Battle of NEC Front-Runners Set for Monday Night as Women's Basketball Hosts Robert Morris

Battle of NEC Front-Runners Set for Monday Night as Women's Basketball Hosts Robert Morris

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Sacred Heart Pioneers (16-11, 12-4 NEC) vs. Robert Morris Colonials (18-9, 15-1 NEC)
Monday, March 4, 2019 | 6:00 PM
Pitt Center | Fairfield, Conn.

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A third straight blowing win for the Sacred Heart women's basketball team has the Pioneers flying high heading into a key showdown with Robert Morris at the Pitt Center on Monday night. The Colonials have already clinched the 2018-19 Northeast Conference Regular Season Title and homecourt advantage throughout the NEC Tournament but the game holds plenty of significance as a potential title game preview in less than two weeks' time.  

Despite RMU having locked down the No. 1 seed, this regular season meeting is of major significance for the Pioneers whose magic number is clinch the No. 2 seed is just one. One more win for the Pioneers, in either of their final two games of the season against RMU or at Mount St. Mary's on Thursday, would clinch homecourt advantage through at least the semifinal round of the NEC Tournament. In addition, if Saint Francis U were to loss either of their final two games of the season, that would clinch the No. 2 spot for SHU.

OPENING TIP

  • Playoff implications are entirely one-sided for Monday's matchup as the Pioneers (12-4 NEC) have plenty to play for while the Colonials (15-1 NEC) are already locked into the No. 1 seed for the upcoming NEC Tournament. SHU defeating SFU on Saturday made clinching the No. 2 significantly easier for the Pioneers as the magic number is just one game. It would take a win in either of the Pioneers' two remaining games (home vs RMU, away at MSM) or the Red Flash losing either of their two remaining games (away at Wagner, away at RMU).
  • SHU put on another three-point barrage as the Pioneers went 10-for-27 (37 percent) from behind the arc in Saturday's win over SFU. Combined with their season-high 14 three-pointers from Monday's win at FDU, the Pioneers have hit 24 triples over the last two games. The three-point shot has been falling of-late for the Pioneers, as the team is shooting 41.2 percent (68-for-165) from three-point range over the last seven games (6-1 record) while averaging 72.4 PPG in that span.
  • The 70-point mark has been the key number all season long for the Pioneers. A season removed from going 5-4 in games wherein the Pioneers scored 70+ points, SHU is 11-0 in similar games this season as team defense has keyed the turnaround. Cumulatively, in those 11 contests the Pioneers are outscoring opponents by 214 (+19.5 per game) and have defeated six opponents by 22 points or more.
  • Forced to play with a short bench over the last five games, Allyson Murphy has shouldered the burden with her efforts both offensively and defensively. Murphy most-recently notched a career-high 16 points (7-14 FG) while playing all 40 minutes for the first time in her career in Saturday's win over SFU. Ever since Olivia Dabney's injury, Murphy has reached double figure point totals in three of the last five games (occurred just twice in the 22 games prior to the uptick). To put into perspective how much Murphy's game has improved of late, she has scored 49 of her 130 points (37.7 percent) for the season over the last five games (81 points scored in her first 22 games of 2018-19).

LAST TIME OUT (SHU 77, SFU 51)

  • The Class of 2019 members Katherine Haines (18 points, 15 rebounds), Candice Leatherwood (16 points, seven assists), Erin Storck (13 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Kiana Ye (eight points) combined for 55 of the Pioneers' 77 points in a resounding 26-point win over the Red Flash
  • The 26-point margin-of-victory is the largest loss suffered by Saint Francis U since falling to the Pioneers by 29 back on January 16, 2012
  • SHU relied on the three-point shot once again, hitting five of their 10 three-pointers in the first quarter alone to grab an early advantage that the Pioneers wouldn't relinquish for the remainder of play
  • Despite employing a six-player rotation for large parts of the game due to injuries around the lineup, the Pioneers scored their third straight blowout victory as the average margin of victory over the last three games is 24 points
  • Katherine Haines recorded her 12th double-double of the season as she finished with an impressive 18 points and 15 rebounds to go along with four assists
  • Allyson Murphy notched a new career-high as the junior scored 16 points while playing all 40 minutes for the first time in her career
  • Playing against the NEC's all-time leading scorer, the Pioneers did a masterful job of limiting Jess Kovatch as the Red Flash senior posted just 14 points in 28 minutes, well below her season average of 21.9 PPG heading into the game 

RED FLASH LIMITED
Always a consistent NEC contender, Saint Francis U was significantly limited by the Pioneers in a 77-51 SHU home win (3/2). The 26-point margin-of-victory is the biggest loss suffered by the Red Flash since falling to the Pioneers by 29 points back on Jan. 16, 2012. In addition, the 51 points for SFU is the fewest single-game total for the Red Flash in an NEC game since scoring 43 at Robert Morris on Feb. 29, 2016. 

MURPHY'S MOMENT
Playing with a very limited bench unit due to injuries, Allyson Murphy stepped into a leading role in a77-51 win over Saint Francis U as she pumped in a career-high 16 points (7-14 FG) while playing all 40 minutes for the first time in her career. Seeing an increase in playing time due on injuries in the Pioneer backcourt, Murphy notched 15 points at Bryant (2/16) and 11 points at CCSU (2/23) to give her double digit point total in three of the last five games. 

SIEZING THE OPPORTUNITY
Utilizing a very limited bench due to multiple injuries for key contributors, Allyson Murphy has certainly made the most of her opportunity as she has scored 49 of her 130 points (37.7 percent) for the season over the last five games as she is averaging 9.8 PPG in that stretch. A significant increase in scoring, Murphy averaged 3.7 PPG through the first 22 games of the season. 

PROTECTING THE BALL
The Pioneers dished the ball well all afternoon long against SFU (3/2), matching a season-high with 20 assists against just 12 turnovers. This marked the third time in the last four games that the Pioneers have recorded at least 18 assists, well above their season average of 12.9 per game. In a recent loss at LIU Brooklyn (2/18), the Pioneers committed a season-low six turnovers. That six-turnover total for SHU represents the fewest turnovers for the Pioneers in a single-game since committing five in a loss to CCSU back on March 6, 2010 (275 games ago). 

HAINES HANDLING THE NEC
Katherine Haines has made easy work of the NEC this season, currently averaging 18.8 PPG (52.0 FG%, 42.9 3FG%, 77.9 FT%), 9.4 RPG and 2.1 BPG in 32.4 MPG through 16 conference games this season. Haines is currently third in the NEC in points per game, tied for third in rebounding, seventh in field goal percentage, ninth in free throw percentage, second in three-point field goal percentage, second in blocked shots and 15th in minutes played. Haines has recorded eight of her nine 20-plus scoring games in NEC play while she has recorded a double-double in over 50 percent of NEC games (9-of-16) this season. She most-recently notched her 12th double-double of the season with 18 points, 15 rebounds and four assists against SFU (3/2). 

RIDING THE WAVE
Over the last four games, Katherine Haines has turned in several quality performances and is averaging 22.3 PPG (59.3 FG%, 53.3 3FG%, 68.9 FG%), 10.5 RPG, 3.3 APG and 1.0 BPG in 34.0 MPG. Haines matched her career-high with three straight games with at least 20 points while she has two double-doubles in the recent span. She has averaged just under nine field goal makes per game over the four-game stretch and has shot over 50 percent in all four games.  

DAVIS DOING WORK
With injuries scattered all over the lineup, Jayla Davis made the most of her uptick in minutes with a career-high 19 points (7-9 FG, 2-4 3FG) in a road win at FDU (2/25). Davis reached double figures for just the third time this season and the fourth time in her career (38 games) while setting new career-highs in points, field goals, three-point field goals, free throws and minutes. The 19-point burst also marked her first time scoring double figures since netting 10 at Hofstra (11/29), spanning a total of 16 appearances. Another huge key in Davis' progression is ball control as the sophomore has committed just one turnover over the last four games.  

KIANA COMING UP KEY
Stepping up big with injuries hitting the Pioneer lineup hard, graduate student Kiana Ye poured in a career-high nine points (3-4 3FG) in a road win at FDU (2/25) and added eight points on Senior Day against SFU (3/2). After missing the first 24 games of the season due to injury, Ye returned to the floor with an eight-minute appearance at CCSU (2/23) and followed with her career-game against the Knights. For Ye, she bested her previous career-high of seven which came against Monmouth during the 2016-17 season while her nine-point single-game output equaled her entire 2017-18 season scoring total (nine points in 11 games).

LOVING THAT HOME LIVING
Sacred Heart has taken advantage of games held in the Pitt Center this season, entering Monday's game with a 7-1 mark at home in NEC play. The Pioneers saw their nine-game unbeaten home winning streak against conference foes come to an end in an overtime loss to St. Francis Brooklyn (2/2). In the seven SHU home victories in NEC play, the Pioneers own an average scoring margin of +14.7.

PROTECTING THE BALL
The Pioneers have valued protecting the ball and it shows in the stats as SHU leads the conference in fewest turnovers committed per game (13.9). For the season, the Pioneers are 9-5 in games in which SHU commits less than 15 turnovers and have committed fewer turnovers than their opponent in 19-of-27 games (70.4 percent) thus far in 2018-19. SHU set a new season-low with just six turnovers at LIU Brooklyn (2/18), which marks the fewest turnovers for the Pioneers in a single-game since committing five against CCSU back on March 6, 2010 (275 games ago). 

KEYS TO VICTORY
A comparison between wins and losses show some clear trends in determining key factors to the W-L record of the Pioneers. Some key categories include the following:

Stat               Wins (16)        Losses (11)
PPG                71.3                 55.0
FG%                45.3                 32.2
3FG%              39.0                 27.0
3FG/G             8.2                   5.5
RPG                35.0                 28.9
APG                15.5                 9.2

IT'S A POINTS PARTY
Sacred Heart is the only team in the NEC with four players averaging double figures in scoring – Katherine Haines (17.0 PPG), Adrianne Hagood (11.8), Candice Leatherwood (11.3) and Erin Storck (10.6). For the Pioneers, if the season were to end today it'd mark the second straight season in which SHU had four players post double digit marks in points per game. The last time a team in the NEC, other than SHU, to have at least four players averaging double figures in scoring in a season came back in 2014-15 when Bryant had five players score 10+ PPG.

DEFENSE FIRST
Team defense has told the story for the Pioneers in a majority of their victories this season as the Pioneers' loss at Saint Francis U (1/26) was the first time SHU allowed an opponent to score 80-plus points this season. The Pioneers are 8-2 this season when holding opponents to less than 60 points and have allowed less than 50 points five times.

THAT 70+ SHOW
A season removed from going 5-4 in games wherein the Pioneers scored 70+ points, SHU has gone 11-0 in similar games this season as team defense has keyed the turnaround. Cumulatively, in those 11 contests the Pioneers are outscoring opponents by 214 (+19.5 per game) and have defeated six opponents by 22 points or more.

ANOTHER FEATHER IN THE CAP
After recording the program's first-ever triple-double in a road win at St. Francis Brooklyn (1/19), Katherine Haines etched her name in the record books again and became the 20th player in program history and the 13th in Sacred Heart's Division I era (since 1999-2000) to score 1000 career points. Needing 16 points to join the 1000-point club, Haines finished with 19 against Wagner (1/21). In 100 career games, Haines has 1181 points (11.8 PPG). 

PLAYING HER WAY TO THE TOP
Katherine Haines earned her second consecutive NEC Player of the Week honor on January 22nd. The honor comes on the heels of Haines posting the first triple-double in program history and becoming the 20th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career points. Haines' second straight Player of the Week honor makes her the first player in the NEC to earn back-to-back Player of the Week awards this season. This announcement gives Haines four NEC Player of the Week awards in 2018-19, giving her the most of any player in the conference. 

LEATHERWOOD LEADING THE WAY
Candice Leatherwood led the way for the Pioneers in a recent win over Fairleigh Dickinson (2/11) as she pumped in a game-high 19 points while going 7-for-13 from the floor. Leatherwood has scored 20-plus points four times this season including three through 15 NEC games. She also continues to distribute the ball well, dishing out seven assists against just one turnover against the Knights, as she owns a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in 13-of-16 NEC games thus far in 2018-19. 

BUT FIRST…WE TAKE THE LEAD
Owning a halftime advantage has been a huge key to the Pioneers' success all season long, as the Pioneers are 15-2 in games SHU leads at halftime. Since the start of NEC play, the Pioneers are outscoring the opposition by a combined score of 548-438 (+110, +6.9 scoring margin per game) in the first halves of games and have led at the half in 13-of-16 conference games. In those 16 NEC games, the Pioneers' largest scoring margin by-quarter is in the first period as SHU has outscored its opponents 283-205 (+78). By comparison, the next-largest scoring margin is the third quarter, wherein SHU owns a 266-224 (+42) advantage.

HAVE A DAY DABNEY
The effort put forth by Olivia Dabney in the 76-41 home win over Mount St. Mary's cannot be understated as the sophomore went for 12 points, seven rebounds, seven steals, five assists and three blocks in 38 minutes. She either matched or tied a career-high in seven different statistical categories including field goals made (four), field goal attempts (nine), three-point field goals made (three), three-point field goal attempts (six), assists (five), blocks (three) and steals (seven). She did all of this while earning a spot in the starting lineup for the first time since a home win over Bryant back on Jan. 14 (five games ago).

TRANSFORMING HER GAME
In terms of year-to-year improvement, Olivia Dabney has made considerable strides in terms of her offensive production. As a freshman, Dabney slashed 24.5/20.9/47.7 in terms of FG%/3FG%/FT% in her rookie season only to see her improve to 42.2/43.4/75.8 thus far in 2018-19. Dabney's three-point game was an area she highlighted to improve in the offseason and the work put in is paying off as she is currently second in the NEC shooting 43.4 percent from three (23-53 3FG) just one season removed from going 14-for-67 (20.9 percent) from long range.

PIOS PILLING ON THE POINTS
The Pioneers put together their best offensive outing of the season in an 82-63 road win at Fairleigh Dickinson (2/25) in a game that featured several season and career highs:

  • Not only did SHU set a new season-high with 14 three-pointers, but the Pioneers netted a new season-high with 82 points scored
  • The Pioneers went 28-for-46 from the floor (60.9 percent), matching their best single-game shooting percentage in the program's Division I history (since 2000-01)
  • The 14 made three-pointers is the highest total for SHU in an NEC road game in program history
  • SHU made 56 percent of their three-point attempts (14-for-25) which stands as the best mark for the Pioneers in a game since hitting 56.5 percent back on Feb. 11, 2017 against CCSU
  • Jayla Davis (19 points; 7-9 FG, 2-4 3FG) and Kiana Ye (nine points; 3-4 3FG) both set career-highs across the board in nearly every major offensive shooting statistic while Katherine Haines dished out a career-best five assists
  • A 32-point third quarter is the highest-scoring period in program history for SHU, one point higher than a 31-point fourth quarter that came in a 69-59 home win over RMU on Dec. 29, 2016 (NCAA moved to quarters at start of 2015-16) 

FLYING HIGH IN THE SECOND
Undoubtedly the key factor in the Pioneers' 67-57 road win at Bryant (2/16) came via a 30-point second quarter that saw SHU go 11-for-16 (68.8 percent) from the floor and 3-of-6 from three-point range. Several noteworthy marks from the Pioneers' 10-point road win:

  • The 30-point second quarter marks the second-highest scoring period in program history, just one shy off a 31-point fourth quarter from a 69-59 home win over Robert Morris on Dec. 29, 2016 (NCAA moved to quarters at the start of the 2015-16 season)
  • SHU set a new season-high for points scored in a half, netting 45 in the first half against the Bulldogs, which marks the highest-scoring half since going for 48 in a home win over St. Francis Brooklyn on March 5, 2017
  • The 45-point first half is the most points scored for SHU in a half in a road game since scoring 55 back on Jan. 17, 2015 in a 101-90 win at St. Francis U
  • The Pioneers turned up the defense in the third quarter, allowing the Bulldogs to score just six points, good enough for the second-fewest points the Pioneers have ever allowed in a quarter. The fewest points allowed in a frame is a four-point first quarter for Wagner back on Feb. 10, 2018 

ABOUT THE WIN OVER THE MOUNT
Several noteworthy statistics littered the box score from the Pioneers' 76-41 victory over Mount St. Mary's on Feb. 9th and among them included:

  • All five Pioneer starters (Haines 19, Hagood 16, Leatherwood 12, Dabney 12, Storck 10) hit double figures, marking the first time since a 68-60 overtime win over FDU on Feb. 20, 2016 (56 games ago) that SHU saw five players score 10+ points in a single-game
  • SHU set new season-bests in fewest points allowed in a quarter (6 in the first period) as well as the fewest points allowed in a half all season (prev. low 19 vs Bryant, Jan. 14th)
  • The SHU defense completely locked down what was the second-highest scoring offense in NEC play, holding Mount St. Mary's to their lowest point total ever in an NEC game
  • The 41 points scored for the Mountaineers marked the fewest points SHU has allowed to an opponent since a 61-39 victory over CCSU on Feb. 25, 2013 (181 games ago)
  • The 35-point margin-of-victory is the largest win for the Pioneers in an NEC game since an 81-45 victory over FDU on Dec. 6, 2008 (188 games ago)
  • Five different Pioneers hit a three-pointer, combining to go 13-for-26 (50 3G%) which marks a new season-high for SHU and the most made triples in a game since hitting 16 in a win over St. Francis Brooklyn on March 5, 2017 (53 games ago)
  • Dabney's terrific all-around effort is one of the better individual outings in quite some time as her seven steals are the most for a Pioneer in a single-game since Ericka Norman had 10 in a game at Stony Brook on Jan. 4, 2012 (192 games ago)

DOMINATING THE SEAHAWKS

  • The 72-64 win over Wagner marked the 11th straight win for Sacred Heart over the Seahawks (last loss 79-70 at Wagner 1/13/14)
  • The Pioneers upped their home winning streak against the Seahawks to 17 straight games
  • The only defeat SHU suffered to Wagner at home came in a 74-44 loss to the Seahawks on Jan. 18, 2000 which was the Pioneers' first season at the Div. I level

HAINES TRIPLE-DOUBLE POWERS PIONEERS PAST SAINT FRANCIS BROOKLYN 68-66

  • SHU earned its fifth Northeast Conference victory last Saturday as the Pioneers prevailed in the final seconds over St. Francis Brooklyn by a final score of 68-66 
  • Katherine Haines led the Pioneers, tallying the program's first triple-double as she registered 25 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high 11 blocks. Haines' 11 blocks tied the program-record and set the program-record for most blocks in program-history in the Div. I era

SCOUTING RMU

  • Robert Morris comes in with an 18-9 mark on the season while holding a 15-1 record in NEC play
  • The Colonials clinched their third straight NEC Regular Season title which also stands as their seventh in program history
  • Team defense is without question the strength of this team as the Colonials own the top scoring defense (55.2) in the NEC by a very wide margin as the Pioneers are second-best allowing 61.3 points per game
  • The offensive end is a bit more of a struggle for the Colonials as they come in with the seventh-best scoring offense (62.6) in the NEC in addition to the seventh-best field goal percentage (38.3)
  • The three-point shot also hasn't been a huge strength as the team is hitting 33.0 percent from long range for the season
  • With imposing players all along the interior, the Colonials rely on rebounding in a majority of their games as RMU is second in the NEC with a +5.1 rebounding margin
  • Even with their struggles from the field, RMU's potency on the defensive end (league-leading 10.4 SPG) coupled with their ability to protect the basketball has translated into a league-leading +5.33 turnover margin in NEC-only games
  • Nneka Ezeigbo is the top player on the team as she enters as the only Colonial ranked in the Top 30 in the NEC in scoring as she averages 12.0 PPG (13.9 PPG in NEC play) while ranking fourth in the conference in rebounding (7.7 RPG) and 11th in field goal percentage (46.4)
  • Depth of scoring isn't a problem for the Colonials as they have eight players averaging at least 5.0 PPG