#2 Women’s Basketball Downed by #4 Saint Francis U, 68-60, in NEC Semifinals

#2 Women’s Basketball Downed by #4 Saint Francis U, 68-60, in NEC Semifinals

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – A great 2018-19 season came to an unfortunate end for the Sacred Heart women's basketball team on Thursday night as the No. 2 seed Pioneers fell in the NEC Semifinals, 68-60, to the No. 4 seed Saint Francis U from the Pitt Center in a game televised on ESPN3. A difficult end to a successful campaign, the Pioneers conclude the season with a 19-12 overall mark while the defending NEC Champion Red Flash advance to their 18th NEC title game in program history.

Candice Leatherwood pumped in a playoff career-high 21 points (8-16 FG, 5-10 3FG) to lead the Pioneers. Erin Storck had a fantastic all-around effort with 13 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals while Katherine Haines tallied 14 points and nine rebounds. The three Pioneers playing in their final collegiate season (Leatherwood, Storck and Haines) combined for 48 of SHU's 60 points scored on the evening.

Making their 13th trip to an NEC Semifinal out of 20 NEC Tournament appearances, the Pioneers couldn't advance to what would've been their sixth NEC title game appearance. With the 2019 NEC Championship featuring top-seeded Robert Morris against the Red Flash, the Pioneers stand a chance at a national postseason berth. If the Colonials were to win the NEC title, SHU would earn the NEC's automatic qualifying spot into the WNIT due to the Pioneers earning the No. 2 seed in regular season play.

SCORE
Saint Francis U 68 / Sacred Heart 60

RECORDS
Sacred Heart (19-12, 14-4 NEC) / Saint Francis U (16-16, 11-7 NEC)

LOCATION
Pitt Center / Fairfield, CT

COACH MANNETTI QUOTE
"Unfortunate outcome for us, I thought we fought for 40 minutes and we went cold at the end. I give a lot of credit to Saint Francis, they came and played really aggressive and forced us into some tough situations, especially down the stretch where we had to take care of the ball and we could have done that better. But I love the way we started the game, I thought the team did a great job of executing and we were feeling really really comfortable in the flow of things. In the second half, you make some adjustments, need some counters and you just need to make shots sometimes to get into a rhythm and we went a little cold. A lot of credit to St. Francis on the effort they brought tonight, I thought they responded to some adversity really well and unfortunately the ball didn't fall for us."

First Quarter (22-17 SHU)

  • A fantastic start in front of a vibrant home crowd saw the Pioneers grab a nine-point lead just 6:03 into the game
  • Leatherwood dropped in a three-pointer on the first Pioneer possession of the game and later his another to make it 12-5 before Haines converted in the lane to force a Red Flash timeout
  • The two sides traded baskets for the next few minutes before SFU cut into the lead and made it 22-17 after the first period
  • Leatherwood (eight) and Haines (six) combined for 14 points as both teams shot at least 50 percent in the frame (SHU 8-15; SFU 7-14)

Second Quarter (35-34 SHU)

  • Adrianne Hagood got into the act to start the second quarter as she drove for a fastbreak layup before knocking down a triple that made it 26-17 SHU
  • A huge sequence occurred midway through the quarter as Storck drew a charge on SFU's Jess Kovatch (owner of the second-most all-time three-pointers in NCAA history) as the senior picked up her second foul
  • With Kovatch heading to the bench with the Pioneers up by eight, SHU had a golden opportunity to stretch their advantage to close the first half
  • Rather than an expected Pioneer run, the Red Flash rallied without their star guard and outscored SHU 13-6 (+7) for the remainder of the first half with Kovatch on the bench
  • Four SHU turnovers in the second quarter proved costly as the Red Flash outscored the Pioneers 7-0 in points-off-turnovers in the period

Third Quarter (54-50 SFU)

  • With SHU holding a slim one-point lead to start the second half, the Pioneer seniors continued to play well as Leatherwood drained another triple, Storck connected from outside and Haines found a bucket on the inside to push the SHU lead up to 43-38
  • The Red Flash, however, did not go away easily as a 16-7 run for the visitors swung momentum and gave SFU a 54-50 lead heading into the fourth quarter
  • Kovatch was crucial in the run as she scored nine of her game-high 23 points in the third quarter alone, including a three-point make from 28-feet away that forced a SHU timeout and had the traveling fanbase all on their feet
  • Leatherwood did her best to keep the Pioneers in the game with seven points in the frame but seven Pioneer turnovers limited their chances on the offensive end

Fourth Quarter (68-60 SFU)

  • Trailing by just four to start the fourth, the SHU defense stepped up and didn't allow a SFU bucket for the first 3+ minutes of the frame but the shots did not fall for the Pioneers as SHU didn't score their first point of the quarter until there was 4:04 remaining
  • In that span, the Red Flash grew their lead to 11 which proved too much to overcome for a gamely SHU squad that made a late run
  • With the home side doing their best to inspire a comeback, Leatherwood hit a triple that cut the SFU lead down to six while Storck later converted in the lane to make it 61-57 SFU with 1:41 remaining
  • Needing a stop, SHU saw Courtney Zezza hit a clutch jumper in the lane to make it a six-point game again
  • Hagood then missed a three-pointer on the other end and the Red Flash salted to win away with free throws down the stretch

NOTES

  • SHU came up with another successful season as the Pioneers advanced to a 20th consecutive NEC Tournament, having never missed the postseason since joining the conference in 1999-00
  • The Pioneers move to 21-17 all-time in NEC Tournament action, 17-8 from the Pitt Center and 5-8 in the NEC Semifinals
  • This marked the second consecutive season in which the Red Flash have bounced the Pioneers out of the NEC Tournament in the semifinal round
  • Last season, the Red Flash toppled the Pioneers 78-47 from Loretto before going on to win the NEC Championship
  • Leatherwood racked up 21 points, hitting 5-of-10 from three, giving her 732 points in 59 games across two seasons as a Pioneer after transferring from Liberty at the start of the 2015-16 season
  • Playing in potentially her final game as a Pioneer, Haines recorded 14 points and nine rebounds to push her all-time point total to 1245 which ranks 13th all-time at SHU
  • Storck played one of her best all-around games of the season, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists
  • Storck potentially finishes her career with 928 points in 124 career games, having missed just three games across a stellar four-year career
  • Turnovers played a large role in the outcome as the Pioneers were forced into 19 for the game while SFU committed 13
  • That +6 turnover margin for the Red Flash also helped lead to a 18-10 advantage for SFU in points-off-turnovers
  • This marked just the third time all season the Pioneers have lost a game in which SHU owned a halftime lead (18-3 record this season when leading at halftime)
  • The loss snaps a six-game win streak for SHU as well as a five-game home winning streak

NEXT GAME
A potential WNIT bid awaits the Pioneers if the top-seeded RMU Colonials come up with a win over the Red Flash in Sunday's NEC Championship game. Having finished with the second-best league record, the WNIT hands an automatic bid to a team in each conference with the best record that did not win the respective league's title. If the Red Flash were to defeat RMU, the Colonials would head to the WNIT and the Pioneers would see their season come to an end.