FAIRFIELD, Conn. – If Sacred Heart comes back to make a run at the NEC title, you can probably pinpoint the moment where things started to come together.
Thursday night in front of a packed Pitt Center with 3:30 left and the Pioneers trailing league-leading Mount St. Mary’s by two, a double-teamed Cane Broome found senior Tevin Falzon wide open at the top of the key.
There was a good reason why he was standing alone, of course. At that moment, Falzon was a career 18.7% three-point shooter, and only slightly better 26.5% and this, his senior season. Seconds earlier, Falzon had passed up a short-range shot amidst groans from the crowd, but as the ball came back to him, he thought about it, squared, and drilled the go-ahead shot.
Elijah Long answered him at the other end, but on the next possession, there were no groans or hesitation, just cheers as Falzon’s second three in less than a minute put Sacred Heart up for good in a massive 76-71 victory.
“He (Broome) threw it back and he wanted me to shoot it,” Falzon said. “I was like, ‘I have to knock this down.’ The guys believe in me and I have to believe in myself. I just did what I had to do. The second one was the same exact thing. The first one definitely gave me confidence.”
A video posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on
The Pioneers may just be 4-14 overall, but at 3-4 are now only two games out of first in the wide-open NEC. With Falzon, who has sixth in the NEC in rebounding last season, at 100% both physically and mentally, who knows? Sacred Heart entered Thursday’s game an extremely disappointing eighth in the league in offensive efficiency, ahead of just Central Connecticut and hobbled Robert Morris. But they posted 1.13 points per possession against the league’s stingiest defense (by a pretty wide margin), and if they can make a few shots (8-18 from three after being just 29.4% for the season), they have the ability to play with anyone in the league.
Neither team had a lead of more than five in the entire contest, which is amazing, and may border on some kind of NCAA record if someone with more time on their hands than me wanted to investigate.
“I was feeling a lot of emotions in the second half because individually, I’ve been struggling , the team’s been struggling, and I just felt like this would be a huge win for us,” Falzon said. “It’s a huge step in the right direction for us.”
What else did we learn at the Pitt Center?:
1) Who can’t win the NEC?
After Thursday’s play, nine of the 10 teams (sorry, Central Connecticut) are separated by just two games. The sad reality there is one of those nine will not even make the NEC Tournament, which Latina is certainly well aware, especially with games at Wagner and LIU Brooklyn next on the schedule. So who is missing the fun come March? You can bet on defending champion Robert Morris at your own peril, even if they have less scholarship players in uniform than fingers on one hand it seems these days.
FDU, picked ninth in the preseason poll? You mean those Knights who put up 101 against LIU Brooklyn Thursday and are now 5-2 in the conference (they’ve gotten more than six just once in the past eight seasons)? So it really could be anyone, setting up a tremendously entertaining game of musical chairs for the next six weeks.
2) To push tempo or not
It’s always strange to watch Mount Mayhem and wonder why they don’t push tempo more than they do. They forced 14 turnovers in a game that only went to 67 possessions (20.7%), which was below their average (25.7%, second behind only West Virginia nationally), so the Pioneers did a solid job taking care of the ball.
But the Mountaineers (8-12, 5-2) are only 131st in adjusted tempo, and a dreadful 308th in offensive efficiency. Like Sacred Heart, much of the problem is shooting the ball (248th in eFG%), but the two numbers that stand out are offensive rebounding (336th), and free throws attempted (332nd). Most of that is because they are tiny. In addition to 5’5” Junior Robinson, their starting lineup also has 6’1” BK Ashe (neither of whom was stellar Thursday) and 6’ Elijah Long (who destroyed his career high with 20 points).
Seven-footer Tyler Danaher had an excellent game and will help them in those areas, but you would expect a team with that kind of size and athletes to push tempo a little more, however, if you can’t make shots (and there were plenty in the lane missed on both sides), it makes it very difficult.
“We’re usually one of the better defensive three-point teams in the league in the country. We gave up eight of them today, which isn’t really like us,” Mount coach Jamion Christian said. “You just have to be ready every game. We now have a short turnaround against an FDU team who is just as talented as Sacred Heart, so our defense really has to show up better than tonight. In general on the road in college basketball, you need your defense to carry you, and it didn’t tonight, unfortunately.”
Sacred Heart 72-71, 6.6 seconds left. This was best Mount could come up with in last possession. pic.twitter.com/fw3POJQJjg
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 22, 2016
3) Can Sacred Heart really contend?
Momentum can be very much overrated, and Broome (although he scored 24 points) was still just 1-5 from three and had six turnovers. As we’ve discussed before here, Sacred Heart does not have many shooting options (they climbed above 30% and up to 317th nationally with Thursday’s performance), and really has to make shots to be successful. That is why someone like Falzon is so key, and would allow Latina to play someone like Eyimofe Edukugho more. Edukugho finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, three steals, and a sure Dunk of the Year contender in the NEC.
Here’s the dunk from Eyimofe Edukugho from tonight. Crowd at Pitt Center certainly liked it: pic.twitter.com/YttxeiVOWI
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 22, 2016
Latina would probably sign up for a split of the New York City road trip and set up three straight home games (Bryant, St. Francis Brooklyn, LIU Brooklyn).
“We’re getting there,” Latina said. “I think. Every game in this league is so up for grabs. They’re the best team in the league, and you could argue we were ninth best, but after tonight, hopefully not It’s frustrating as a coach because I certainly believe in our guys, we just weren’t making the plays. Today we did. So hopefully this is a preview of things to come.”