Sacred Heart Pioneers – End of Season Recap

It couldn’t be sugar-coated if you tried – Anthony Latina’s first season as the Sacred Heart head coach was, quite frankly, a disaster. To start, the Pioneers dropped 12 of 15 non-conference contests, and with the exception of road wins at Fordham, Hofstra, and a close call versus Boston College, little could have been derived as a positive.

The veteran guards – the supposed strength of this team – underwhelmed to a degree. The Pioneers’ prized freshmen, Leo Vincent and De’von Barnett, both missed time due to academic issues and injuries. And despite Latina’s renewed focus on team defense, the club posted its worst defensive efficiency rating (111.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) in 12 seasons while possessing mediocre rebounding rates and allowing opponents to shoot 52.2% from inside the arc.

De'von Barnett's ability to create around the rim gives Sacred Heart hope. (Photo Credit - Sacred Heart Athleticis)
De’von Barnett’s ability to create around the rim gives Sacred Heart hope. (Photo Credit – Sacred Heart Athleticis)

Sacred Heart avoided their worst overall record in Division I program history with a surprising 72-65 road victory over Mount St. Mary’s during the last week of the season, but the singular effort and the Pioneers’ 2-14 record in games decided by single digits wasn’t enough to quell Latina’s concerns about his rebuilding roster heading into the offseason.

“It hasn’t been because of a lack of effort or guts or character, it’s been because of a lack of performance,” Latina answered when asked about the disappointing campaign. “Guys that we had high expectations for haven’t played well, either we misevaluated them or they’re not playing to the level we feel they can play. We as a staff have to figure out ‘Hey, are you good enough? Or are we just not pushing the right buttons? What’s the issue here?'”

There still is hope. Despite missing the first eight games of the season due to a high ankle sprain, Barnett led all NEC rookies in scoring (11.0 ppg) and field goal percentage (52.8%) while finishing third in rebounding (4.6 rpg). Leo Vincent and 6’11” center Cole Walton still have promise heading into their sophomore seasons. And quality recruits are making their way into the Pioneers’ backcourt next fall with 6’2″ guard Chris Robinson and 6’1″ point guard Cane Broome. Both guards were offered and courted by other Division I programs, so their commitment to Sacred Heart illustrates the energy Latina and his staff are putting forth on the recruiting trail.

Best of all, this youth infusion will hold future seniors like Phil Gaetano, Steve Glowiak and Evan Kelley accountable if their play isn’t satisfactory starting next November. With the exception of Kelley, who was hampered with a separated shoulder that required surgery this month, the aforementioned junior guards and Chris Evans failed to improve their level of play from an efficiency rating standpoint. It’s something Latina will be less tolerant of next season.

“Competition is the thing I think that’s going to help us, because we’re already bringing in (three) freshman guards, two more bigs,” Latina said. “They’re all going to fight it out and hopefully that will be the motivation that some of these upperclassmen will say ‘Hey, I better perform or (I won’t play).'”

In spite of the 5-26 (2-14 NEC) record, Latina is optimistic things will turn around in Fairfield sooner than later. It won’t be from a lack of trying, as the long time assistant is one of the more fiery and enthusiastic head coaches you’ll ever meet in the business.

“It’s been a rough go. I have a lot of friends who’ve done this a long time telling me that I’ll be a better head coach than this. Doesn’t feel like that now.” Latina laughed after the Pioneers’ win over Mount St. Mary’s in the regular season. There will likely be better days ahead for the red and white. It just may not be as quick of a turnaround as Latina had originally envisioned.

Saying Goodbye

  • Louis Montes (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 52.6% EFG%) – With Shane Gibson graduating and setting his sights on playing professionally, many felt Montes would mature into an all-conference talent after masquerading as Gibson’s sidekick all these years. It didn’t really materialize, though, with the senior posting scoring and rebounding rates similar to his previous three seasons. Nevertheless, the wrecking ball of a slashing 6’4″ power forward was a difficult player to defend in the NEC. His toughness in the paint will be missed.
  • Mostafa Abdel Latif (5.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 51.6% FG%) – If Fairleigh Dickinson’s Sidney Sanders didn’t exist, the 6’8″ big man would have been a worthy candidate for the NEC Most Improved Player of the Year. His permanent insertion into the lineup in late December, thanks to the ineffectiveness of Walton and sophomore Tevin Falzon, filled a desperate need by solidifying the Pioneers’ rebounding. Abdel Latif’s offensive and defensive rebounding rates of 12.2% and 23.4% were 102nd and 60th in the nation, respectively. Hopefully the native Egyptian can harness his individual progress into a useful professional career overseas.

Note: The status of Chris Evans is unknown heading into his final year of eligibility, although it appears he will not return for his senior season. Coming off a red-shirt season due to a surgically repaired knee, the shooting guard had a disappointing campaign, which became considerably worse when Latina suspended him for the final six games of the season due to a violation of team rules. If he doesn’t return, Sacred Heart would have two remaining scholarships to fill for their 2014-15 roster. With Robinson, Broome, and guard Vincent Fritz committed, Latina will focus on adding much-needed depth down low with the remaining scholarships. (Update: A source has confirmed that Chris Evans has been granted his release from Sacred Heart. He’ll have one more year of eligibility remaining.)

Ryan can be followed on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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