SFU women humbled by Sacred Heart

LORETTO – Some days, everything clicks. Other days, nothing does.

Saturday afternoon did not go well for the St. Francis women’s basketball team.

Sacred Heart, though, played one of its best games of the year.

The Pioneers – who were off to their worst Northeast Conference start in program history – played incredible defense, had five players score in double figures and embarrassed the Red Flash, 71-50, at DeGol Arena.

“It’s very upsetting,” St. Francis coach Joe Haigh said. “It’s very upsetting to come out flat like that and not have the effort or the intensity that we’re accustomed to playing with. And then to also have some of those things where we showed some frustration when things weren’t going our way. That was very disappointing. We just didn’t come to play today.”

Sacred Heart quickly built a 12-2 lead, stretched it to 18 and set it on cruise control, leading by as many as 25 in the second half.

But it was the Pioneers’ defense that made the statement.

“We were focused on that game, just trying to do the little things,” Sacred Heart coach Ed Swanson said. “Our defense has been our staple. That’s the way we played today. And we haven’t played that way in two weeks.

“I was just happy with our energy and effort from the get-go.”

The Pioneers (10-7, 2-3 NEC) entered the contest holding opponents to just 58.9 points per game, but St. Francis made them look even better.

Sacred Heart’s press forced the Red Flash into 28 turnovers – 18 in the first half, 11 in the first eight minutes – and held them to 17-of-57 shooting (30 percent).

“It’s very frustrating, especially when you practice it the two days before you see it,” Haigh said of the press. “It wasn’t like it came out of nowhere. It wasn’t like it surprised us, but it did. Instead of attacking it and trying to score, we got back on our heels and had sloppy turnovers. We work on that everyday in practice.

“No question they did a good job defensively. Every team that we play knows what we’ll be doing offensively for the most part. A lot of it is on us. A lot of those turnovers were unforced or frustration. We shot very poorly today, too. We were just bad.”

St. Francis (9-7, 4-1) has been no stranger to first-half, double-digit deficits.

On Jan. 12, Fairleigh Dickinson jumped out to a 17-2 lead before the Red Flash rebounded and blew out the Knights.

Saturday, there was no comeback.

St. Francis rallied to get within 14 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Alli Williams and Brittany Lilley midway through the second half, but more turnovers and Sacred Heart’s transition 3s benefited the Pioneers and killed any momentum the Flash tried to build.

“I thought Kylie Evans’ 3 from the corner was huge,” Swanson said. “We were kind of tense and that kind of settled us down a little bit. Making a big shot is better than taking a timeout. I thought it was critical that the team re-focused.”

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” Haigh said. “We had opportunities to make a play and then turned the ball over. We’re a fun team to watch when we’re emotional, playing hard with a lot of energy. We only saw a couple of tiny flashes of that today.”

Williams was still able to record a double-double – 20 points, 10 rebounds – but only Lilley was able to add significant offensive production with 12 points.

Evans had 16 points for Sacred Heart, while Gabrielle Washington had 12 and Morgan Merriman and Blair Koniszewski each added 11.

Ericka Norman flirted with a quadruple-double, scoring 16 points, grabbing eight boards, and tallying nine assists and seven steals.

“Our players looked to be aggressive today. They weren’t tight,” Swanson said. “When you get out there with your defense and really get it going, that’s when we play better offensively. I was just happy with the start defensively.”

The Pioneers head to Robert Morris (3-13, 2-3) on Monday to temporarily break their tie for eighth place with the Colonials.

Meanwhile, things may get worse before they get better for the Red Flash.

St. Francis hosts NEC-leading Quinnipiac (14-2, 5-0) on Monday.

“We play great, great team in Quinnipiac on Monday, so we have to learn from this,” Haigh said. “We were riding high being 4-0 after a great road trip to New Jersey. Sometimes you do that and start feeling too good about yourself and you forget the hard work it takes to get to that point. I think that caught up to us today.”

“In our league, if teams play really well, you’re going to lose – unless you match that,” Swanson said. “If St. Francis plays really well against Quinnipiac on Monday night, they’re going to win. That’s what makes our league so fun.”

SACRED HEART (10-7, 2-3): Merriman 5-14 1-2 11, Bland 0-0 1-2 1, Norman 5-7 6-8 16, Kiley Evans 7-14 2-2 18, Washington 3-12 3-3 10, Shepard 0-1 0-0 0, Koniszewski 4-6 1-1 11, Ettienne 0-0 0-0 0, Lopez 0-0 0-0 0, Tarsi 1-1 2-2 4. Totals 25-55 16-20 71.

ST. FRANCIS (9-7, 4-1): Fleming 0-5 0-3 0, Williams 6-15 5-6 20, Gibbs 0-5 2-2 2, Lilley 5-12 0-1 12, Hayward 0-2 2-2 2, Carangelo 2-3 0-0 4, Taylor 1-4 0-0 2, Brock 0-0 0-0 0, Sparks 0-2 0-0 0, Perkins 2-6 0-1 5, Keegan 1-2 1-1 3, Doogan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-57 10-16 50.

Halftime-Sacred Heart 34-19. 3-point goals-Sacred Heart 5-13 (Koniszewski 2-3, Evans 2-5, Washington 1-5), St. Francis 6-20 (Williams 3-5, Lilley 2-7, Perkins 1-1, Gibbs 0-1, Hayward 0-1, Sparks 0-2, Taylor 0-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Sacred Heart 35 (Bland 9), St. Francis 41 (Williams 10). Assists-Sacred Heart 20 (Norman 9), St. Francis 10 (Lilley 3). Total fouls-Sacred Heart 17, St. Francis 17. A-732.