Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019 | 12:00 PM | Bryce Jordan Center | University Park, Pa.
SACRED HEART PIONEERS (3-7, 0-0 NEC) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (5-5, 0-0 Big Ten)
WATCH (BTN+) | LIVE STATS | TICKETS | Twitter - @SacredHeartWBB | GAME NOTES: SACRED HEART | PENN STATE
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Sacred Heart women's basketball team finishes non-conference play and the 2019 calendar year with a tip-off at Penn State on Sunday at Noon. This is just the second all-time meeting between the two teams and the third Power 5 opponent (second Big Ten foe) that the Pioneers have faced in the non-conference slate. SHU is looking for their second-ever win over a non-Big East Power 5 school (1-33 all-time record in those games). The lone SHU win over a non-Big East Power 5 foe came in 2012-13 when the Pioneers took down Boston College, 54-48, on Nov. 23, 2012. SHU is 0-6 all-time against Big Ten opponents (0-4 vs Ohio State, 0-1 vs Nebraska, 0-1 vs Penn State).
- 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.
- Adrianne Hagood is having herself a breakout junior season as she heads into Sunday afternoon sitting sixth in the NEC in scoring (15.2 PPG), 11th in three-point percentage (37.5) and tied for third in three-pointers per game (2.3). Hagood has gone off for double figures in 6-of-9 games played thus far in the season and has led the team in scoring in more than half her appearances (5-of-9) this season. Coming into her junior year with four career 20+ point games, Hagood already has three 20+ point efforts on the season including a career-high 29 points (8-12 FG, 5-7 3FG, 8-8 FT) in a home win over Bridgeport on Nov. 20.
- Through 10 games, the Pioneers generate a large percentage of their offense at the free throw line as SHU leads the NEC in both free throws made (137) and attempted (207). Individually, four Pioneers are shooting at least 70 percent from the charity stripe while Hagood (50) is first in the NEC in free throw attempts and Woods (49) is second. As a team, SHU is shooting 66.2 percent from the line and average 13.7 makes per game.
- Jessica Woods has been a key cog on the interior for the Pioneers as she has put up 9.3 PPG with 6.8 RPG and 1.6 BPG in 25.7 MPG. Woods scored double figures in five straight games to start her SHU career, which stands as the longest such streak for a Pioneer in program history. For the season, she sits 22nd in the NEC in scoring, fifth in rebounding, and tied for third in blocked shots. She recently posted one of her best all-around efforts as she posted her third double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds while matching her season-high with three blocks against Holy Cross (Dec. 14).
- 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.
FREE POINTS AT THE LINE
As a team, the Pioneers are leading the NEC in free throws made and attempted in 2019-20 and a huge contributor of-late has been Jayla Davis. In the past three games alone, Davis is 18-for-22 (81.8 percent) at the free throw line, having scored an incredible 18 of her 30 total points at the line over those three contests. For the season, Davis is shooting a team-leading 78.9 percent from the charity stripe (30-for-38; 4.8 attempts per game) while she has generated a bit less than half of her total points scored this season (30 of 65) on free throws. The sudden surge has lifted Davis up as she is averaging 10 points per game over the last four compared to her 6.3 PPG average in her first four games played of the season.
SOUTH POINT SHOOTOUT RECAP
Flying out to Las Vegas for their first regular season tournament since 2015-16, the Pioneers showed well with a 66-60 win over Detroit Mercy before giving Nebraska a solid fight in a 72-49 loss. In the Detroit Mercy victory, the Pioneers recorded their first win away from home in 2019-20 behind a season-high 10-for-22 (45.5 percent) showing from three-point distance while capitalizing on their free throws with an 18-for-22 (81.8 percent) effort at the charity stripe. That was the best single-season percentage for SHU at the free throw line since going 18-for-20 against Saint Joseph's on Dec. 20, 2018 (32 games prior). Against Nebraska, the Pioneers couldn't overcome a 31-9 deficit midway through the second quarter but the effort was evident as SHU was outscored by just one point (41-40) in the final 25:14 of play.
FREE POINTS AT THE LINE
Through 10 games, the Pioneers generate a large percentage of their offense at the free throw line as SHU leads the NEC in both free throws made (137) and attempted (207). Individually, four Pioneers are shooting at least 70 percent from the charity stripe while Hagood (50) is first in the NEC in free throw attempts and Woods (49) is second. As a team, SHU is shooting 66.2 percent from the line and average 13.7 makes per game.
THAT 70+ SHOW
After going 5-4 in games where the Pioneers scored 70+ points in 2017-18, SHU has since turned it around completely in 2018-19 and into 2019-20, having gone 13-0 in similar games over the last two seasons as team defense keyed the turnaround. Cumulatively, in those 13 contests the Pioneers outscored opponents by 255 (+19.6 per game) and defeated opponents by 22 or more points in seven of those games.
Consistency in the low post has come from junior college transfer Jessica Woods as she posted five straight double-digit scoring efforts in her first five games as a Pioneer. She owns per-game averages of 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 25.7 minutes. Woods' start to the season is record-breaking as she owns the longest streak with double digit points to start her SHU career in the program's Div. I history (since 1999-00). The previous longest streak was two games, accomplished several times with the most-recent being Candice Leatherwood's first season with SHU in the 2017-18 campaign.
After missing the first game of the season with an injury, Adrianne Hagood has provided a huge scoring lift in her nine games played of 2019-20. After scoring 13 (4-10 FG, 3-9 3FG) in a 27-point home win over Hofstra, Hagood netted 23 on 8-for-11 shooting and 3-of-5 from long range at Siena while she tallied a career-high 29 on 8-for-12 shooting, 5-for-7 from three and 8-of-8 at the free throw line against Bridgeport. She followed that up with 21 points in a win over Detroit Mercy to go along with a team-leading 16 points against Nebraska. The junior guard came into this season with four career 20+ point efforts but she already has three such games through eight appearances in the new season.
DABNEY DOING HER BEST WORK
Back healthy again after missing the final 10 games of 2018-19 due to injury, junior Olivia Dabney was at her best in the Pioneers' 71-44 home win over Hofstra (11/10). Playing 35 of the possible 40 minutes, Dabney matched her career-high with 13 points while her six field goal makes is a new career-best and nine field goal attempts ties a career-high. A featured player for SHU, Dabney has played at least 30 minutes in seven of her nine games played this season while her 32.3 minutes per game average ranks fifth in the NEC and Top 100 in the nation. Dabney's defense has been her strong suit in the 2019-20 season as she is tied for third in the NEC in blocks (15) and blocks per game (1.7).
FIRST TASTE OF COLLEGIATE BASKETBALL
With three All-NEC starters gone from the 2018-19 roster due to graduation, the Pioneers are going to be a new-look squad for the 2019-20 campaign and the season opener at Seton Hall was a prime indicator. With only nine Pioneers dressing, six of those nine to hit the floor were either first-years of incoming transfers playing in their first career game for SHU. Among those that shined in their debuts were Nikki Johnson (career-high 25 points, five steals, five rebounds, four assists), Sonia Smith (12 points) and Jessica Woods (12 points) as those three combined with Allyson Murphy (10 points) as four Pioneers hit double figures in scoring against the Pirates.
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 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.