Sacred Heart 64, Central Conn. 62: Pioneers Into NEC Win Column

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina hopes that being educated might help you relive the past as well.

On Jan. 14, 2016, Sacred Heart came into Detrick Gym with a record of 2-13 (1-3 in the NEC) and somehow pulled out a game in overtime against fellow struggler Central Connecticut despite trailing late and seemingly not having a whole lot of momentum down the stretch. While the performance itself was far from appealing, it did breathe some life into a stuttering campaign, the Pioneers would win 10 of their final 14 regular season games, even getting a home game in the NEC Tournament.

Thursday, Sacred Heart’s situation was similar, 5-10 overall, but 0-2 in the NEC, again at Detrick against a rebuilding Central Connecticut team. The Pioneers somehow blew a 12-point second half lead and looked to be on the verge a pretty brutal loss with three more road games in front of them. But Sean Hoehn came up with a three-point play, Quincy McKnight hit some free throws, and the Pioneers did enough on the defensive end to escape with a 64-62 victory.

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“At that point (last year’s CCSU win), I thought that was the last game we were going to win all year the way we were going,” Latina said. “Sometimes you just need a win to get some confidence and feel good about yourself. I believe we have players that can be effective in this league. We just have to play with a little more confidence.”

It was far from visually appealing, it didn’t feature what Latina and Sacred Heart think they should be at this point of the season, but it did go in the win column. And that’s much, much better than the alternative.

“There’s not that much of a separation between the teams in the league right now. We’re talking about razor thin margins,” Latina said.

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What else did we learn at Detrick Gym on Thursday night?:

  1. If you take out the last 8 minutes, Sacred Heart should be really happy

The Pioneers dominated the second half, leading 55-45 with 7:30 remaining, with Quincy McKnight and Joseph Lopez getting to the rim, and making enough outside shots (a big problem for them this season) to get the job done. Even better, led by Chris Robinson – who took (and made) only one shot in 37 minutes, Sacred Heart has shut down CCSU’s leading scorer Austin Nehls, holding him scoreless.

But Nehls finally hit a three (making it 31 straight games with at least one), and the Pioneers suddenly were on the verge of falling apart. They had only nine turnovers to that point, but would have six the rest of the way, a few of them unforced (leaving them at 22.7% for the contest, just about their 21.9% for the season, 313th nationally).

Road games at an angry Wagner, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Bryant will not be easy, but if they can play like they did for the first 12 minutes of the second half…

“We need to show more composure at the end,” Latina said. “Again, there’s two teams on the court, so you have to give Central Connecticut and Donyell (Marshall) credit for continuing to fight, but I thought we showed a lack of composure.”

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2) A little depth would help

Central Connecticut got only 24 minutes out of its bench Thursday (Tafari Whittingham did not play), and Donyell Marshall pointed to that as something that needs fixing. The Blue Devils (2-12, 0-3) also just seemed to be one more offensive weapon short for much of the game, although Mustafa Jones took advantage of Sacred Heart’s attention on Nehls to score a career-high 23 points. But even so and with only nine turnovers (13.6%), CCSU still finished at 0.94 points per possession. Nehls was 2-11 from outside the arc overall, but the rest of the team was also 0-5 with Khalen Cumberlander 0-3 (although he has a great second half by slashing to the rim with 18 points) and Eric Bowles 0-2.

In addition, the Blue Devils only had nine assists as a team. Of course, we’d be excusing all that if they made a couple more free throws, finishing 8-16 for the night. Small margins, indeed.

“Free throws are killing us,” Marshall said. “We practice free throws every day 15 minutes before and after practice. There’s no talking allowed, there’s concentration, but for whatever reason, guys step up and don’t have the confidence to make them. We missed eight free throws tonight, 16 the other night, and we lost both close games.”

3) Long way back for CCSU

It’s early in 2016-17, at least as far as conference play goes, but although they were very competitive in their last two games, the Blue Devils are 6-33 in NEC play in the last three seasons. Tidell Pierre (10 rebounds Thursday) and Cumberlander will graduate, so there will be some pressure for Marshall to bring in at least a couple of players that can contribute right away in 2017-18.

But that’s for the future. They do host Mount St. Mary’s Saturday, before a tough stretch with: at LIU Brooklyn, FDU, at Robert Morris, at St. Francis Pennsylvania. It’s a tough ask, but we shall see.

“We’ve showed fight two games in a row, but we can’t continue to let ourselves get down,” Marshall said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the bodies, the players to continue to keep getting down and fighting back. We’re playing five guys 30 something minutes a game and they’re getting gassed at the end. The fight is there. I love the fight. But now whatever it is, we have to find it.”

Game on from New Britain! #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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