By Dan Gardella
Fairfield – Around this time of year, the saying “New Year, New Me” if often thrown around as New Year’s resolutions are made. The same can be said for the Sacred Heart Pioneers. In Fairfield, a disappointing non-conference schedule in the words of head coach Anthony Latina has led to a turning of the page into a new year, conference play.
In their return home after a loss on the road against Wagner, the Pioneers used an early jolt from sophomore EJ Anosike and put six players in double figures to help Sacred Heart bounce back, defeating Bryant 98-70 Saturday afternoon and improving to 3-1 in NEC play.
In their loss to Wagner on Thursday night, the Pioneers saw themselves down double digits before they could blink. They made sure things would be different off the tip against the Bulldogs.
After Adam Grant began the scoring for the Bulldogs with a three, freshman Koreem Ozier answered with five points of his own to spot the Pioneers by a bucket.
After Bryant knotted it on the ensuing drive down the floor, Anosike, who has taken great strides in his game, scored four straight points, including an emphatic dunk to give Sacred Heart a 9-5 lead five minutes in.
“He’s awesome,” senior guard Sean Hoehn said of the sophomore. “He really works hard. Sometimes when he’s not on my team in practice I hate it because he works so hard and get every rebound. He just dominates.”
Behind Anosike and his eleven points in the first nine minutes of action, the Pioneers were saw themselves leading by double digits.
With the double digit lead in their hands, the Pioneers proceeded to put their head down and execute on the offensive end as well as the defensive end. The headliner in the game plan defensively was Adam Grant, who was only limited to only nine points.
“Grant has a history against us of not only putting up big numbers, but putting up big shots,” Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina said. “We made him try and find points other than threes.”
Sacred Heart would continue to get contributions from their bench as well as the starting rotation to get the lead up to 20 with 4:50 to play thanks to free throws by Sean Hoehn coming from a technical foul of Bryant head coach Jared Grosso.
The lead would swell to 24 as the Pioneers would finish the final minute and a half of the first half with two baskets to take them into the locker room with plenty of momentum.
What happened in the first half would continue in the second half. The Pioneers would open the second half on a 11-1 run to get the lead to 32 three minutes into the final half.
With the lead large and seemingly insurmountable, the Bulldogs went on a 13-0 run to cut the lead and show some energy. During the run, freshmen Nino Hernandez and Joe Kasperzyk led the charge.
“I think our freshmen gave us the best energy out of all of our guys,” Grosso said. “Our upperclassmen struggled today.”
For the Pioneers, who have not been able to put away opponents at times, showing immaturity and sloppiness, the key was to limit those moments.
“It comes with experience,” Latina said. “The key is we cannot stop playing defense. That’s where I have to do my job. If someone is flaking on defense, because we have such depth, I have to take a guy out.”
The Pioneers did just that, putting six players in double figures and cruising to the victory. For a team as deep as Latina’s is, production from a variety of players is expected.
“I think it allows guys to be held more accountable,” Latina said. “They are like ‘if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, he’s going to take me out’. It provides good competition.”
The Pioneers were led by Hoehn, who scored 23 points. Koreem Ozier scored 16, Anosike scored 12 and Cameron Parker had 11 points and 12 assists.
Bryant was led by Joe Kasperzyk. The New Haven, Connecticut native scored 19 points in his homecoming. Nino Hernandez had 11. After a loss of great margin, it’s crucial to hit the reset button and look to the next game.
“It’s a life lesson,” Grosso said about moving onto the next game. “You are going to get hit in the gut many times. As a player, you lace them up and get back to practice. You are going to go through a lot worse things than losing a basketball game.”
PHOTO: EJ Anosike/gettyimages