On March 6, the Sacred Heart University men’s basketball team concluded their season with a 85-55 loss against Bryant University in the Northeast Conference (NEC) semi-finals.
Sacred Heart ended their season with a 9-9 regular season record and a 9-7 record in the NEC.
After starting off the season with a 75-55 loss against Long Island University (LIU), Sacred Heart looked to improve their preseason ranking of seventh in the NEC. By the end of the season, the Pioneers took third in the conference.
With such a young team, having only two seniors, Sacred Heart is hoping to use this to their advantage by growing the skills of the players they already have and improve on their third place finish this season.
COVID-19 was a factor that played into the team’s ability to connect, cutting off their pre-season games and prohibiting them to practice as a unit before the season.
“We didn’t get to play this summer,” said head coach Anthony Latina. “We didn’t get to know each other, play with each other or get a feeling for one another. It was a tough start.”
The team faced many challenges because of the new COVID-19 rules, including having to quarantine multiple times throughout the season.
“I had to quarantine five times and had to do a lot of Zoom workouts with our trainer,” said freshman forward Nico Galette.
Although COVID-19 posed issues for the team, Galette was able to help the team by the end of the season by being the second lead scorer for Sacred Heart in their NEC semi-final game against Bryant with 13 points.
“It felt good (to be the second lead scorer against Bryant),” said Galette. “I kept focusing on getting better offensively, and I think that was a product of me being in the gym all the time.”
Sophomore point guard Tyler Thomas was selected as both the NEC Most Improved Player and Second-Team All NEC. Last season, Thomas was named NEC Rookie of the Week twice throughout the year in games that resulted in victory against Wagner and Holy Cross.
This year, Thomas averaged 19.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game, making him the lead scorer this season for Sacred Heart.
“It means nothing to me to be put on Second-Team All NEC,” said Thomas. “It would mean nothing to me if I was First-Team. I want to win.”
Sacred Heart has never sent the basketball team to the national tournament in its history of playing at the Division I level. A conference championship this year would have guaranteed the Pioneers their first appearance in that tournament.
A perk of winning the regular season would include an invitation to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). This tournament is one of the most prestigious college basketball venues, with a roster of top tier Division I basketball teams from around the country.
“We’ve been in the semi-finals (of the NEC tournament) two years in a row,” said Latina. “Hopefully we can skip a step, make it to the finals, and win the finals.”