STOP #1: William H. Pitt Center, Fairfield, CT
Saturday, January 5, 2013 - 1pm
ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN 56 (4-8, 1-0), SACRED HEART 47 (8-5, 0-1)
This afternoon I was very excited to start my road trip through the 2013 NEC WBB conference season at the Pitt Center in Fairfield. First, the Pitt Center is a special facility to me because it was where I called my very first WBB game on Monmouth radio 10 years ago (a tape that is thankfully buried deep someplace, never to again see the light of day). Second, Sacred Heart has a beautiful campus to visit. I always enjoy the Connecticut scenery on the trip up, and then driving/walking around campus itself. On the way up the hill to the Pitt Center, I drove by the new Linda E. McMahon Commons building that had been under construction seemingly forever, but in reality just the last few trips I've taken up there, that was now completed. I joked on twitter that it could have used a WWE Shop, but in all seriousness, it looks to be a spectacular new building that has a huge bookstore full of Pioneer gear right in front.
Once inside the Pitt Center, I was greeted by a brand new banner hanging from the rafters, as Sacred Heart enters this year coming off their third conference tournament championship and third NCAA Tournament appearance in program history in 2012. The Pioneers had won 13 straight home games at the Pitt Center dating back to last January, a streak that included a NEC Championship game win over Monmouth last March, and a 5-0 record to start this season. The Pioneers sent out the same five that they've started all 13 games this season: Norman, Evans, Merriman, Washington, and Bland. On the other side, St. Francis utilized their 9th different lineup in 12 games with Benedetti, Fox, Simpson, Veney, and Kaufman.
Early on the teams traded the lead back and forth, but with the game tied at 8 nearly four minutes in, the Terriers used a three point play converted by Eilidh Simpson to spark a 10-0 run, putting St. Francis up 18-8. The Terriers would tread at or above 50% shooting from the floor throughout the remainder of the first half, posting a 35-20 lead at the break. The Pioneers, who were held to just 26.7% shooting in the first 20 minutes, posted their lowest scoring first half of the season.
I was interested to see how the Terriers, a relatively young team still learning how to win together, would finish. During non-conference play the Terriers led NJIT by 12 at the half, and ended up losing by 12. They also had a game against Penn where they led by 14 and ended up falling by a single digit.
Minutes into the second half, the Terriers put all those finishing doubts to rest, going up 40-20, matching their largest lead of the season. The Pioneers did manage to get close twice. They closed to within 8 in the final three minutes, and got as close as 6 points away in the final few seconds. The Terriers would managed to make it to the finish line, surprising the champs, with a 56-47 season opening win.
Simpson led all scorers with 15 points for the Terriers. Jasmin Robinson chipped in with 14 points off the bench. The SFC bench outscored the Pioneers reserves 22-12. The Terriers also had seven different players contribute in the scoring column. The Pioneers were led in scoring by Gabrielle Washington's 13 points. Washington has scored in double figures in every game so far this season.
St. Francis Brooklyn starts 1-0 in conference play for the first time since 2004-05. This year marks the first season since 2005-06 that the reigning champion fell in their conference opener. Both teams will return to action on Monday night, the Terriers on the road at Quinnipiac, and the Pioneers at home against LIU-Brooklyn.
Next week, our road trip will travel a little further up the Merritt Parkway, to the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, CT - the home of the Quinnipiac Bobcats. Quinnipiac will be hosting Sacred Heart. The matchup will feature the top two NEC teams in the standings from last year, who also happen to be the top two teams from this year's pre-season poll. However, on this opening day the Terriers showed us all once again just how much pre-season polls are worth once the games are actually tipped off...that on any given day, anything can happen, and in the NEC it usually does.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Eilidh Simpson, SFC (15pts, 3reb, 2 steals, 24 minutes)
Simpson takes the player of the game honors in larger part to her early sharpshooting on the afternoon. The sophomore guard from Australia scored 12 of her 15 points in the first half. She also netted six of the Terriers first 11 points in the game's opening four minutes. Her scoring output helped St. Francis build up their advantage to 15 points at halftime, a margin that ultimately would be too much for the champs to overcome. Simpson is no doubt more comfortable and confident now in year two playing the NCAA style of basketball. Her scoring average has improved from 3.5 points per game as a freshman to a 9.3 points average in her sophomore campaign.
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SHU Game Recap
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