Thursday, January 31, 2013

Louis Montes Emerging as a Reliable Second Option for Sacred Heart

After looking a bit tired and lethargic during their home game versus Monmouth, Sacred Heart began to make their comeback, thanks to Shane Gibson. The All-NEC performer scored 19 straight points – eleven of them from the charity stripe - in the second half to quickly erase a double digit Monmouth lead.

Soon thereafter, Monmouth head coach King Rice did everything he could to possibly end Gibson’s remarkable run. With his team leading 68-67 and about four minutes left on the clock, the Hawks wisely doubled Gibson near the top of the key. Gibson skipped a pass left to Phil Gaetano, who then quickly pushed the ball to a wide open Louis Montes sitting behind the three-point line. 

Said Rice after the game, “I kind of wanted Montes to take that shot.”

Montes, despite shooting an uncharacteristic 15.4% from three-point land (on only 26 attempts) for the season, did take the shot. And he swished it, much to the delight of the 1,614 fans present at the Pitt Center.

Then after getting a defensive stop, there was Gaetano again feeding an open Montes left of the rim. As the junior was hacked on his way up for the lay-up, he slightly adjusted midair and finished the play. He made the ensuing free throw to give the Pioneers a 73-68 advantage. It was a lead they would not relinquish.

“I like when [Montes] makes the threes the old fashion way,” said Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike after the game. “I think that’s so important.”

Montes finished with 25 points – nine of them in the final 4:04 – to help lead Sacred Heart to an improbable 6-2 start in the conference, giving them a share of the first place lead along with Robert Morris and Bryant. 

Given the team’s 2-9 record after 11 non-conference games, the notion of Sacred Heart challenging for a NEC crown would have been construed as far-fetched. In the offseason, however, the Pioneers were a somewhat trendy pick to crack the NEC top five, especially when factoring in the return of Montes, power forward Justin Swidowski, and guards Evan Kelley and Chris Evans. A more consistent effort out of those four behind Gibson could elevate Sacred Heart from a middle of the pack NEC team to a legitimate league contender.

The problem is, as you all know by now, Montes is the only player of the aforementioned group who has avoided the trainer’s table this season. Kelley and Evans are out for the season with knee injuries, while Swidowski has missed the past four games with a dislocated shoulder.

“I knew Chris [Evans] maybe was still going to be out and we share the ‘3’ spot, so I was working out just to make sure if he doesn’t come back, then I was going to be ready,” said Montes. “Then when Evan [Kelley] went out, it made me work even harder.”

Montes spent the majority of his offseason working out at least two times per day with Gaetano, in order to hone his ball-handling and perimeter skills. As a 6’4” forward who can play the “3” or “4” on an injury depleted roster, Montes’ versatility is even more valuable these days.

"I'll do whichever one I can," said Montes when asked if he prefers the perimeter or post. "They'll put a big man on me at the '4,' and that's when I know I can take him out. Or if they put a small guy on me, that's when I know I can post them up. Obviously, I'm pretty versatile with that."

The extra work done this offseason has paid off. To date, Montes finds himself in the top 15 of the NEC in points (14.0) and rebounds (6.6) per game and has demonstrated more consistency on a game-to-game basis. Montes has broken the ten points, five rebounds threshold 11 times this season. Last year he only achieved the goal in nine games.

“I just didn’t want to have a bad year like last year,” said Montes. “I mean I had spurts of good games, but obviously I wasn’t in as good of shape as I am now.”

Dave Bike agrees. “[Louis] came in better physical condition and his motor’s better. He realized there's a direct correlation in the condition he’s in and his performance.”

In a way, the Pioneers will only go as far as Gibson and Montes (who are roommates by the way) will take them. Without significant production from either of them on a game by game basis, the Pioneers will likely struggle to add to their already surprising NEC win total. 

Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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