Brooklyn – Sonia Smith, a Maryland native has a knack for performing in the Big Apple.
After scoring a career-high 23 points against LIU on the road last season, the sophomore guard led the way for Sacred Heart in a 73-64 win in the Pioneers’ season and conference opener following a nine month break from basketball.
The opening minutes of the game showed how hard Sacred Heart was hit with two COVID-19 shutdowns in the month of November. The Pioneers started off the game with four turnovers in three minutes and looked at a quick 10-2 deficit before they could gather themselves.
“I told them that we are giving the game away. We just had to get back into the swing of things and realize we are playing someone that isn’t ourselves,” said Sacred Heart head coach Jessica Mannetti.
Since the preseason, Sacred Heart had spent more days in quarantine (28), than together as a full squad (19).
However, one of the most experienced teams in the conference this season bounced back. With better ball control and a more fluid offensive approach, Sacred Heart outscored LIU by five the rest of the quarter to find themselves trailing by just three after then minutes.
Along with both teams getting their feet under them in the early going, it was given that players would need to do the same. All-conference selection Adrianne Hagood endured a 1-6 shooting clip early on. A typical 15 point per game scorer couldn’t find the touch early on, yet Sacred Heart stuck around.
Much of that was a credit to graduate student Nikki Johnson. On top of finding her own scoring opportunities, she was grabbing rebounds, dishing assists, and creating LIU turnovers with her defense at the top of the key.
With a half under their belts which saw LIU lead by six, Sacred Heart came out of halftime with more comfort on the court. Fueled by a 20-7 run over the first five minutes of the second half, the Pioneers found themselves with their first lead of the season.
“We had one of those moments in the game where we were really struggling with rebounding and turnovers,” said Mannetti. “We had to go back and remind ourselves that we know who we want to be. But what are we doing to do that?”
Seven different Pioneers scored during the lead-changing run. Sonia Smith was the catalyst for the run. The lead would be one that Sacred Heart would not give up for the rest of the game.
The guard scored 14 points and dished all seven of her assists in 16 minutes of play in the second half. Once again, Sacred Heart’s depth was the gift that kept on giving.
“Sonia is always ready to go,” Mannetti said. “Every day during the pandemic she worked. She wasn’t just settling for being on the all-rookie team last year. She’s a worker. She finds a way to push the ball and get to the rim.”
Outside of Smith, nine other Pioneers cracked the scoring column as the offensive attack was spread throughout Sacred Heart’s bench. Nikki Johnson finished with 9 points and Olivia Dabney and Abigail Kangudie chipped in eight apiece.
The two teams will face each other tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. in what will be the new format for conference play in this unprecedented season. The short turnaround will favor Sacred Heart, who had just two players play 30 minutes or more.
“Our 34 bench points tonight are really telling of just how deep we can go,” said Mannetti. “Especially when some of our starters are cold, and that’s ok. When you have kids that can make up for that, it’s a nice feeling to have.”