No. 1 Pioneers Host No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson in First Round of NEC Tournament
The Storyline... It's March and that only means one thing: the NEC Tournament. With the overtime win over Robert Morris Monday night, the Pioneers clinched their fourth regular season NEC title and home-court advantage throughout the tournament. With momentum on their side, Sacred Heart hosts No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson (11-6 NEC), whom, earlier this season, the Pioneers topped 62-47. The Knights finished the season with a two-game losing streak, but are looking to turn it around with an upset of the top team.
The Series...The Knights have only defeated Sacred Heart once in the 22 times the teams have met, back on Jan. 31, 2002 when Fairleigh Dickinson notched a 64-60 victory. The Pioneers lead the all-time series 21-1 after picking up another win earlier this season. FDU Head Coach Peter Cinella has never been able to get one over on Ed Swanson's Pioneers, as the Knights have not beaten SHU in the last five years under his leadership.
Scouting the the Knights... No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson closed out the regular season with a 67-70 loss to LIU Brooklyn to bring their season NEC record down to 11-6. The Knights are led by All-NEC guard Mariyah Laury who is averaging 17.4 points per game. Member of the All-NEC Rookie Team, Ericka Livermore leads the team with a 47.1 shooting percentage. Fairleigh Dickinson ranks tenth in the league in scoring averaging only 58.1 points in a game, while allowing their opponents 62.2. The Knights have picked up win against tough opponents, topping Quinnipiac (74-65), LIU Brooklyn (71-65) and Monmouth (72-64) this season.
Rookie of the Year... Washington got the nod as Rookie of the Year just two days after winning her fifth Choice Hotels Northeast Conference Rookie of the Week. Last week, the freshman had back-to-back 20-plus point performances, including the game-saving triple against Robert Morris at the buzzer to send the title clinching game into overtime. Nothing new, however, as the Mesa, Ariz. native has been an offensive force for the Pioneers throughout her rookie campaign. Washington finished the season averaging 12.3 points per game after recording double-digit scoring 18 times this season, including six 20-plus point games. The 5-foot-9 guard leads all rookies in scoring heading into the NEC Championship Tournament. Her sharp-shooting also has her leading the league in three-point field goal percentage, 48.1%. Washington was also voted to the NEC All-Rookie Team and All-NEC Second Team.
Player of the Year... Callan Taylor was named Player of the Year after a season where she nearly averaged a double-double with 17.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Her high point of the season was at Robert Morris in January when she put 31 points on the board. The six-foot forward recorded 14 double-doubles this season, bringing her career total to 52 maintaining her lead over all active NCAA Division I players. At home against Quinnipiac, Taylor pulled down the 1,000 rebound of her career, making her the first Pioneer in Division I history to have 1,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds. Four games later, at Monmouth, she became the new Sacred Heart all-time rebounding leader, breaking Kelley Gray's record of 1,036 set from 1983-87. The senior was also named to the All-NEC First Team for the second time in her career.
Coach of the Year... For the fourth time in his career, Ed Swanson has been named the Brenda Reilly Coach of the Year. For the fourth time since joining the Division I ranks, Swanson has led the Pioneers to a first place finish. With a 15-3 NEC record, Sacred Heart finished a full two games ahead of the second place Quinnipiac Bobcats. He received the honor in 2009 when, like 2012, the Pioneers finished atop the NEC. That season, Sacred Heart was a perfect 19-0 in conference play and went on to win the NEC Tournament sending them to the first round of the NCAA Tournament.