Good news: Sacred Heart was able to secure a home game for its opener Friday night.
Bad news: It was against Bill Carmody and Holy Cross, a veritable nightmare to prepare for in the first hurdle out of the gate, especially on the offensive end, where the Pioneers were sure to see a seemingly indefatigable variation of purple jerseys in front of them, changing with each possession.
The end result was 13 Sacred Heart turnovers in the first 16 minutes and an 11-point halftime deficit. Anthony Latina made the necessary adjustments at halftime and the Pioneers threatened to steal the game a couple of times, including at the final buzzer. But the end result was a 69-64 road win for Holy Cross. It’s an annoying way to start the season for an NEC team that will likely have some non-conference lumps to absorb in the near future, but there were some reasons to be positive.
What did we learn before a pretty good crowd on a cold November night at the Pitt Center?:
- Guard play, guard play, guard play
Bill Carmody went to the NCAA Tournament in his first season in Worcester, but that was a bit of a fluke, Holy Cross was ninth in regular season play that season. With the style he plays, there will always be big fluctuations from night to night, but he will need his team to shoot better to rise to the top of the Patriot League (Holy Cross was 256th and 181st in effective field goal % the last two campaigns).
He started two guards under six feet in freshman Caleb Green (5-10) and junior Patrick Benzan (5-11), and even had Benzan posting up (?!?) at times to create spacing. But Benzan only attempted 27 three-pointers in his first two seasons at Holy Cross, so Green (2-6 Friday) will need to be a threat.
Karl Charles will certainly help. He dominated with 23 points and hit 3-5 from behind the arc. Charles was not any any All-Patriot League squad last season, but that looks almost surely to change in this, his junior, senior.
Meanwhile, with Quincy McKnight and Cane Broome gone, Cha Cha Tucker (who was fourth on the team in minutes last season), may be looked at to score more, but shooting – like Benzan – is not really his thing. So the Pioneers will need Sean Hoehn or Kinnon LaRose (or possibly Chris Robinson) to hit some shots if Sacred Heart wants to win the NEC. The Pioneers have never been better than 33.5% from behind the arc under Latina, so an improvement in that could be huge because….
2) Sacred Heart should be a force in the paint
Freshman E.J. Anosike has a recognizable name to mid-major and especially MAAC fans, OD Anosike led the nation in rebounding in 2011-12 while at Siena. His sister, Nicky, won two national titles at Tennessee and played in the WNBA for six seasons. Anosike is raw, but had 13 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes, and got to the foul line 10 times. Joseph Lopez was largely held in check, but still had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and the Pioneers played without fifth-year senior De’von Barnett. In a relatively undersized NEC, that’s a tough frontline to match up with.
3) Long live the 1-3-1
It’s always fun to see my favorite defense employed, especially as much as Carmody plays it. But you could see it’s a tough defense to play for 40 minutes. Eventually, Sacred Heart found plenty of holes and when it got to the rim, it opened the Pioneers up for all those offensive rebounds as well.