FAIRFIELD, Conn. – In one of the most impressive displays of toughness, determination and grit, the Sacred Heart women's basketball team completed a come-from-behind 63-60 victory over Merrimack on Thursday evening to open Northeast Conference play in the Pitt Center. The Pioneers snap a five-game losing streak to move to 4-8 on the season and 1-0 in NEC play while league's newest member Merrimack drops to 7-5 on the season and 0-1 in conference.
Heading into tonight's game with just seven healthy players and trailing for a majority of the game, the Pioneers found a way to win down the stretch as SHU overcame an eight-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat a Merrimack squad that came into NEC play with the league's best record. First-year Sonia Smith played a pivotal role in the comeback as she scored six straight points in a span of 47 seconds to turn a three-point Merrimack lead into a one-point SHU advantage.
Sonia is TAKING OVER ��— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
6 straight points for the rookie ... its crunch time and SHU leads by ☝️ pic.twitter.com/sUpgD04kdR
Even with Smith's late-game push, the Pioneers still had work to do down the stretch and the team defense proved vital as the Warriors were held scoreless for over three minutes down the stretch. On offense, Olivia Dabney hit a jumper in the paint that pushed SHU ahead by three with 1:06 remaining before Jayla Davis broke through the Warrior defense for a runner that made it 59-54 with 39 seconds left.
DAVIS �� Biggest lead of the game for SHU pic.twitter.com/7m340OEdgZ— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
Following a Diamond Christian triple, Davis stepped to the line and canned a pair of clutch free throw makes and forced a missed floater on the ensuing Merrimack possession that iced the game away.
Playing with a very limited bench, the Pioneers needed several players to step up and they were led by a career game from Dabney as the junior put up her first career double-double, finishing with a career-high 17 points to go along with a career-high 12 rebounds in 38 minutes. Smith came off the bench to match her season-high with 12 points while she dished out a season-high six assists. Davis tallied all 13 over her points in the second half and grabbed a season-high nine rebounds while Adrianne Hagood netted 16 points to go along with three steals.
�� "What a tremendous way to start conference."— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
Couldn't agree more Coach �� pic.twitter.com/Ruew2lQthS
1st Quarter (15-13 MER)
- With just three total fouls called, the first quarter was an up-and-down affair that saw 35 total shots attempted between the two sides
- SHU's defense was strong out of the gate as the Warriors were held to two points over the first 4:31, allowing the Pioneers to jump out to a 6-2 lead
- That four-point advantage for SHU was the largest lead the Pioneers held until the final minute of play as Merrimack answered with a strong showing in the final four minutes, outscoring SHU 13-7 to take the two-point lead
- The Pioneers held a 13-12 lead late in the stanza but a buzzer-beating halfcourt three from Jayme Decesare gave Merrimack the advantage
- Hagood (seven) and Dabney (six) combined for all 13 of the SHU points in the opening frame
7⃣ straight points for Hagood and the first SHU lead pic.twitter.com/lZwvc5jZTd— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
2nd Quarter (30-24 MER)
- Merrimack's lead swelled to nine, their largest lead of the game, midway through the second quarter as SHU struggled on the offensive end, scoring just two points in the opening 5:30 of the quarter
- Like they did throughout the game, SHU's response to a Merrimack run was strong as the Pioneers cut the nine-point Warrior lead down to three in a span of just 2:13
- Merrimack's lead remained at three until the final possession as another buzzer-beating three, this time from Alana Fursman gave Merrimack a 30-24 halftime lead
Dabney �� "Got em" pic.twitter.com/TELjc2i3Li— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
3rd Quarter (44-39 MER)
- A back-and-forth third quarter saw SHU score on their first two possessions of the second half, cutting the margin down to one, only to see Merrimack regain a six-point lead on their next two trips down the floor
- The lead continued to swing as SHU tied the score at 37-37 with a Davis triple from the top of the key but Merrimack locked down defensively for the remainder of the frame, allowing just two SHU points to rebuild a five-point advantage
TIE GAME ‼️ pic.twitter.com/7sGFMKLmmp— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
4th Quarter (63-60 SHU)
- An incredible fourth quarter effort saw SHU, playing with just seven healthy players, outscore Merrimack 24-16 to overcome an eight-point deficit and come away with a gritty home NEC win
- Merrimack tried to put the game away early as Denia Davis-Stewart hit her third three-pointer of the game, giving the Warriors an eight-point lead with 8:20 remaining
- With the Warriors leading by six a few minutes later, the SHU comeback started as Davis put one in from distance at the top of the key, making it 52-49 Merrimack with 5:07 left
- Smith then took over, with her six-point burst in a span of just 47 seconds as she hit a floater, followed by a steal and score and capped by a deep jumper that gave SHU a 55-54 lead with 3:06 left
- As Merrimack couldn't find much on offense, the Pioneers took advantage with Dabney hitting in the paint followed by Davis driving right and hitting a floater that made it 59-54 SHU with 39 seconds left
- Merrimack tried to make a game of it late as Chrisitian hit a triple to cut the Pioneers lead to just two points but Davis and Dabney each went 2-for-2 at the free throw line for a pair of clutch makes that sealed the SHU come-from-behind win
Smith ⏩ Dabney ... SHU's lead ⬆️ to 3 pic.twitter.com/mpX3xdeaJx— Sacred Heart WBB (@SacredHeartWBB) January 2, 2020
- Now in their 21st season as a member of the NEC, the Pioneers continue to dominate in NEC openers as SHU is now 18-3 in league openers since joining the conference in 1999-00
- With the latest triumph, SHU improves to 10-2 in NEC openers played at home
- This was just the third all-time meeting between the Pioneers and Warriors as Merrimack is in their first season as an NCAA Division I member
- In a game that featured just 24 fouls, the Pioneers went the first three quarters without a free throw attempt but managed to go a perfect 7-for-7 in the fourth to help seal the comeback
- As a team, SHU saw four hit double figures in scoring, led by Dabney's career-high 17 points
- This marked the first time in Dabney's career that she led the Pioneers in scoring
- Dabney's first career double-double featured a career-high 17 points, eclipsing her previous career-best of 13 which she accomplished three times
- Dabney's 12 rebounds is easily a career-high as her previous personal-best was eight set against Bryant on Jan. 14, 2019
- Davis continues to find her form in her return from injury as she scored double figures for the fifth time over the last eight games while she is averaging 10.5 points per game in that stretch
- Davis' nine rebounds easily set a season-high as her previous-best was six against Holy Cross on Dec. 14
- Hagood eclipsed her team-leading scoring average (15.9 PPG) as her 16-point effort is her eighth double digit scoring game in 11 appearances this season
- Carly Stroemel received the starting nod and went for five points to go along with a season-high seven rebounds
- Playing against the league's leading scorer and rebounder, SHU's defense was impressive in holding Davis-Stewart to just 8-for-22 shooting despite a gaudy stat line that featured 20 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks while playing all 40 minutes
The Pioneers are back in action with a quick turnaround as SHU heads to Wagner for a 1 PM tip on Saturday.