Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 | 1:00 PM | Coach Bike Court | Fairfield, Conn.
SACRED HEART PIONEERS (5-8, 2-0 NEC) vs. CCSU Blue Devils (1-12, 0-2 NEC)
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FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A shorthanded, yet revitalized Sacred Heart women's basketball looks to continue their hot streak on Wednesday with a 1:00 PM tip-off against in-state Northeast Conference foe Central Connecticut State. Despite having seven healthy players for the past two games, the Pioneers have come away with a pair of second half comeback wins to stand with three other teams with an undefeated 2-0 in NEC play.
Wednesday's early tip serves as the Pioneers' Senior Citizens Day as SHU is offering $1.00 chairback and general admission tickets for all fans aged 60 years and over.
SHU has dominated the all-time series with the Blue Devils, owning an all-time record of 33-19 in games played against their in-state rival. This will be the 53rd meeting between the two schools, representing the most games played by SHU against one opponent at the Div. I level (since 1999-00).
- 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 Wednesday sitting third in the NEC in scoring (15.8 PPG), 10th in three-point percentage (38.0) and tied for third in three-pointers per game (2.5). Hagood has gone off for double figures in 9-of-12 games played thus far in the season and has led the team in scoring in half of her appearances (6-of-12). 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.
- Since injuries struck the SHU lineup two games ago, the Pioneers have responded with consecutive second half comeback wins as SHU has outscored Merrimack and Wagner by a combined score of 54-28 (+26) in the last two games. As a team, the Pioneers are averaging 71 points and own a rebounding margin of +7.5 per game (89-74 advantage) while shooting 41 FG%, 39 3FG% and 83.3 FT% over the last two games. Four Pioneers - Olivia Dabney (17.0), Adrianne Hagood (15.5), Jayla Davis (14.5) and Sonia Smith (14.0) - are scoring in double figures while Dabney is averaging a double-double with 17 PPG and 11.5 RPG.
- 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.
SONIA'S STELLAR WEEK
Sonia Smith became the first Pioneer to take home an NEC weekly award this season as she was honored with Rookie of the Week laurels on Jan. 6. Smith spearheaded an incredible effort from the Pioneers in a 2-0 week to start conference play as she was one of the top individual performers from a SHU squad that featured just seven healthy players. Smith averaged 14 points on 47.4 percent shooting while adding 6.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. She played the role of hero, scoring eight fourth quarter points, including a streak of six straight for the Pioneers, as she helped lead SHU past Merrimack in a game in which the Pioneers trailed by eight in the fourth quarter. Smith followed that up with a career-high 16 points (13 in the first half) while matching her career-high with assists in a career-best 35 minutes in a 79-65 win over Wagner.
FREE POINTS AT THE LINE
As a team, the Pioneers are second in the NEC in free throws made (176) and first in attempted (255) in 2019-20 and a huge contributor of-late has been Jayla Davis. In the past six games alone, Davis is 35-for-42 (83.3 percent) at the free throw line, having scored an impressive 35 of her 72 total points at the line over those six contests. For the season, Davis is shooting a team-leading 81 percent from the charity stripe (47-for-58; 5.3 attempts per game) while she has generated close to half of her total points scored this season (47 of 107) on free throws. The sudden surge has lifted Davis as she is averaging 12 points per game over the last six compared to her 7.0 PPG average in her first five games played of the season.
In one of the more-impressive comebacks for the Pioneers in recent memory, SHU overcame an eight-point deficit with 8:20 remaining in the fourth quarter to defeat Merrimack 63-60 in the NEC opener on January 2. This comeback win marks the largest fourth quarter deficit overcome for the Pioneers since Jan. 18, 2016 when SHU defeated CCSU 61-57 in double overtime despite trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter. The three-point win also signaled the first time SHU overcame a halftime deficit to win a game this season, having lost all six games to start the season wherein the Pioneers trailed at the break.
SAVING OUR BEST FOR LAST
As evidenced by their recent comeback wins, the Pioneers have been considerably better in the fourth quarters of games this season as SHU has outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 244-202 (+42). Not only is the 244 points scored the highest cumulative total of any single quarter this season for the Pioneers (next-closest is the third quarter total of 192) but SHU has also allowed just 202 points in the fourth quarter of games which is the second-fewest points allowed by the Pioneers of any quarter this season (200 in the first quarter).
DABNEY HAD A DAY
Playing with just seven healthy players in the last two games, the Pioneers needed several to step into leading roles and Olivia Dabney has elevated her play considerably to lead SHU to a pair of comeback wins. She started with career-highs in points (17) and rebounds (12) on her way to recorded the first double-double of her career in a 63-60 home win over Merrimack and she followed with a monstrous individual effort that featured 17 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks while playing every minute as SHU overcame a 10-point third quarter deficit to outscore Wagner 41-17 over the final 12+ minutes in a 79-65 road win. Dabney set and matched her career-high in points in consecutive games and put her the first two double-digit rebounding efforts of her career. Her five assists and four blocks on Saturday also were just one off her career-high in both marks for the junior guard. Dabney also played the entire 40-minute contest for the first time this season and the third time of her career.
CRASH THE BOARDS
One of the keys to the victory over Merrimack in the NEC opener was in the rebounding department as SHU set a season-high with 46 rebounds, 18 of which were offense, as the Pioneers owned a +11 rebounding margin. The single-game total represents the most total rebounds and offensive rebounds for SHU in an NEC game since Jan. 27, 2018 when the Pioneers recorded 50 rebounds and 18 offensive rebounds in a road win at LIU Brooklyn.
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 13 games, the Pioneers generate a large percentage of their offense at the free throw line as SHU ranks second the NEC in free throws made (176) while generating the most attempts (255). Individually, five Pioneers are shooting at least 70 percent from the charity stripe while Davis (47) is second in the NEC in free throw makes. As a team, SHU is shooting 69 percent from the line and average 13.5 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 14-0 in similar games over the last two seasons as team defense keyed the turnaround. Cumulatively, in those 14 contests the Pioneers outscored opponents by 269 (+19.2 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 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 in the 2019-20 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' 79-65 win over Wagner. Playing all 40 minutes for the third time in her career, Dabney matched her career-high in points (17) while adding 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks as she tallied her second straight double-double after going two-plus seasons without a double-digit rebounding effort. A featured player for SHU, Dabney has played at least 30 minutes in 10 of her 12 games played this season while her 33.6 minutes per game average leads the team. Dabney's defense has been another strong suit in the 2019-20 season as she is third in the NEC in blocks (21) and blocks per game (1.8).
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 five games, Smith ranks second on the team in field goal attempts (49) while she has at least seven points in all five. Smith also has cleaned the glass well as she has 20 rebounds to go along with 11 steals and four blocks while averaging 28.8 minutes per game in the last five 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.