By Dan Gardella
When Sacred Heart’s schedule was released in the summer, the first two games stood out to every fan. To play Providence and UConn, both on the road in a four day span, put a talented team through challenges right out of the gate. Although the Pioneers begin the season 0-2 after two tough losses, it was an important learning experience for Anthony Latina’s team early on.
“The positives of the first two games were that they were humbling, and it gave us an opportunity to do things that we might not have done if it was an opponent like us. It allows for more versatility,” said Latina.
Offensively, floor general Cam Parker was guarded by Luwane Pipkins and Alterique Gilbert, two of the stingier defenders in college basketball. The offensive flow of the team was impacted by the discomfort of Parker as well as the rest of the team.
“Providence was a tough team to play against because of their size,” said Parker. “It’s hard because when you play against each other in practice, the passes we make go through. Against UConn, I felt more comfortable. I wasn’t as anxious as the first game of the season.”
He also added that both Pipkins, who is listed at 5’11” and Gilbert, who stands at 6’, were able to be lower to the ground defensively, which made it difficult for Parker to get past them. He also learned how to read the pace of the game. While he and the rest of the team like to play up-tempo, he learned that there are moments in which it is necessary to slow the game down. Latina explained that by giving the keys of the offense to Parker, it allows him to show off his passing ability as well as continue to grow his basketball IQ when he goes through struggles.
Sacred Heart looks to grab their first win of the season on Saturday, when they face off with Binghamton University. The two teams are familiar foes to one another. They have matched up in each of the past two season, with the Bearcats taking both decisions. Latina believes that it is first time this season in which he can truly evaluate his team.
After two games, there are two points that stand out as the Pioneers travel to Binghamton.
IN THE ZONE: During the first two games, Sacred Heart showed a lot of zone defense against Providence and UConn. Against Providence, they switched defenses as an attempt to slow down the hot-shooting Friars. Against UConn, the Pioneers used it as a way to combat the foul trouble they were in for the entire game. While Latina has stressed time and time again that he prefers not to play zone defense, the first two games gave him and the rest of his staff film that they could use to make improvements.
“I think we have a better understanding of it overall,” said Latina. “There were some adjustments that we made that weren’t effort mistakes. They were scheme mistakes. We will go some zone if it could be effective. It gave us film to evaluate and improve on what was exploited. In that regard, it was very valuable.”
FRESHMAN PROGRESSION: In the Pioneer’s loss to UConn, freshman Tyler Thomas recorded his first points of his college career. The Amity, Connecticut native scored ten points and grabbed five rebounds in what was seen as a breakthrough game in Latina’s eyes.
“He’s played so well in the preseason and in practices. He is a confident kid, so he needed to see the ball go in,” said Latina. “Once he got comfortable, he played really well. Now that he broke the ice, you will see much better performances from him. I have a ton of confidence in him. We’re going to need him.”
With the foul trouble the Pioneers were facing, Thomas played 28 minutes, 12 more than the previous game against Providence.With the absence of Zach Radz, Thomas becomes a versatile player in Sacred Heart’s rotation, being able to play a guard position while being athletic enough to rebound effectively.