One team left the Pitt Center with their first win as a team and the other left with their first loss on the early season. Sacred Heart was able to get back to their offensive ways Tuesday night in their home opener. Shooting 50% from the field, they controlled the game from the tip. Thanks to some crucial stops early in the 2nd half, the Pioneers were able to take a double-digit lead and hold off any type of comeback. Anthony Latina turned to a 2-3 zone, and it looks like it could be something SHU utilizes going forward, as they held Brown to a 41.7% eFG%, a season best for that defense. Plus, to much of the chagrin of the rest of the NEC, it appears Koreem Ozier and EJ Anosike are rounding into form. The two combined for 44 points and helped lead the Pios to their first victory of the year.
1. Coach Latina was very excited in his post-game interview, as he should've been. The Pioneers found their scoring, and they found it at a very good time in the early season. Going into the Bobcats Invitational, SHU had their best shooting game and they played at a high level on that end all night. They also shot the ball the best they had all season (8-20, 40%) from three. This was also the first game where the Pios had fewer turnovers than their opponents. With Spellman sidelined for most of the night with foul trouble, Kinnon LaRose saw himself as the 4 man quite a bit, finishing with 14 points and 8 boards to cap a successful night for himself and the team. Being able to get going in transition was a big lift for SHU as they kept the tempo up all night in their favor. The Pioneers have been averaging just over 74 possessions per game (last night's game had 73, according to KenPom), making them the 36th quickest team in the country. While Sacred Heart’s turnover numbers are still high (24.7% TO Rate) and need to be improved, if they can continue to shoot the ball as efficiently as they did against Brown, they should be fine.
2. While talking about the offensive burst last night, it cannot be understated how good Koreem Ozier and EJ Anosike were. Koreem found his shooting stroke last night after struggling through the first two games. Ozier went 4/6 from 3 last night, and 9/15 from the field. He was attacking the rim and played with high energy for all 34 minutes he was on the floor. As for the preseason All-NEC 1st teamer, Anosike exploded in the second half, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (7 offensive). He was running the floor in transition, hitting the boards, and knocking down 15 footers. Coach Latina described some of Anosike’s plays in the second half, as "grown man plays."; he was ripping rebounds away from anyone in a Brown jersey. Along with the combination of Ozier and Anosike, one welcomed offensive scoring outburst as of late has been from Cameron Parker. Not known for his scoring, per say, Parker had 11 points Tuesday night, and 23 (9/17 FG, 2/6 3FG) against Binghamton Saturday. While Parker did not shoot as well against Brown (2/10 FG, 1/3 3FG), he has been actively seeking more looks for himself, thus making the defense have to worry about him even more.
3. While offense has always seems to come naturally to this group, it is on the other end of the floor that causes concern for onlookers. The Pios defense has never really been a staple to hang their hat on, but last night could help to change that tune. This 2-3 zone that Sacred Heart has been implementing seems to have offenses puzzled. Much like the Syracuse zone (minus the fact Cuse's smallest player is 6'6" or so) they bring the guards out high, and try to extend out on the wings. The only problem so far has been opposing team's ability to get the ball to that foul line area with relative ease. That did not help Brown however, as the Bears shot 38% from the field Tuesday night, and only 20% from 3. The downside last night came on the glass. Not being matched up with a player to box out, SHU gave up 17 offensive rebounds on 41 misses (Brown collected 41% of their misses). Coach Kyle Steinway said at halftime that it would require all 5 guys to rebound for SHU, and they did that in the second half. Ozier & Parker finished the game with 6 rebounds (Parker had 5 in the 2nd half) and LaRose finished with 8 rebounds. Anosike seemed to take the first half personally and pulled down 12 in the 2nd half alone as previously mentioned. The zone was successful Tuesday night because guys did not take any possessions off. It was impressive to see them flying all over the court for the full 40 minutes, as opposed to 30 or 35 minutes. One area SHU hopes to continue to improve on is their 3-point. Last night they did a great job of being there to contest shots, and not give the Bears and easy looks from the outside.
4. Depth is just another thing the Pioneers will hang their hat on this season. With the game tied 43-43 last night, sophomore guard, Aaron Clarke knocked down a late shot clock 3 and got fouled. After knocking down the free throw, SHU would go on to score 4 more unanswered points to bring the lead to 51-43 and they never looked back. Clarke's play has been a nice spark off the bench. Pair that with freshman guard Tyler Thomas coming into his own a bit, and looking more comfortable, the duo makes a nice option for Ozier or Parker to get some relief. LaRose has been tremendous stepping in and playing big minutes, with a bulk of those minutes being at the 4 with Anosike or Spellman being in foul trouble quite often this season. Senior guard Zach Radz should make his debut soon, and that will give the Pios a solid 9 man rotation, with sophomore forward Zach Pfaffenberger giving Anosike and Spellman a blow and allowing LaRose to play at the 3. If the Pios play many games like they did Tuesday night, they will be very hard to beat.