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Sacred Heart is getting closer, but wins are hard to come by

November 29, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Sacred Heart is progressing, although their bottom line isn’t going to show it as they are 1-5. For a lot of Tuesday’s game, Sacred Heard did what they needed to do to improve. They also did what they had to do to pull off a big win, one that would have been a program first as they have never defeated an ACC opponent.

In the end, however, they didn’t do what they need to do when it counted, and dropped a 75-67 overtime decision to Boston College. While the signs are encouraging, this team could surely use a little more reward on the bottom line to show for their efforts. And perhaps not finishing the job in regulation despite many chances was the clincher on Tuesday, because it was pretty much all Eagles in the extra session.

“Going into overtime, because we had so many chances to win it, I think that kind of took the wind out of our sails when we didn’t get it done in regulation,” said head coach Anthony Latina.

The Pioneers started out promising enough, especially on the offensive end as they couldn’t miss early. In particular, point guard Phil Gaetano was hot early, and he’s known much more for his passing and floor leadership than his shooting. The Pioneers hit their first six from long range and built a lead as high as 11. Gaetano, who has not gotten off to the kind of start they need, had 11 of his career-high 16 points in the first half, going 3-4 from deep.

“If he makes a shot or two, it makes him that much more dangerous as a passer,” Latina added.

Latina said he had a conversation with Gaetano after the first few games and did more listening than talking. The junior floor leader didn’t seem like himself. Since then, Gaetano seems to have responded, with Tuesday night’s game being the best case.

With Gaetano playing well, the Pioneers have enough weapons for the offense to be less of a concern than the defense. Although they shoot below 43 percent from the field and turn it over 14.5 times a game, they play at a fast enough pace to average well over 70 points per game. They have Evan Kelley and Chris Evans back after they lost last season to injury, and neither has shown many ill effects of the rust although Kelley struggled on Tuesday with a 2-12 shooting night. Louis Montes and Steve Glowiak can also put the ball in the basket.

The issues are on the defensive end, as opponents shoot nearly 47 percent and out-rebound them by almost seven per game, including 12 offensive rebounds. They have turned teams over, as they force 16 turnovers per game, and with their athleticism they should be able to do that. Kelley and Evans can help in that respect.

In the win at Fordham, Sacred Heart rebounded well, although they also surrendered 16 offensive rebounds. But they finished more of their defensive possessions, enough to also overcome a big turnover margin as they gave the ball away 19 times.

“We have been bad defensively, but our defense has been exposed even more because we’re not rebounding,” said Latina, who is in his first year at the helm after long-time mentor Dave Bike retired. “I thought our defense got a little bit better against Fordham, but the biggest thing is we got defensive rebounds. We out-rebounded them by 14. If we out-rebounded BC by 14, I think we would have won today. The rebounding end of it is really the area that we feel we’ve got to get better.”

Latina knows that this team’s season will hinge on their play in the Northeast Conference. Non-conference wins are nice, especially if they come against the likes of Boston College, but it’s all about winning in the NEC for them. These games are about them getting better for the ones that matter the most, and he can see the team taking some strides forward in that regard.

“I think we’re getting to the point where we have the makings of being a good Northeast Conference team, and that’s what we need to be,” said Latina. “We need to be good in our league.”

Sacred Heart is hopeful of getting something to show for their efforts on the bottom line, but there are some tough games the rest of the way in non-conference. They have to go to Lehigh, Santa Clara and UNLV to begin the Continental Tires Las Vegas Classic, and they have a tough one with Lafayette at home. Picking up a few wins, even if against the lesser teams on the slate, will be more evidence of the progress.

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