A new era of sorts began in Piscataway, New Jersey for Anthony Latina and company.
Following the mass exodus to the transfer portal and addition of nine newcomers, Sacred Heart could not match the size and athleticism of #24 Rutgers in an 86-63 loss Wednesday night.
It was a tale of two halves for Sacred Heart in terms of comfort level and fluidity of the offense. The first 20 minutes were very stagnant. Keep in mind Sacred Heart is a little over a week removed from being freed from a two-week pause due to COVID-19.
Not to mention Tyler Thomas and Zach Radz, two players who will be big parts to Sacred Heart’s success this season were not available.
“To be honest with you, I’m very encouraged that we were able to compete like we did because you look at the scores in college basketball and they’re ugly,” said Anthony Latina. “We haven’t had much practice time either. We were coming off a shutdown just a week ago, so we put a lot of guys who’ve never played college basketball game, scrimmage or otherwise, and so I was pleased by that.”
Even with the shortcomings offensively in the first half, Sacred Heart managed to hang around with the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers could not manage to stretch its lead to double figures until the final two minutes of the first half. Fueled by a 9-2 run over the final two minutes, Rutgers would take an 8-point lead and extend it to a 40-25 halftime advantage.
The jitters began to wear off for Sacred Heart in the second half, but the same could be said about Rutgers. Even with the early departure to Geo Baker, the Scarlet Knights’ top option due to an ankle injury, the height and athleticism of Rutgers allowed them to get fast break points at will.
Four minutes into the second half, the lead would balloon to 23, the largest for most the game.
While it’s tough to gauge what a mid-major team looks like when they face off against a power five team, here are some more thoughts on what I saw from the Pioneers in their season opener.
Rebounding Won’t Be as Big a Problem as We Thought:
It’s hard to forget the shows Sacred Heart would put on the boards last season between E.J. Anosike and Jare’l Spellman. With the newcomers coming in this year, we didn’t know what to expect on the glass. Even after a game in which their opponents shot well, the Pioneer still were able to limit Rutgers to one shot at times. Cantavio Dutreil, the JUCO transfer, grabbed 11 boards in 22 minutes in his first game in the Pioneer red, and freshman Bryce Johnson fought his way to eight rebounds himself. They also added 11 offensive rebounds as a team. It’s safe to say Sacred Heart will not face team with size quite like Rutgers. This was an encouraging sight in a loss.
Sacred Heart Took Good Shots:
I was someone who thought that Sacred Heart would really struggle tonight in terms of getting in a flow. If you look at the box score, there’s nothing in the shooting column that stands out to the average viewer. However, they impressed me given all the obstacles they had to face recently. While they only shot 37% from the field in the game, a lot of their shots were open and just did not get the friendly roll. Those will eventually fall. The only question I would have moving forward is who is going to take more shots outside of Aaron Clarke? Clarke led the way with 17 points but did so on 18 shots. Nico Galette took 10, and Dutreil and Matas Spokas each took eight. This will be another question that will be answered as the season goes on, along with Thomas and Radz returning to the rotation.
Sacred Heart looks to grab their first win of the season at home against crosstown rival Fairfield on Sunday at 2 p.m.