by Dan Gardella
Through Sacred Heart’s first three games, it seemed that they still did not have their offensive and defensive game plans figured out yet. After two games in which UConn and Providence “humbled” the Pioneers according to Anthony Latina, they let a game slip away against Binghamton. A game like that, Latina said, keeps him up at night and is one he won’t forget in the near future.
Looking for some positive momentum, Sacred Heart battled Brown. Entering the game, the Bears had taken down NEC foe Bryant, Canisius, and Quinnipiac, a team the Pioneers would face a few days later. They were where Sacred Heart wanted to be: Winning close game against other quality mid-major teams.
The Pioneers took a step in the right direction against Brown. Behind a shutdown effort defensively, they turned what was just a one-point halftime lead into a 21-point victory in their home opener. Since the beginning of last season, the Pioneers are 11-2 and outscore their opponents by a double-digit average.
Home is certainly where the (Sacred) Heart is.
Their matchup against Brown would be the first of a stretch in which the Pioneers would play four games in six days. Over the weekend, Sacred Heart participated in the Bobcats Invitational, which included Presbyterian, Albany, and host team Quinnipiac. The fact of the matter was that finishing any worse than 2-1 would be a disappointment.
The Pioneers opened the three game weekend invitational with a 26-point drubbing of Presbyterian. The game, which was never in doubt, allowed Sacred Heart to rest their larger contributors more, which was a bigger factor than just winning the game in the eyes of the Sacred Heart coaching staff.
Against Albany, shades of Binghamton showed. They were able to manufacture good shots and open looks, but could not capitalize and got outplayed by the Great Danes in a 72-65 victory. With one more game to play, it magnified the significance of a “must-win” situation early in the season.
Quinnipiac featured plenty of size to go along with three point shooting. Entering the matchup against the Pioneers, they had connected on 41 three-pointers through their first four games. The Pioneers had thrived off of zone defense, which could be torched by lights-out three-point shooting.
One team would shoot lights out, but it would not be the Bobcats.
Sacred Heart put together their best offensive performance of the season. The team shot 60% from the field and 48% from three-point land. The team would have six players score in double figures on their way to a 97-80 victory over Quinnipiac, to finish 2-1 over the weekend.
Overall, a successful weekend for the Pioneers.
Other Notes From the Past Week:
Cam “Passing” Parker:
No player was as influential for Sacred Heart this weekend than Cameron Parker. Mostly known for his passing, fans have been able to see how Parker’s offensive game has grown beyond finding open teammates. After scoring a career-high 23 points against Binghamton, Parker has become a do-it-all player for the Pioneers. Over the past four games, Parker has put together a line of 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, & 8.3 assists a night.
No night was as memorable than his game against Quinnipiac on Sunday. In a big game for Sacred Heart, Parker scored 16 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and dished a career-high 16 assists. Latina called Parker’s game “A Magic Johnson Line”. It’s clear that Parker is no longer just a passing threat. He can get a basket when needed, he can grab a rebound, and, as everyone knows, he can make the extra pass.
I’ll Give It All I Got:
Aaron Clarke and Zach Pfaffenberger were both banged up over the past week. Pfaffenberger missed the games against Brown, Presbyterian, and Albany due to illness. Against Quinnipiac, he was available off of the Anthony Latina bench and played nine minutes, contributing two points on an emphatic slam over two defenders.
Clarke felt discomfort in his knee after the loss against Albany. The following day against Quinnipiac, he was in a knee brace, but was still active. He played 14 minutes and scored four points and dished three assists before sitting out after aggravating his knee. He told me after the game it was nothing to worry about and he’ll use the week break to rest up.
Anthony Latina saluted both of their efforts, calling Clarke’s performance “courageous”. While he doesn’t use the term often, he felt it suited Clarke’s motivation to contribute any way he could.
“I don’t love using the term for basketball, but he didn’t need to go today with the week off. He came to me and said ‘Coach, I’m going to give you whatever I have’. That’s what winners do, and that’s what team players do,” said Latina.
The past four games were steps in the right direction for both sophomore Koreem Ozier, and freshman Tyler Thomas. Through the first three games of the season, Ozier struggled to shoot the ball with consistency, which showed in Sacred Heart’s offensive production. Over the last four games, three of them victories, Ozier has exploded to average 18 points a night while shooting just over 50% from the field. Latina has stressed that Ozier is one of the guys they turn to when they need a basket. Having him turn the corner productively is a strong sign for the Pioneers.
After his career-high 10-point performance against UConn in the second game of the season, Thomas hit a rough patch offensively. The freshman went scoreless the next two games and said that he even lost some confidence in his game during the stretch. However, over the weekend, Thomas was a major contributor off of the Sacred Heart bench. In the three games, Thomas averaged just under 10 points per game in only 19 minutes of action. With Zach Radz’s return still unknown, Thomas can provide that athletic spark off of the bench.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
+1.6 – After Cameron Parker’s 16-assist outing against Quinnipiac on Sunday, Parker raised his assists per game average from 5.3 to 6.9, which is currently 14th best in the country and first in the Northeast Conference.
+57 – The Pioneers’ scoring margin over the past four games, in which they have won three of their last four.
6 – In Sacred Heart’s victory over Quinnipiac, the Pioneers had six players score in double-figures. It is the first time SHU has had six players in double figures since last season, when they did the same against Hartford on Nov. 27, 2018.
3 – The amount of games Sacred Heart has over the next two weeks. After a tough stretch of games, the Pioneers do not play again until Dec. 1 against Pine Manor, a Division III team.
6 – The Pioneers have out-rebounded their opponents six times through the first seven games of the season. The only time they were out-rebounded was against Providence on opening night.
2.1:1 – Sacred Heart’s assist/turnover ratio against Quinnipiac. Ball control has been one of the bigger issues for Sacred Heart this season. They patched it up in their dominant win over the Bobcats. They assisted on 26 of their 36 field goals in the victory.