by Dan Gardella
Fairfield, CT – The early stages of a new college basketball season can provide a sense of “trial and error” for many terms. They can also see drastic turnarounds from game to game.
Such is the case with the Sacred Heart Pioneers. Last Tuesday, the Pioneers turned the ball over 20 times, 15 of which coming in the first half in a 12 point loss to Holy Cross in their season opener.
Fast forward six days later, Sacred Heart cleaned up the ball security and had a more fluid offense on the way to a 114-72 victory over Division III Western New England Monday evening.
The Pioneers got off and running awfully quickly as freshman Koreem Ozier knocked down a three on the first possession from the top of the key and junior Jare’l Spellman caught a pass from freshman Cameron Parker and slammed down a dunk to give Sacred Heart the first five points of the contest.
With Sacred Heart up 11-2 after a basket by EJ Anosike and four points from Sean Hoehn, freshman Aaron Clarke came off the bench and went on a personal 6-0 run to extend the lead to 17-4.
Clarke, then handed the scoring baton back to Ozier, who saw Clarke’s six points and raised him three more, courtesy of back-to-back-to-back three pointers to further extend the Pioneer advantage.
“If the first shot goes in for me, I know it’s going to be a good night,” Ozier said. “He (Parker) did a good job of finding me. I just try to let the game come to me.”
The game came to him and then some, scoring a team-high 26, his second 20+ point performance in as many games.
Sacred Heart would continue to pound Western New England with fast break opportunities and consistent offense from behind the arc. The Pioneers would shoot 55% in the first half as well as knock down nine three-pointers to have Anthony Latina’s team heading to the halftime locker room ahead by 22, 56-34.
In the second half, it was more of the same for Sacred Heart, who started the final 20 minutes with another slam by Spellman, courtesy of another Parker pass. Sacred Heart would remain consistent shooting the ball and ran away with the 42 point victory.
Parker, who scored six points and grabbed seven rebounds made an impression in the box score through a series of pretty feeds to his teammates. His 14 assists were the most by a Pioneer in nearly four years. The last Pio to dish double digit assists in a game was Phil Gaetano in 2015.
“I think that my guys did a really good job getting open and running the floor well,” Parker said. “It made it easier for me to pass the ball ahead. It was all them.”
Sacred Heart freshmen contributed in a big way in the victory, accounting for 58 points on the night, with Ozier, Clarke (16), and Zach Pfaffenberger (10) cracking double figures.
“We all knew what we were here to do. That was make an immediate change,” said Ozier.
Following the win, Sacred Heart now looks ahead to the “Brown Bears Tipoff Classic” in Providence, Rhode Island. Over the weekend, the Pioneers will face off against Army West Point, Brown, and UMass Lowell, all in consecutive days.
“We have to mentally gear it up. Three games in three days is a mental grind. The team that is the mentally toughest is going to have the edge. Hopefully we’re up to the task,” said Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina.