If you just happened to glance at the final score from last night – Monmouth 63, Sacred Heart 56 – your initial thought was probably that the Sacred Heart Pioneers (10-14, 4-7 NEC) just lost a tough road game to a Monmouth (7-17, 5-6 NEC) team playing better than their record indicates. You may have rationalized that Northeast Conference road games are difficult to win, no matter the opponent, and that Sacred Heart probably fought hard but fell just short. And you would be wrong.
SHU assistant coach Johnny Kidd explained how stunned he was in the postgame interview of yesterday's game, “I’m stunned. I’m stunned. We gotta make free throws. Bottom line, the game was under our control. This one we gave away.”
Leading 54-46 with 2:31 remaining on the clock, SHU looked to be in firm control of picking up their fifth conference win, despite missing three of four free throws in the previous minute. But then it quickly unraveled. A Jesse Steele three-pointer narrowed the margin to five points. Then the Pioneers coughed up the ball on two consecutive possessions, leading to two quick Monmouth buckets, all in the span of 40 seconds.
Now up 54-53 with 1:10 left, Louis Montes was fouled and given an opportunity to extend the Pioneer’s slim advantage to a critical three points. As you probably already guessed, the normally cool, calm and composed Montes missed both attempts from the charity stripe. Monmouth capitalized by taking their first lead in 15 minutes after an Ed Waite layup. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. What a turn of events.
I’ll spare you the rest of the gory details from Monmouth’s starling 17-2 late game run, except these beauties – SHU missed 6 of 8 free throws in the final 4:16 of the game, in spite of being in the top three of the NEC in free throw percentage. Even worse, SHU allowed Monmouth to score 15 points on their final 7 possessions of the game, after only scoring 48 points in the first 38 minutes of the game. The 21 Pioneer turnovers for the game certainly didn’t help either, and I’m still trying to understand why Dave Bike failed to use a timeout (or two) during Monmouth’s run to halt their momentum.
So looking ahead, where does this put Sacred Heart? Quite simply, they have to win their next three games. I hate when the “must win” designation is assigned halfway through a regular season, but the Pioneers have to win these three games coming up against FDU and Bryant. Both opponents have a COMBINED two conference wins on the season, so anything short of 3-0 is unacceptable. If they fail at this goal, SHU is looking at a 6-8 NEC record with Robert Morris, LIU, and St. Francis (NY) in three of their final four regular season games. And that my friends could lead to Sacred Heart inexplicably missing the NEC postseason tournament for the third straight season, despite having a NEC top 3 scorer (Corey Hassan ’10, Shane Gibson, ’11 and ’12) on the roster every year.
I feel sick just thinking about it, but before we all depress ourselves once more, I implore you to look ahead to Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday. Dave Bike and his team MUST WIN that game. No more defensive lapses. No more bad stretches at the free throw line. No more critical turnovers. No. More. Excuses.