I had it all planned out. I was going to present a running diary (Bill Simmons style) of Sacred Heart's latest loss to Stony Brook. There would have been tons of self-depreciating jokes, lots of whining about Pioneer basketball, and just some solid game observations. Basically a win win for everyone involved.
Well, that plan was scrapped when the Shane Gibson show took hold late in the game.
There I sat on press row, using every ounce of my being from not cheering in wild excitement as Shane Gibson drove to the lane, drew contact, and hit the go-ahead layup. I'm fairly certain I had a smile and a look of complete bewilderment at the same time, but to be honest those final minutes were a complete blur. Turns out the Pioneers' hero doesn't remember those critical moments either.
"I really don't even remember that much of those last minutes," said a smiling Gibson after the game. "I was just playing to get the job done."
The day started off poorly for SHU's star player. Gibson wasn't in the starting lineup since he was late for the team bus, so he calmly sat on the bench during the first seven minutes of the game. After falling behind 10-5, Gibson entered the game and promptly turned it over on his first possession. One minute later, there was Gibson back on the bench again. Now, Dave Bike was OFFICIALLY sending a message to the NEC's leading scorer from a season ago.
All told, Gibson played only one minute in the first half, but the Pioneers did their best to keep it close. They battled back from a quick 9-0 deficit to tie the game at 23 all, before succumbing to a 6-0 Stony Brook run to close out the half. Steve Glowiak hit a couple of big three-pointers. Evan Kelley was looking much better in his second game back from injury. And Louis Montes and Femi Akinpetide were corralling a majority of the loose balls off the glass, especially on the offensive end.
Dare I say the Pioneer's effort in the first half yesterday was ... well the opposite of listless!
The second half provided much of the same result for the first 15 minutes. Stony Brook took a 12 point lead on an Eric McAllister putback with only five minutes remaining. It appeared the Pioneers would fall short, despite a terrific effort.
But then it was time for the Shane Gibson show. The 6'2" senior scored SHU's final 11 points of the game - including two loooong three-pointers - on 4 shots to spur an improbable 18-4 Pioneer run. The Stony Brook crowd went from saying "Woah" on Gibson's first three to "Oh no" on Gibson's second three to "Oh God no!" on Gibson's penetrating runner toward the lane to complete silence on Gibson's game winning bucket and the foul. Un-freaking-believable.
It was a remarkable ending to what essentially was the worst three game stretch of Gibson's career. Prior to those final three minutes, Gibson had only scored 20 points on 7 of 35 shooting to go along with ten turnovers. Yikes.
I give all the credit in the world to Dave Bike. The 35-year head coach got the message across to Gibson loud and clear: I will not put you ahead of the team, and if you break the rules and not give a complete effort on the floor, I will bench you no matter how valuable you may be to the team.
When asked about Gibson's situation, Bike conveyed his pleasure with his star guard's final effort. "What he did when he had that last chance to get back in there, and then he played well and played hard, I mean that's what we're looking for him to do."
Added Bike, "I think he's in charge of his playing time. I'm just going to interpret the actions."
Gibson admitted he has felt some pressure recently, which has contributed toward his struggles. "A little bit of off-the-court, on-the-court," said Gibson. "I mean there's more pressure from the other team giving me more respect, I guess, so it's hard to score for myself and my shots just haven't fallen. I feel like I've been rushing everything."
Gibson then admitted that the school workload has probably added to his on-the-court issues as well. "To be honest, school has been stressing me out a little bit. Once I get past this semester, I think that'll be a weight lifted off my shoulders and I'll be able to concentrate more on basketball."
Obviously, I'd be completely out of line if I didn't praise the rest of the team for their performance yesterday. Without them, the game never would have stayed within the jaws of victory. Femi Akinpetide continued his surprising run with eight rebounds (four on the offensive end). Louis Montes had another big game, registering a season high 20 points to go along with nine rebounds. Phil Gaetano had one of those quietly productive efforts - much like LIU point guard and All-NEC second teamer Jason Brickman - by dishing out ten assists, grabbing five rebounds, and hitting two critical free throws right before Gibson began his 11 point miracle run.
This was the Pioneer team we’ve been waiting for since the start of the season. Hopefully, one of these games they can put together all of the pieces for 40 minutes. To be 2-2 at this juncture of the season, after only leading for approximately 8% of the total game minutes is quite fortunate.
Coming up next is the Pioneer's first home game on Sunday afternoon. They take on Lehigh, the defending Patriot League champions, who you might remember as the #15 seed that shocked the country by upsetting Duke in the NCAA tournament. In the game, Lehigh's star guard, C.J. McCollum, scored 30 points and has since been in the national spotlight. He's a probable first round selection in the NBA draft next June, so Gibson is eager to square off against the All-American guard.
"I've been thinking about it, obviously," said Gibson. "I know he's a very good player and I'll see what I can do against (college basketball's) best."
Hopefully Sunday night was the spark Gibson needed to lead his Pioneers down the road.
Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride