Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 | 7:00 PM | Walsh Gymnasium | South Orange, N.J.
SACRED HEART PIONEERS (0-0) at Seton Hall Pirates (0-0)
Watch | Live Stats | Listen | Twitter - @SacredHeartWBB | GAME NOTES: SACRED HEART | SETON HALL
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – A trip to Seton Hall awaits the Sacred Heart women's basketball team as the Pioneers are set to open their 21st campaign at the Div. I level in 2019-20. The Pioneers are coming off a 19-win 2018-19 season but will have some new faces across the lineup with three starters gone from last season due to graduation. This first matchup is a considerable one for SHU as Seton Hall advanced to the WNIT in 2018-19 and was just picked third in the BIG EAST Preseason Poll. Tip-off from Walsh Gymnasium is set for 7:00 PM on Wednesday.
- The Pioneers head into 2019-20 having lost five players to graduation, three of which were All-NEC honorees last season including Kat Haines (First Team All-NEC), Candice Leatherwood (Second Team) and Erin Storck (Third Team). With seven fresh faces to the program (five first-years, two incoming transfers), SHU will lean on several key veterans as senior Allyson Murphy, junior Olivia Dabney and redshirt junior Nikki Johnson will be relied upon heavily in the early stages of the season as other contributors work their way into the lineup or back from injury.
- The Pioneers matched a league record last season as four players (Haines- First Team, Leatherwood – Second Team, Storck – Third Team and Adrianne Hagood – Third Team) were named All-NEC. That was just the second time in league history (joining FDU in 2014-15) that four players from one team were named All-Conference. Hagood is the lone returning All-NEC performer for the Pioneers from last season.
- A women's basketball program with a storied history, the Pioneers advanced to the WNIT for the fourth time in school history in 2018-19, marking the eighth time in SHU's Div. I history that the Pioneers have advanced to a national postseason tournament (4x WNIT, 3x NCAA, 1x WBI). Also impressive is that all four of the Pioneers' WNIT berths have come over the last seven seasons while SHU has made a national postseason tournament in six of the last nine seasons overall.
- SHU's dominance in the NEC is noteworthy as the Pioneer have finished the regular season sitting in the top four of the league standings in 14 of the last 15 seasons. In addition, SHU has advanced to the NEC Tournament in all 20 seasons since joining the NEC in 1999-00 and own the league's longest-standing active postseason streak (next-closest is Bryant at seven straight postseason berths). The Pioneers own a cumulative record of 252-98 (.720) in NEC regular season play and have never finished with a win percentage below .500 in league play across 20 NEC seasons.
- Allyson Murphy is a player to watch in 2019-20 for the Pioneers as she is one of just two seniors on the roster. Murphy stepped into a leading role in the latter half of the 2018-19 season, making the most of a major uptick in minutes with injuries to other players in the lineup. She scored double figures in five of the last 10 games of last season, an impressive feat considering she had just three such games in her career up to that point of the season. Murphy scored 78 of her 159 points (49.1 percent) for the season over the last 10 games as she averaged 7.8 points per game in that stretch compared to just 3.7 PPG in the first 22 games of the season.
At the league's annual Social Media Day held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, SHU tied for third in the NEC Preseason Coaches' Poll. This marked the second straight season the Pioneers earned third in the preseason poll and it comes on the heels of a productive 2018-19 campaign in which the Pioneers went 19-13 overall and 14-4 in the NEC. Seeded second in the 2019 NEC Tournament, the Pioneers were bounced by Saint Francis U in the semifinal round but still got a taste of national postseason play as SHU earned the league's automatic bid into the WNIT. That WNIT berth marked the sixth national postseason tournament appearance for the Pioneers in the last nine seasons while SHU's 14 league wins last season was their most in a single-season since the 2014-15 campaign.
TRANSFORMING HER GAME
In terms of year-to-year improvement, Olivia Dabney made considerable strides to her offensive production from her freshman to sophomore season. As a freshman, Dabney slashed 24.5/20.9/47.7 in terms of FG%/3FG%/FT% in her rookie season only to improve to 42.2/43.4/75.8 in 19 games before going down with a season-ending injury in February. Dabney's three-point game was an area she highlighted to improve and the work paid off as her 43.4 percentage from three (23-53 3FG) would've ranked second in the NEC had just met the qualifying standards, just one season removed from going 14-for-67 (20.9 percent) from distance.
THE FRIENDLY CONFINES OF THE PITT CENTER
SHU took advantage of the games held in the Pitt Center last season, owning a 10-5 record in home games in 2018-19 including an impressive 8-1 regular season mark against NEC competition. In the eight SHU home wins in NEC play, the Pioneers owned an average scoring margin of +14.0.
PROTECTING THE BALL
The Pioneers valued protecting the ball throughout the 2018-19 campaign and it showed in the stats as SHU led the NEC in fewest turnovers committed per game (13.9). For the season, the Pioneers went 11-5 in games in which SHU committed less than 15 turnovers and committed fewer turnovers than their opponent in 21-of-32 games (65.6 percent) in 2018-19. SHU set a season-best with just six turnovers at LIU Brooklyn (Feb. 18), which marked the fewest turnovers for the Pioneers in a single-game since coughing up five against CCSU back on March 6, 2010 (275 games prior).
Team defense told the story throughout last season as the Pioneers allowed 80 points or more just twice in 32 games last season. The Pioneers went 11-2 in 2018-19 when holding opponents to less than 60 points and allowed less than 50 points seven times (7-0 record in those games).
THAT 70+ SHOW
After going 5-4 in games where the Pioneers scored 70+ points in 2017-18, SHU turned it around completely in 2018-19 and went 11-0 in similar games last season as team defense keyed the turnaround. Cumulatively, in those 11 contests the Pioneers outscored opponents by 214 (+19.5 per game) and defeated opponents in six of those games by 22 points or more.
BUT FIRST…WE TAKE THE LEAD
Owning a halftime advantage was a huge key to success in 2018-19 as the Pioneers went 18-3 I in games SHU led at halftime. In NEC play, the Pioneers outscored the opposition by a combined score of 606-475 (+131, +7.3 scoring margin per game) in the first halves of games and have led at the half in 15-of-18 league games. In those 18 NEC regular season games, the Pioneers' largest scoring margin by-quarter is the first period as SHU outscored the opposition 306-226 (+78). By comparison, the next-largest scoring margin was the second quarter, wherein SHU owned a 300-247 (+53) advantage.
BACK IN THE NIKKI OF TIME
After sitting out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules, redshirt junior guard Nikki Johnson is set to make her debut as a Pioneer in 2019-20 after transferring in from Western Carolina University. Johnson saw time in 58 career games (33 starts) and averaged 5.0 PPG (38.3 FG%, 33.3 3FG%, 69.1 FT%) to go along with 1.7 RPG, 1.4 APG in 18.7 MPG. She posted a career-high 19 points at UNC Greensboro on Feb. 24, 2017 while she finished her sophomore season third on the team in three-pointers (29) while she had the second-most assists (60) in 2017-18.
JOURNEY FROM JUCO TO SHU
A welcome addition to the SHU frontcourt, junior center Jessica Woods figures to play a large role in the interior for the Pioneers in 2019-20. Woods dominated for two seasons at Union County Junior College, posting 891 points (14.1 PPG), 728 rebounds (11.6 RPG) and 177 blocks (2.8 BPG) in her two-year career at the junior college level. She is a proven winner, helping lead Union County to the 2019 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCCA) Tournament where her team finished as the national runner-up. Woods' 2018-19 campaign saw her named to the All-Region First Team while averaging a double-double (14.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG) and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor.
FIVE FRESH FIRST-YEAR FACES
After not having a first-year on the roster in 2018-19, SHU added five first-years for the 2019-20 campaign as forward Marie-Laeticia Ziba, guard Sonia Smith, forward/center Carly Stroemel, guard Savannah Marshall and guard Nicolette Arnold all enter their first collegiate seasons as Pioneers. Both Ziba and Arnold stand 5-11 and 5-10, respectively, and will add versatility along the wing for SHU along with shooting. Smith is another dynamic ball-handler after closing her career at the prestigious National Christian Academy as a 1,000 point scorer. Stroemel won a pair of conference titles for Paul VI High School in New Jersey while Marshall stayed in-state as she dominated at the Connecticut high school level for Westbrook, averaging 19 points per game over her career.