FAIRFIELD, Conn. – In the sometimes alternate universe that is the NEC, a 10-game losing streak like Sacred Heart endured in November and December is not all that concerning. There were a couple of bad losses in there and the defense was porous at times, but Tevin Falzon was just getting back into form, and, well, it’s not like anyone in the NEC is getting an automatic bid or anything.
But after a decent split of the annual western Pennsylvania trip to open conference play, Sacred Heart was run off its own court by Fairleigh Dickinson and blown out by Wagner. Looking for a response the next week, the Pioneers were extremely fortunate to survive Central Connecticut and then were blown out again at St. Francis Brooklyn.
Now 3-14 (and 2-4 in the NEC), something was seriously wrong and coach Anthony Latina knew it. How to fix it? Well, back to basics. And the result? Sacred Heart has to be considered an NEC contender after knocking off Mount St. Mary’s and avenging losses to Wagner and St. Francis Brooklyn, the latter a 74-70 win Thursday night at the Pitt Center that would have been more lopsided if it weren’t for a late Terriers’ run.
“As a coach, you want the team to be a reflection of you,” Latina said. “And when you get out-toughed, that’s a negative reflection on you. So the fact that we showed some grit and toughness in the last few games really makes me as proud as anything. Even more proud than the win. I think if you asked somebody a month ago if we were tough or soft, the arrow would have shifted much more to soft. I think the arrow has shifted to tough now and that’s made a big difference.”
If you go strictly by rebounding numbers, the Pioneers (7-15, 6-5) were extremely gritty, posting a 45-27 advantage in holding one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the NEC to just 24.4% (while posting 45.2% at the other end). Sacred Heart finished at only 1.04 points per possession, but were hovering around 1.20 ppp early in the second half when Tevin Falzon scored five quick points and Matej Buovac hit a three-pointer to give the Pioneers a 53-35 lead.
To their credit, the Terriers (9-15, 5-6) battled back behind a career offensive night from Tyreek Jewell who scored 29 points on 10-17 FG (4-10 three-pointers), but eventually – despite forcing 21 turnovers – they ran out of time.
“We fell into the trap of not guarding, and we don’t have that type of team, we have to be on point defensively,” St. Francis Brooklyn coach Glenn Braica said. “We’ll bounce back, though. At least we didn’t quit, we hung in there until the end and played hard. But we can’t play like we did for most of the first half and parts of the second half.”
What else did we learn Thursday at the Pitt Center?:
- Broome by split decision over Jewell
You knew the individual battle between Cane Broome – probably the most gifted offensive guard in the NEC – and Tyreek Jewell – considered the best defensive guard in the league – was going to be very good.
Jewell had his moments, including a couple of steals (he finished with four) and layups, but in the end, Broome finished with 28 points and was integral in the runs that eventually gave Sacred Heart enough of a lead to hold on. Jewell did score 29 points of his own, and he and the Terriers did harass Broome into nine turnovers, but Broome hit perhaps his biggest shot with a minute left and the shot clock running down, a long three that put Sacred Heart up 71-64 and finished the Terriers off.
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) February 5, 2016
Broome is now 14th in the country at 21.9 points per game, but has also made big plays in almost all of Sacred Heart’s recent victories.
“I do think Cane has really improved in the leadership department, he and Jordan have really help keep the guys together when we weren’t playing our best,” Latina said. “Of course, team togetherness and all that stuff is great, but you have to perform, too. We’re starting to perform better, but those stretches that we’re not performing well, we’re keeping it together enough, where early in the year, we would just fall apart.”
Said Broome: “It sounds a bit childish, but we did do some team activities to come together movies and stuff. It did seem like people were going their separate ways, and it seemed like people didn’t want to be here as much because we were losing. As soon as we started to fix that, things started to turn around.”
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) February 5, 2016
2) Home sweet home
St. Francis Brooklyn will play five of its final seven games in the friendly confines of the Pope Center, including a big one Saturday against now NEC-leading FDU. Braica pointed out that if they aren’t ready to play, it won’t matter all that much. On the plus side, the Terriers only turned the ball over 10 times (Sacred Heart didn’t have a single steal), but to get dominated inside the way they were was disturbing.
“(Rebounding) is a mental thing. It’s a focus thing,” Braica said. “We beat them pretty good last time and no matter how much we preached it all week, I don’t know if they really understood what type of game this would be. We’ve played 24 games, and twice as many on the road (16) as we have at home (8). That’s difficult, and this was our fourth game in a row on the road in the league even. But there’s no excuses, we’re a tough group, and we need to play through that and find a way.”
3) Falzon continues to be key
Tevin Falzon was not at his absolute best, but his energy was still key, posting his second straight double-double (14 pts., 10 rebs.). While Broome gets most of the press (and rightfully so), Falzon may be the biggest key to Sacred Heart doing damage in the final month of the season. It seems like when Falzon plays well, the Pioneers do as well, the last four times Falzon has posted double digits in the rebounding column, Sacred Heart has gone on to win the game.
Bonus) McKnight to return
Sacred Heart got the win without freshman guard Quincy McKnight, who was serving the second of a two-game team imposed suspension and should return Saturday for another big home game against LIU Brooklyn.
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on