  He did an admirable job.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least bring up the low-lights from the game:

- SHU allowed a staggering 23 offensive rebounds to Quinnipiac.  Yes, they were undersized considerably, but this must be addressed by the staff (assuming Swidowski stays off the floor), especially with reigning NEC player of the year Ken Horton of CCSU and 6-foot-11 Naofall Folahan of Wagner coming to the Pitt within the next week.

- I brought this up on Twitter already, but it warrants mentioning again – whoever was responsible for handling the camera for SHU’s internet video feed did a terrible job!  That person had to be drunk, because seriously how difficult is it to follow a game with the camera?  If I had a podcast or radio show, I’d go Chris Russo on his/her ass, but this blog post will have to suffice.

- The SHU play-by-play radio guy had Connecticut Post and SHU beat writer William Paxton on for the halftime show.  I was looking forward to an insightful interview…you know because Paxton probably knows some things about Sacred Heart and NEC basketball that we aren’t privy too.  Well, I was wrong.  About 75% of the interview was spent on the NFL and Yankees offseason moves!  Why?  If I’m enough of a diehard fan to listen to the SHU halftime show through my spotty internet feed, I’m not really interested in hearing Paxton ramble on about Michael Pineda and the New York Giants.  Talk about the game, Sacred Heart basketball, and the Northeast Conference, please!

(Sorry for the rant, but I needed to get that off my chest.  Now I feel better.)

Moving forward, SHU quietly (thanks to LIU at Wagner playing tonight at 7 pm on ESPNU and seriously check out this Youtube promo) takes on CCSU on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM in a Pack the Pitt event that should give the Pioneers another respectable home crowd.  With any luck, SHU will no longer be last in NEC home attendance games after this homestand!

SHU will certainly have their hands full – since Swidowski is doubtful for the game - containing Central’s scoring trio of Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek, and Kyle Vinales.  All three players are averaging nearly 60 points per game for the Blue Devils.  Once again, Gibson will need help, either from Montes or Evans to offset Central's scoring attack.  The Pioneers will also need to bring the same passion and intensity they found against Quinnipiac.

Their meeting early this year led to thrilling CCSU overtime win 82-80, but SHU had a couple of opportunities, as I chronicled here, to put the game away.  Today, it should be a competitive game nonetheless, and hopefully Sacred Heart can get back to even in the NEC!  You know I’ll be watching...

No comments:

Post a Comment