NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (February 17, 2011) – The Sacred Heart Pioneers dropped their fifth-straight game Thursday night, coming up just short of a comeback win when junior Nick Greenbacker's (Coventry, CT) last second shot at a potential game-winner missed it's mark in a 57-56 loss at Central Connecticut State. The Pioneers got 15 points from sophomore Shane Gibson (Killingly, CT) in the loss that drops them to 9-17 overall and 4-11 in the Northeast Conference. CCSU's Ken Horton scored 14 of his game-high 18 points in the second half to lead the Blue Devils.
Both teams battled their way through slow starts with the Pioneers not scoring their first points until the 5:15 mark on a freshman Louis Montes (Brockton, MA) three from the left corner. SHU took an early 7-4 advantage as freshman Evan Kelley (Norwalk, CT) converted on consecutive takes to the basket. Sacred Heart's and Central's offensive struggles continued with the Blue Devils leading just 11-9 at the eight minute mark.
A long three by Horton helped fuel a 10-3 Central spurt and forced a SHU timeout at 5:55 left in the half. Vince Rosario banged a three from the right corner at 4:50 and finished off the run with Central in front 21-12. The Pioneers (9-17, 4-11 NEC) found some offense of their own and used a quick 9-0 spurt to knot the game at 21-21. After starting the first half just four-of-14, the Pioneers closed it five-of-nine.
Senior Jerrell Thompson (Plainfield, NJ) forced a steal and fueled the break, feeding Kelley who converted and drew the foul knotting it at 21-21. Rosario buries another three from the same spot at 1:25 to put his team up 24-21 before SHU's Thompson dribble drive lay-up pulled the Pioneers to within 24-23 which is where it stayed into the break. SHU held CCSU to just 25.9% (7-27) shooting in the first half and held down the NEC's top-scorer (19.1 ppg) in Horton to just four points before he was forced to the bench with two fouls.
The Pioneers took a brief lead at 25-24 on Montes put back but Horton shook off the first half rust and buried a three from the wing to snatch the lead back. The junior guard continued his hot shooting from behind the arc hitting on back-to-back three to give CCSU a 41-32 lead with 13 minutes left, matching their biggest lead of the night.
Sacred Heart continued to chip away and pulled within a bucket at 46-44 thanks to a Greenbacker three-point play with just over seven minutes left. Gibson pulled the Pioneers all the way back, ending a 14-5 run with a finger-roll lay-up with 5:40 left to tie it at 46-46.
Central Connecticut (18-8, 11-4 NEC) got an answer once again from Horton who produced a put back and his fifth three of the game to push the lead to 51-46 and force a SHU timeout at 5:09. The Pioneers went to their playmaker down the stretch in Gibson and the sophomore guard answered with a three of his own to cut it to 55-53 on Gibson three at 3:40. The Pioneers had a chance to tie with 2:30 left but Gibson made just one of two at line to cut it to 55-54.
The Blue Devils took advantage of another Pioneer turnover as Shemik Thompson got loose off a steal on break and hit getting fouled. The senior point guard missed the chance to extend the lead to four, leaving it 57-54 with 1:55 to play. CCSU wouldn't score another point on the night but didn't need to as SHU came up just short. With 1:14 on the clock, Kelley got loose on the fast break and Central's Devan Bailey was called for an intentional foul. Kelley made both free throws to pull within one. The Pioneers turned it over after the inbounds but got a break when CCSU's Robby Ptacek was called for an offensive foul with 25 seconds left.
The Pioneers set up for the potential game-winner but with Central blanketing Gibson, point guard Thompson was forced to kick the ball out to an open Greenbacker on the wing but his shot missed the mark allowing CCSU to escape with the win.
SHU held the Blue Devils to 40.4% (21-52) shooting but they did make nine-of-19 from three in the win. CCSU also took advantage of 21 Sacred Heart turnovers to the tune of 28 points at the other end. In addition to Gibson's 18 points, Kelley chipped in with 11.
Sacred Heart will be back in action on Saturday when they travel to Bryant University. The game will be broadcast live on MSG Network with tip-off scheduled for 2 pm.