#3 Pioneers Eliminated From NEC Tournament By #6 Blue Devils, 54-49
Fairfield, CT – For the first time in SHU women's basketball history the Pioneers have been dispatched from the NEC quarterfinals in back-to-back seasons. Central Connecticut State pulled off a second straight upset over SHU as the six-seed, knocking off the Pioneers 54-49 inside the William H. Pitt Center Saturday afternoon. Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS), Alexis Campbell (Ashburn, VA), and Ericka Norman (Chino Hills, CA) all dropped in nine points for the Pioneers while Justina Udenze recorded a game high 15 for the Blue Devils.
Central Connecticut State (19-10) got the first bucket of the day on a three-pointer from Gabrielle Oglesby. The Pioneers got their first five points off the hand of Taylor as she buried a trey of her own to knot the game 5-5 at the 17:20 mark. The Blue Devils then engineered a 12-2 run and opened up a double-digit lead, 17-7, on a Kerrianne Dugan fast break lay-in. Kiley Evans (Cazenovia, NY) snapped a 3:45 field goal drought for SHU with a trifecta to cut the deficit to 17-12 midway through the period.
Sacred Heart (18-12) polished off a 13-0 spurt with an Evans jumper to put SHU on top, 20-17. During the surge Blair Koniszewski (Vienna, VA) knocked down a triple on her first shot of the game to bring the Pioneers within one. Morgan Merriman (Seattle, WA) gave the home team its first lead of the quarterfinal showdown with a layup to make it 18-17. However, the tides would switch again as CCSU claimed nine of the last 11 points of the half to take a 26-22 edge into the intermission.
CCSU's Kerrianne Dugan led all scorers at the break with ten points while Taylor and Evans both had five for SHU. The Blue Devils shot at a 50 percent (12-24) clip in the first half while the Pioneers hit at 33.3 percent (8-24). The visitors held a slim 17-15 rebounding advantage in the opening twenty minutes but were also forced into 12 turnovers.
Taylor and Udenze traded baskets in the early stages of the second before Maggie Cosgrove (Andover, MA) splashed in a three to pull the Pioneers within two, 29-27. Just 1:35 later the senior sharpshooter struck again with a trey that made it a one point affair at 33-32. In the next trip up the floor a layup by Norman answered another Udenze bucket to return the margin to a single point. However, that would be the closest the Pioneers would get as CCSU again got hot, scratching out another 12-2 run.
Norman, a Northeast Conference All-Rookie team selection, gave SHU life by completing a three-point play to close the gap to 47-39 with 8:11 to play. The next field goal came 2:44 later as Campbell drained a three-ball as part of a 7-0 Sacred Heart spurt. The teams battled back-and-forth down the stretch until a Taylor layup in traffic made it a one possession game at 50-47 with the clock showing 1:15.
The Blue Devils went to Udenze on the next possession and the senior finished a difficult reverse lay-in to give her squad a 52-47 cushion. Cosgrove, a Pioneer senior, drove the lane and got to the free throw line with 35 seconds to play. Cosgrove hit both of her attempts at the charity stripe to put Sacred Heart in a position to foul late. The Pioneers had two fouls to give and Central Connecticut State eventually got the ball to Dugan for an easy layup on an inbounds pass. Sacred Heart was unable to score again as the six-seeded Blue Devils finished the quarterfinal upset, 54-49.
Sacred Heart sees its year end at the hands of Central Connecticut State for the second straight season as CCSU has now won three straight games at the Pitt Center. Taylor pulled-in a game high ten rebounds as the All-NEC first teamer posted double-digit boards in her seventh consecutive game. Norman dished out six assists while the Pioneer defense forced 20 total Blue Devil turnovers.
The Northeast Conference semifinals will be held Tuesday night with the championship game to be decided live on ESPNU Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 pm.