Sacred Heart stunned Hartford in the final game of the Connecticut 6 triple header, controlling the game throughout and blowing out the Hawks with a decisive 71-53 victory.
Sacred Heart has help from all angles. Anthony Latina’s young group put forth a tremendous defensive effort, holding Hartford to just 39.2% shooting for the game. Latina explained that this effort was the product of a well-executed game plan combined with the defensive philosophy he aims to instill in his team.
“Our game plan will be pretty consistent throughout the year,” the second-year head coach said. “I think we gave up too many 3 point attempts tonight, but overall we held to plan. Our game plan is going to consist of three main points: don’t give up layups, limit fouls, limit rhythm three’s.”
The Pioneers successfully forced Hartford to take their shots from behind the arc. Nearly half of the Hawks’ attempts came from 3-point range, on which they shot just 28%.
“To win a game like that against a good team takes a good team effort,” Latina preached. “It’s a journey, not a sprint. We won this game on a team-first mentality. If we keep that mentality, I think we can beat almost anyone on our schedule. If not, we’re going to have some trouble.”
Hartford needs support for their top two. The Hawks knew they could rely on seniors Yolonzo Moore II and Mark Nwakamma, but unfortunately those two were the only players John Gallagher’s squad could rely on Friday night. Moore II led all scorers with 22 points, but the duo combined for 37 of Hartford’s 53 points. Wes Cole was the lone member of the Hawks’ bench to score, contributing with five points.
“I can’t put my finger on what caused this,” head coach John Gallagher said. “I wouldn’t say I’m shocked by tonight, but we’ll be fine. We were so out of character in so many different ways. I have to extend my bench and trust they can get it done, but they have to show me that effort in practice.”
Despite the lack of support for the top two, Gallagher feels his team can rally around their leaders and get back to their brand of basketball.
“Yolonzo is such a centerpiece of this team,” Gallagher said of his top scorer. “We’re structurally built a certain way. Yolonzo is such a great leader that I know we’ll rebound.”
The will have to find a way to on Sunday when they face Saint Peter’s in their home opener, a team that lost 70-58 at Brown and will also be seeking their first win.
Hope for the little guy. Coming off a season in which the team won just five games, Sacred Heart was picked to finish in the basement of the NEC. Picked 10th of 10 in the preseason poll, things didn’t look stellar for the Pioneers until their statement tonight.
After losing three starters from last year, Latina’s new crew has quickly provided a light at the end of the tunnel. With three players scoring in double figures including Hofstra transfer Jordan Allen, and Phil Gaetano going about his usual business distributing seven assists, this group may be able to quickly climb the NEC ladder.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac and the MAAC for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.