March 2, 2009
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (March 2, 2009) - The Sacred Heart women's basketball team fought off the St. Francis (NY) Terriers, 61-50, Monday night to become just the third team in Northeast Conference history to finish the regular season 18-0 as they move on to this weekend's NEC Tournament as the #1 seed. The Pioneers needed to overcome their second-straight poor shooting effort in winning their 18th-straight game, posting a new season-low hitting just 18-of-62 (.290) on the night.
Sacred Heart (22-7, 18-0 NEC) joins the 2003-04 Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash and 1993-94 Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers as the only schools to run the table of an 18-game league slate. Both those schools finished the regular season 18-0 and went on to win the NEC Tournament Championship. The Monmouth Hawks twice went 16-0, during the league's first two season in 1986-87 and 1987-88.
The Pioneers and Terriers each struggled in the first half with a combined 19 turnovers and poor shooting. SHU started slow going 0-for-nine from the field before an Alisa Apo (Freehold, NJ) three ended the drought at 16:01. SHU would play all but six minutes of the first half without their leading scorer in Apo, who drew back-to-back fouls at 13:57 and 13:33.
SHU continued to struggle for the remainder of the first half as St. Francis's Kara Ayers helped keep her team in it with 12 points. Ayers buried a three and hit a pair of free throws to pull her team within 21-18 at 6:09 and two more free throws at 4:20 put the Terriers within 25-20. Sacred Heart center Kaitlin Sowinski (Hopkinton, RI) did a good job of getting to the free throw line in the first half, hitting eight-of-10, but a fast-break lay-in at 1:57 ended a 0-for-nine shooting drought for the senior in the half.
Sowinski's lay-up gave the Pioneers a 29-20 lead but two free throws by Kristen Miah at 1:10 sent the game to the break with SHU up, 29-22. The Pioneers struggled offensively shooting just 25.8%, hitting just eight-of-31 from the field in the first half. The Terriers fared no better making just six-of-25 (.240).
The Terriers pulled within two, 29-27, right out of the locker room helped by an Ayers three. SHU responded and after building their lead to eight, 41-33, at the 11:55 mark looked ready to pull away. St. Francis had other plans and their senior Ayers delivered a dribble-drive lay-in and her fourth three of the night to pull within 45-42 with 10:03 left.
Sacred Heart would not let the Terriers get any closer and opened their first double digit lead at 4:14 thanks to a 10-2 run. A Sowinski jumper in the lane started the rally followed by a long three from sophomore Maggie Cosgrove (Andover, MA). Senior Khalia Cain (Manchester, CT) hit a fast-break lay-up and was fouled on the play, hitting the freebie for a 53-44 advantage. Apo made it an 11-point lead next time down, hitting a stop-and-pop jumper from the right wing to give her team a 55-44 advantage. SFNY could get no closer than eight the rest of the way as the Pioneers escaped with a 60-51 victory.
For the second-straight game SHU got matching double doubles from Sowinski and freshman Callan Taylor (Overland Park, KS). Sowinski, who finished just three-of-17 from the floor, went for 14 points and 13 rebounds in the win. Taylor finished with 15 points and set a new career-high with 13 rebounds. Apo was the only other Pioneer in double figures with 14 points. SHU went to the free throw line 30 times in the win, making 20. The Pioneers did take advantage of 15 St. Francis miscues with 21 points at the other end.
The Pioneers move on to hosting the 2009 Northeast Conference Tournament this weekend in the William H. Pitt Center. The opening rounds for the eight team field will take place on Saturday and Sunday, March 7th & 8th. SHU is the top seed in this year's playoffs and will tip-off in the tournament's opening game at 12:00 noon on Saturday against #8 seeded Mount St. Mary's.