FAIRFIELD, CT (January 29, 2011) – The Sacred Heart Pioneers shot a scorching 61.9% (26-42) and for the first time this season had five players in double figures as they dealt Robert Morris an 84-75 Northeast Conference loss Saturday afternoon in the William H. Pitt Center. Sophomore Shane Gibson (Killingly, CT) led the SHU scoring contingent with 19 points while junior Nick Greenbacker (Coventry, CT) chipped in a career-high 17 points to help end an 0-5 stretch at home in conference play this season. Robert Morris's Velton Jones led all scorers with 22 points.
"We stayed together, played tough," commented Greenbacker. "We played smart today. We didn't turn the ball over late, we were strong with the ball and we made our foul shots which was huge."
"This is big because we haven't been winning at home," stated Gibson. "Big win in front of a great crowd. Just builds morale for our team, beating the two-time defending champions. Just have to keep getting better."
The Pioneers (9-12, 4-6 NEC) made 13-of-21 shots in both the first and second halves and held a big advantage at the free throw line. SHU made 26-of-32 at the charity stripe, 22-of-26 coming in the second half. The Colonials went to the line just 11 times, making eight in the loss. SHU also dished out a season-high 21 assists led by senior Jerrell Thompson (Plainfield, NJ) who passed out a career-high 15 in the win, setting a new Sacred Heart Division I record (Drew Shubik – 12 vs. Providence 12/19/07).
SHU grabbed the early lead and built it to 15-8 seven minutes into the game. The Colonials responded with a 16-4 run over the next seven minutes. Senior Gary Wallace buried a pair of three's on the run and junior Lawrence Bridges got a put-back to give the Colonials their largest lead of the afternoon at 24-19. Trailing 26-23, SHU's Greenbacker caught fire and helped put the Pioneers back in front for good.
Greebacker buried a jumper and Gibson followed with a three to put the Pioneers up 28-26 with 3:41 left in the half. Greenbacker then followed with a three of his own at 1:32 and SHU went to the locker room leading 33-29. The junior forward made all five of his shots in the first half, scoring 11 of his 17 points. Greenbacker and Gibson played the offensive catalysts again in the second half leading the Pioneers to a double digit lead.
The duo buried back to back three's at 14:13 and 13:06 to put the Pioneers up 48-38. Gibson followed with a lay-in on the fast break and freshman Chris Evans (Stamford, CT) hit underneath to give Sacred Heart its biggest lead of the night at 52-38 with 11:37 left. Robert Morris would pull within four, 60-56; with 6:28 on the clock as sophomore Velton Jones buried a three.
The Pioneers responded and extended the lead back to nine with junior Stan Dulaire (Bloomfield, CT) throwing down a thunderous dunk on an alley-oop pass from Thompson at 4:11. The Pioneers did the work at the free throw line down the stretch, making 17-of-18 over the final four minutes to secure their fourth NEC win on the year.
"We played hard as a team, a good team effort," said head coach Dave Bike. "Overall, an important game and an important win. They play hard defense and we were challenged today to try and play as hard as them and I think we met the challenge."
Gibson's 19 points came on six-of-10 shooting while Greenbacker finished seven-of-nine while collecting six rebounds, a steal and a block. Evans finished with 14 points and six re bounds while Dulaire had 10 points and six boards. Freshman Evan Kelley (Norwalk, CT) came off the bench for 13 points, making nine-of-10 at the free throw line.
"My job really isn't to score 17 points, its do the little things," stated Greenbacker. "Rebound, take charges and get loose balls. 17 points is just gravy."
Thompson's 15 assists came against just one turnover while he added seven points, all at the free throw line.
"He (Jerrell) is happy with his performance, he knows he doesn't have to score," commented Gibson. "As long as we win, even if he doesn't have any points, he doesn't care. That's the type of player he is. He is our leader."
The Colonials shot 44.4% (28-63) and were outrebounded 31-26. Karon Abraham finished with 19 points while Bridges and Wallace came off the bench for 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Sacred Heart will head to Brooklyn next week for a pair of NEC match-ups starting Thursday night at Long Island.