HAMDEN, CT (December 1, 2011) - Behind a 21-point night from junior Shane Gibson (Killingly, CT) the Sacred Heart Pioneers opened Northeast Conference play with a 68-55 win at Quinnipiac, ending a five-game losing streak to the Bobcats. Fellow junior Femi Akinpetide (Sydney, Australia) chipped in with a season-high 11 points as the Pioneers match their best Division I start at 5-3 on the year.
"Good team effort on both ends of the court," said head coach Dave Bike. "I was pleased with both offense and defense. It's great to get a league win and anytime you can get a win on the road it is important."
Gibson had the hot hand early on, drilling a pair of three's in the game's opening minutes to give the Pioneers (5-3, 1-0 NEC) an early 8-3 lead. The Bobcats got a quick 8-0 spurt with a Zaid Hearst three and capped by Nate Gause dunk and took their only lead of the night at 11-8 with 13:38 on the clock.
SHU used the three to take the lead back and build it to double digits by the half. The Pioneers buried five-of-nine from behind the arc, 55.6%. Swidowski buried one from downtown to give Sacred Heart the lead back at 13-11 and the Pioneers never looked back. Freshman Phil Gaetano (Wallingford, CT) hit from three for a 20-13 lead and Gibson followed with his third of the half at 8:36 for a 23-15 lead.
Sophomore Chris Evans (Stamford, CT) followed with seven-straight points for SHU, completing an old fashioned three-point play for a 30-19 advantage with just under three to play in the half. Gibson would finish the half with 13 points while Evans chipped in nine as SHU held QU to just 26.3% shooting on the way to a 34-24 lead at the break.
The Bobcats (2-4, 0-1 NEC) opened the second half with an 8-0 run thanks to six points from Ike Azotam, to pull within 36-32 just over three minutes in. The Pioneers answered back with a Gibson lay-in and a three from junior Nick Greenbacker (Coventry, CT) and Akinpetide pushed the lead back to double digits with a fast-break lay-up and jumper, 46-36, at 12:39.
Akinpetide would go on to score nine of his 11 points in the second half and helped the Pioneers hang tight with the top rebounding team in the NEC. The junior forward pulled down six boards on the night as QU won the battle of the boards, 45-39. "QU is one of the best rebounding teams in the league, but we battled and were pretty even I think."
Quinnipiac would pull to within six, 55-49, with just over six to play but SHU would pull away with a 9-0 run over the next four minutes. Akinpetide capped the rally with a lay-in off a feed from Gaetano for the Pioneers biggest lead of the night, 64-59.
Gibson's 21-point night is his third 20-point game this season and came on a seven-of-12 shooting effort. He added five rebounds and three assists to his totals. Evans finished seven-of-11 at the free throw line where SHU shot 20-of-29 as a team in the win. Evans finished with 11 points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.
The Bobcats shot just 31.3% (21-67) from the field and nine-of-20 from the line (45.0%) in the loss. Azotam, the NEC's top-rebounder, pulled down 16 boards to go with 18 points. James Johnson tacked on 15 points.
The win makes the Pioneers 8-5 in NEC openers since joining the league in 1999-2000. At 5-3, SHU matches their start to the 2009-10 season. Sacred Heart face their other in-state NEC rival on Saturday when they travel to Central Connecticut. Tip-off is at 3:30 pm.