NEC Championship: Sacred Heart 72 FDU 60

Teaneck, NJ - ‘It is difficult to beat a team three times’, is an ageless axiom used by coaches. Sacred Heart did not have an easy time but did manage to pull off the sweep. A very significant sweep at that. The Pioneers defeated FDU 72-60 at the Rothman Center on Sunday to win the Northeast Conference Championship. Their first since 2012. Sacred Heart plays Southern in the First Four on Wednesday at Stanford. The winner moves on to face the top seeded Cardinal. FDU, the conference’s regular season champion, will play in the WNIT for the second consecutive season.

Three point(ers) of emphasis:

Defense. FDU prides itself on strong defense. The Knights allow 52 points per game. The first period closed with Sacred Heart showing a 21-14 lead. Those points allowed by the Knights were nearly half what they give up (52 ppg allowed) for a full game. Definitely not the start coach Ang Szumilo hoped for from her group. Sacred Heart did a great job of getting in the lane. Five of the Pioneers' eight field goals the first ten minutes came inside the paint.

Strong start. At the half FDU trailed 40-35. The ten minutes following intermission saw a reversal of fortune. In the third period Dahomee Forgues scored eight points for the Knights. That total matched Sacred Heart’s total for the entire ten minutes. While the offense picked up, the story for FDU was on the defensive end. They did a much better job of containing Ny’Ceara Pryor, the Pioneers superlative 5’3" guard, capable of breaking down defenses. Facing a rejuvenated defensive effort on the part of FDU, Jessica Manetti’s group looked stagnant and tentative on the offensive end.

Bounce back. The momentum was in FDU’s favor. They began the fourth period with a 49-48 lead. In a game featuring eight lead changes, FDU still held a 56-55 lead with four minutes remaining. Those final minutes were the sole property of Sacred Heart. The Pioneers went on a 12-0 run. Pryor was a main catalyst in the late game heroics. While FDU struggled offensively, Pryor hit several penetration pull up jumpers. The Knights lost the lead and the momentum. "We turned it over a few times in those last few minutes," FDU coach And Szumilo lamented. "She (Pryor) hit a few shots where she was really closely defended." With the lead in hand Sacred Heart closed it out on the free throw line. "FDU is so good defensively, Sacred Heart coach Jessica Manetti said. "Going into the last period I just told our team we had to get back playing at our pace. Once we could do that we would be alright."

Possessions: 72

Offensive efficiency: Sacred Heart 100, FDU 83

Leading scorers: Sacred Heart - Ny’Ceara Pryor 20, FDU- Chloe Wilson, 19.

Records : Sacred Heart (18-13), FDU (24-7).

Among those in attendance were NEC commissioner Noreen Morris, NEC officiating supervisor Jon Levinson, Sacred Heart men’s coach Anthony Latina and several of his players. Former Villanova women’s coach Harry Peretta and Stephanie Gaitley, whom FDU mentor Ang Szumilo assisted at Monmouth and Fordham.