FAIRFIELD, Conn. – We’ve reached the portion of the season where everything comes down to how you perform in conference tournaments, but before we get too crazy, it’s a good time to recognize those teams who had great regular seasons that may sadly get soon forgotten, no?
Sacred Heart came into the 2015-16 with high hopes, largely because Cane Broome was now a sophomore and, well, Cane Broome was on the team. But one player, even a Cane Broome does not make a team, a lesson the Pioneers should have learned in the non-conference season when they finished with 10 straight losses after a season-opening win.
But three weeks later, Broome was near the top of the NEC in scoring and Sacred Heart was just 2-4 after getting blown out at St. Francis Brooklyn, its third double-digit loss in four games.
At that point, as with many teams, things could have gone one of two ways, and the Pioneers took the road less traveled in the recent past at Sacred Heart, and that has made all the difference.
The Pioneers shook off a second-half run from Saint Francis U. to win 88-78 Saturday afternoon at the Pitt Center, their ninth win in 12 games, and enough to get them their first NEC Tournament home game (as a No. 3 seed) since 2009. Broome finished with a game-high 23 points, but he also had six assists and just two turnovers.
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) February 28, 2016
Tevin Falzon added 17 points, including 10-10 from the free throw line, Matej Buovac added 16 on 4-8 shooting from three-point range, and Jordan Allen had 10 points and nine rebounds.
“There are a lot of great players in the league, but Cane has lifted other players up, which he wasn’t doing at the beginning of the season,” Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina said. “He was getting his 28 or 30, but we weren’t winning, and that’s what’s changed for him, and that’s why I think he’s Player of the Year in our league.”
While he may get arguments somewhere in the NEC, he’ll get none here (as you’ll see tomorrow). But more importantly for Sacred Heart (12-17, 11-7), they have to feel like they have as good a chance as anyone to win the NEC.
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) February 27, 2016
“If we play like that, we can beat any team,” Broome said. “Everybody just has to be consistent. If we miss shots, we just have to get them back and share the ball.”
Sharing is winning after all.
What else did we learn at the Pitt Center Saturday?:
- Sacred Heart’s seniors get a good ending
They had three honored Saturday: Tevin Falzon, Jordan Allen, and Eyifome Edukugho, and all have seen their share of losses, so this stretch has been especially important for them. You can make a case that Falzon has been the biggest key for the Pioneers. His numbers of late have been excellent, ranking second in the NEC in offensive rebounding %, seventh in blocks, sixth in lowest turnover rate, second in free throw rate, and making 82% when he gets to the line. The last nine times he has finished in double figures in points, Sacred Heart has won.
Can he do it three more times in the next couple of weeks?
“We’re definitely not satisfied,” Falzon said. “We overcame a rough start, injuries, and some other problems that we had. To get a home game in the NEC Tournament is a great accomplishment.”
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) February 27, 2016
2) St. Francis U might be in bad form at the wrong time
This was the fifth straight loss for the Red Flash (13-16, 9-9), and they just haven’t been able to play enough defense of late, giving up 1.33 points per possession to Sacred Heart. They scored 1.18 ppp, which really should be enough to win, but despite 18 rebounds from Ronnie Drinnon and hitting 11-29 from three-point range, they still were defeated fairly easily (although they did come all the way back to tie it at 61-61 on a Drinnon layup with 10:36 left).
St. Francis finished 3rd in offensive efficiency, but just 7th, barely, at the other end. In their last four games, they’ve given up 1.13, 1.15, 1.10, and now 1.33 ppp, and they face the top offense in the league in Fairleigh Dickinson Wednesday night. The good news is they’re well aware of what they have to do.
“We focused a little bit more on our defense and getting stops,” St. Francis coach Rob Krimmel said. “I have to go back and look at the film, but I’d be willing to bet in that stretch that they pulled away there were some second-chance points. They’re one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the conference and we knew that. We can’t give them 20 second-chance points and expect to win. Give Sacred Heart credit, though, they made the plays.”
3) Predicting the future
Massive win for Anthony Latina. At 4-14, I think Sacred Heart can still win the NEC. And that’s why we love the NEC.
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) January 22, 2016
Wagner has to be considered the favorite in its form, but Sacred Heart can’t play them until the finals. So if form holds, we would get a Sacred Heart-FDU semifinal, which would be extremely interesting. For now, though, the Pioneers will concentrate on hosting a game Wednesday, and their coach couldn’t be happier.
“It’s been a while,” Latina said. “The campus has been great. Two things that motivate me more than anything. One is my family to make them proud, and two is the people on this great campus that have been so loyal to me and this program. I know I’m at a great place.”
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on