Game #9-134: Holy Cross at Sacred Heart PioneersDecember 5, 2012 7:00 pm
William Pitt Center
FAIRFIELD, Conn. - We all love it when a plan comes together. Everything just falls into place, and it's just magic from the beginning to the end. You all know that feeling, right?
Didn't quite work that way Wednesday night as I made my way down to the Pitt Center for a seemingly unremarkable matchup between host Sacred Heart and Holy Cross.
Ryan Peters, who runs the Sacred Heart blog Pioneer Pride
, had warned us earlier in the season that the students might put together some T-shirts in honor of the amazing afro that junior Mostafa Abdel Latif sports
, and sure enough there was a table advertising "Fear The Fro" shirts with Abdel Latif's face on the front of them.
There must be an awesome story behind that. Abdel Latif came all the way from Egypt (Alexandria) to play for Sacred Heart, and the proceeds were going to the Bridgeport Food Bank, which was still running short after Hurricane (I'm calling it a hurricane, even though technically it was a super-tropical storm or something) Sandy. I asked how the idea came to fruition
"Well, we kind of just like Mostafa's hair, so we created this."
"What does he think about it?"
"He thinks it's pretty awesome."
And that was that. I guess if I had more
time, I could find out about his Egyptian roots, his stint on Egyptian youth national teams, and how long he's ben sporting his now-trademark hairstyle on the Sacred Heart campus. Sadly, I didn't, so I just went to my seat at midcourt.
It was OK, if everything worked the way I know karma does, Abdel Latif would have a monster game and lead the charge for the Pioneers as they got a much-needed home victory.
He never got off the bench. In fact, he's only played 30 minutes total this season. He seemed like a good sideline presence, cheering on his team, jumping out of his seat for great plays and time outs, but according to the boxscore, he didn't exist Wednesday. I thought about walking over to veteran coach Dave Bike and telling him it would make a better story for me if Abdel Latif played a role down the stretch, but I figured that might be a bit presumptuous. You don't think so?
In the end, the metaphor of things not exactly going according to the proposed script fits well with Sacred Heart this season. Returning NEC Player of the Year candidate Shane Gibson, the Pioneers looked set to make a run at a conference title and NCAA berth to possibly send Bike, head coach at SHU since the Carter administration, off into the sunset.
But likely starting guards Evan Kelley and Chris Evans have yet to suit up due to injury, and probably won't this season. That leaves Gibson even more of a marked man, and he's struggled with it. For most of Wednesday's contest, 6-foot-4 Louis Montes was playing center, and that's a tough way to try to win in Division I basketball in 2012.
A conundrum that comes from reading statistics and then watching games live sometimes develops, too. Sacred Heart is not a good defensive squad (giving up 75.7 points per game), and so - facing a seemingly poor offensive outfit in Holy Cross (54.1 ppg) - the Pioneers came out in a 2-3 zone.
Understandable, right? But the Crusaders couldn't miss. Having been to the Pitt Center a few times now in the last couple of seasons, it never seems like anyone on the visiting team misses. Sophomore point guard Justin Burrell came into Wednesday's game shooting 6-for-27 from superhoop range, yet had four (on four attempts) in the first five minutes of the game. When Cullen Hamilton joined in the fun, Holy Cross led 22-8 at the 14:20 mark of the first half.
Bike looked at his assistants, they collectively shook their heads, and the zone was gone for the rest of the evening.
Sacred Heart found its way a little, but it still seemed like the Crusaders were cruising to a comfortable road victory after Burrell (who had 20 in the first half alone), scored in transition to give Holy Cross a 59-42 lead with 13:39 left.
But, if nothing else, the Pioneers have been resilient this season, and a comeback was led by an unlikely source. It wasn't Abdel Latif, but freshman De'Aires Tate who came off the bench and sparked the turnaround. Tate, who had only 57 minutes and 10 points to his ledger on the season coming in, matched that in a six-minute span late in the game.
Steve Glowiak's superhoop brought Sacred Heart within 72-68 with 3:14 left, and almost out of nowhere, the Pitt Center came to life. I repeat, the Pitt Center came to life. Where did all these students come from? Benches were rocking, Holy Cross couldn't hear their play calls from coach Milan Brown. Tate scored again, and when a rejuvenated Gibson converted two free throws after a controversial call at the other end, the game was tied at 72 with two minutes left.
Have you ever noticed, though, when teams are struggling, or having bad luck like Sacred Heart is that those game-deciding plays always go against them?
On the ensuing possession, Holy Cross was again lost, the shot clock was running down, Burrell's shot didn't even catch rim. But senior Phil Beans was smart enough to save it in the general direction of fellow senior Jordan Stevens, whose leaning superhoop gave the Crusaders a 75-72 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
Did I mention Stevens hadn't scored up to that point?
Gibson drilled a couple of long superhoops to get his total up to 24, but Holy Cross did enough at the free throw line to close the game out.
It was another frustrating evening on many levels for the Pioneers, but the good news is conference play is still a few weeks away. As it turned out, I was sitting with some of Bike's friends who made their way down for the game, and he came over to chat with them for a little while before heading to the locker room.
"Tough one, Coach."
"We had our chances."
Bike has been around long enough to be able to crack a smile in such a situation and laugh whereas some younger coaches might have been too distraught to even bother.
Will Abdel Latif get his chance to shine sometime down the road for Sacred Heart? Even if he doesn't, he can bring home some cool T-shirts when he goes back to Egypt, right?
HOLY CROSS 83, at SACRED HEART 78
HOLY CROSS 5-4 (0-0) -- C. Hamilton 3-8 0-0 8; J. Burrell 11-15 4-4 30; D. Dudzinski 6-12 5-6 19; M. Miller 0-2 0-0 0; P. Beans 6-9 5-6 18; J. Stevens 1-4 0-0 3; E. Obeysekere 2-3 1-2 5; D. Goens 0-1 0-0 0; T. Abt 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 15-18 83.
SACRED HEART 2-5 (0-0) -- L. Montes 6-10 4-5 16; S. Gibson 7-18 6-7 24; S. Glowiak 4-9 2-2 14; P. Gaetano 0-4 2-2 2; J. Swidowski 2-6 2-2 6; F. Akinpetide 2-4 0-0 4; D. Tate 5-6 0-0 10; T. Falzon 1-2 0-0 2; N. Greenbacker 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-59 16-18 78.
Three-point goals: HC 10-23 (J. Stevens 1-4; P. Beans 1-2; D. Dudzinski 2-3; J. Burrell 4-6; M. Miller 0-1; T. Abt 0-1; C. Hamilton 2-6), SH 8-22 (S. Gibson 4-8; J. Swidowski 0-1; S. Glowiak 4-7; L. Montes 0-2; P. Gaetano 0-4); Rebounds: HC 28 (E. Obeysekere 6), SH 24 (D. Tate 6); Assists: HC 12 (J. Burrell 5), SH 11 (P. Gaetano 5); Total Fouls -- HC 19, SH 14; Fouled Out: HC-None; SH-None.
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