It was set up perfectly. Shane Gibson, the greatest player in Sacred Heart Division I history, was only 19 points shy of 2000 points coming into Senior Day. The fifth year senior was approaching the end of his sensational career, so of course he’d crack the 2000 point milestone, while also leading the Pioneers to a much-needed victory in his last ever home game. After all, these are what dreams are made of.
The only problem was Kyle Vinales had other ideas.
The Central Connecticut (CCSU) sophomore was excellent on both ends of the floor in the second half, as his Blue Devils used clutch play late to seal a critical victory and break their four game losing streak.
“We’ve been on the skids,” said CCSU head coach Howie Dickenman after the game. “We came out and played with more emotion this afternoon than any game this year. We played like it was a championship game.”
The championship effort was anchored with terrific performances by Vinales and senior big man Joe Efase. Both players combined for 49 points on only 31 shots. It was Vinales phenomenal play down the stretch that impressed his grizzled head coach the most.
“Today, I thought we concentrated on [Shane] Gibson and Kyle did a fantastic job on Gibson,” said Dickenman. “We know Gibson is going to get his 25-28 points, but you can’t let him go off. And Kyle keeps him under 19, which would have been 2000.”
When asked about Vinales performance, Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike simply added, “He got the best of [Gibson].”
CCSU played stout interior defense that allowed the Pioneers to only convert 38.1% of their two pointers. Joe Efase, in particular, was a beast defensively blocking eight shots, tying a career high. His defensive prowess, along with Brandon Peel and Terrell Allen, discouraged Sacred Heart down low and forced Dave Bike’s squad to jack up 27 three-pointers. For the first time in five contests, CCSU held their opponent to 1.00 point per possession. In their previous four games, all defeats, CCSU had given up an unsavory 1.23 points per possession.
“[Efase] was so focused and he was really upset after the Bryant game with how he played, how we played,” said Dickenman when asked about Joe Efase’s terrific game. “You could tell, he came out of that game besides himself and yesterday’s practice was probably the most intense practice we had. We played as hard as we could in practice, and it carried over into the game.”
Despite the Blue Devils energy, Sacred Heart kept the game close enough late to have a chance. When Shane Gibson, who finished with 14 points leaving the senior five points shy of 2000 for his career, hit his first three-pointer of the second half with 2:47 remaining, the Pioneers were only trailing by one point, 66-65. But no Sacred Heart defender could stay in front of Vinales late, as the fifth leading scorer in the nation at 22.3 points per game logged eight points in the final 2:16 to snap the Blue Devils losing streak.
In addition, Sacred Heart was sloppy with the ball late, which led to 12 turnovers for the game. The Blue Devils took advantage of the Pioneers miscues, by outscoring Sacred Heart 19-4 on points off turnovers. CCSU was also money from the charity stripe down the stretch (17 of 19), which certainly helped ice the game late.
“I think they got too many layups,” said a dejected Dave Bike after the loss. “Important games like these you got to play tougher defense, and they shot too well and we didn’t shoot good enough.”
Steve Glowiak scored a team high 21 points on six of 14 shooting. Freshman Tevin Falzon added ten points – eight in the second half – to go along with six rebounds. Louis Montes also finished with a double double with 14 points and ten rebounds, but he needed 16 shots to register the 14 points.
The win moves CCSU into a seventh place tie in the NEC standings, which at the moment, puts them in very good shape to qualify for the NEC tournament. With head-to-head tiebreakers over seventh place Sacred Heart and ninth place St. Francis Brooklyn, the Blue Devils are likely to be playing a first round NEC tournament game on Wednesday, March 6th. Especially with three home games left on the regular season schedule.
Sacred Heart, on the other hand, concludes the season with a brutal three game road stretch, which includes Bryant, LIU Brooklyn, and St. Francis Brooklyn. If things break right, the Sacred Heart/St. Francis Brooklyn showdown could very well serve as an eight/nine seeded play-in game for the NEC tournament.
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride