Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020 | 5:00 PM | Coach Bike Court | Fairfield, Conn.
SACRED HEART PIONEERS (3-8, 0-0 NEC) vs. Merrimack Warriors (7-4, 0-0 NEC)
WATCH (NEC Front Row) | LIVE STATS | TICKETS | Twitter - @SacredHeartWBB | GAME NOTES: SACRED HEART | MERRIMACK
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The 2020 portion of the calendar begins with the start of Northeast Conference play as the Sacred Heart women's basketball team hosts new league member Merrimack on Thursday at 5:00 PM in Coach Bike Court. This NEC opener marks the first conference game for the Warriors, who are in their first transition year to NCAA Division I status. The Pioneers stand 3-8 after the conclusion of non-conference play while the Warriors sit 7-4 overall, owning the most wins of any team in the NEC.
This game serves as a doubleheader with the SHU men's basketball team, who also take on Merrimack at 7:30 PM. All children ages 12 and under, wearing a CYO jersey will be admitted to the game at no cost. In addition, adult general admission tickets are just 20 cents in celebration of the New Year.
Heading into their 21st season as a member of the NEC, the Pioneers are an impressive 17-3 in league openers since joining the conference in 1999-00. In NEC openers played at home in the Pitt Center, SHU stands 9-2 including a 66-61 triumph last seasons in the Pioneers' NEC opener played at home against CCSU. This is just the third all-time meeting between the Pioneers and Warriors, with the most-recent contest coming back in 1992 with SHU coming out on top, 88-78, in Fairfield.
- 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 Thursday sitting fourth in the NEC in scoring (15.9 PPG), 12th in three-point percentage (37.9) and fourth in three-pointers per game (2.5). Hagood has gone off for double figures in 7-of-10 games played thus far in the season and has led the team in scoring in more than half her appearances (6-of-10). Coming into her junior year with four career 20+ point games, Hagood already has four 20+ point efforts on the season including a 22-point effort (8-20 FG, 4-10 3FG) at Penn State. Hagood's 22-point outburst against the Nittany Lions is the most points scored by a Pioneer against a non Big East Power 5 school since Callan Taylor dropped 24 on March 21, 2009 against Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
- Through 11 games, the Pioneers generate a large percentage of their offense at the free throw line as SHU ranks third the NEC in free throws made (146) while generating the most attempts (219). Individually, three Pioneers are shooting at least 70 percent from the charity stripe while Hagood (52) is second in the NEC in free throw attempts. As a team, SHU is shooting 66.7 percent from the line and average 13.3 makes per game.
- 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 25-for-30 (80 percent) at the free throw line, having scored an impressive 25 of her 43 total points at the line over those four contests. For the season, Davis is shooting a team-leading 80.4 percent from the charity stripe (37-for-46; 5.1 attempts per game) while she has generated a bit less than half of her total points scored this season (37 of 78) on free throws. The sudden surge has lifted Davis up as she is averaging 10.6 points per game over the last five compared to her 6.3 PPG average in her first four games played of the season.
SUCCESS AGAINST THE LADY LIONS
Despite an 88-65 defeat to Penn State on Dec. 22, the Pioneers had several key positives to take from the loss. Adrianne Hagood went off for 22 points including nine in the fourth quarter alone, as her 22-point scoring effort represents the most points scored by a Pioneer in a game against a non-Big East Power 5 school since Callan Taylor notched 24 on March 21, 2009 against Ohio State in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. SHU managed to match a season-high with 10 three-pointers and also committed a season-low 12 turnovers, winning the turnover battle 18-12 against PSU. Also of-note, the Pioneers missed their first 11 shots and trailed 17-0 midway through the first quarter but recovered and managed to be outscored by just six against PSU (71-65) across the final 35:27 of play.
FREE POINTS AT THE LINE
Through 11 games, the Pioneers generate a large percentage of their offense at the free throw line as SHU ranks third the NEC in free throws made (146) while generating the most attempts (219). Individually, three Pioneers are shooting at least 70 percent from the charity stripe while Hagood (52) is second in the NEC in free throw attempts. As a team, SHU is shooting 66.7 percent from the line and average 13.3 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.
After missing the first game of the season with an injury, Adrianne Hagood has provided a huge scoring lift in her 10 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. Most-recently, Hagood went off for 22 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, at Penn State as she hit four three-pointers on her way to another 20+ point effort. The junior guard came into this season with four career 20+ point games but she already has four through 10 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' 88-65 loss at Penn State. Playing 34 of the possible 40 minutes, Dabney matched her career-high for the second time this season with 13 points while her three makes from three-point range set a new season-high and tied a career-high. A featured player for SHU, Dabney has played at least 30 minutes in eight of her 10 games played this season while her 32.5 minutes per game average leads the team. Dabney's defense has been her biggest strong suit in the 2019-20 season as she is third in the NEC in blocks (17) and blocks per game (1.7).
TAKE YOUR SHOT
Looking to capitalize on a boost in playing time, first-year Sonia Smith is picking her spots and looking to shoulder a sizeable load on offense with the Pioneers forced into a limited rotation. Over the last three games, Smith ranks second on the team in field goal attempts (30) while she has at least seven points and hit a triple in all three. Smith also has cleaned the glass well as she has 13 rebounds to go along with eight steals and two blocks while averaging 27.3 minutes per game in the last three combined.
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.
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.