By William S. Paxton
HARTFORD – At halftime, the Sacred Heart Pioneers seem headed to their first loss trailing by 16 points.
With 15 minutes left in regulation and down 24 points, it seemed all but certain.
The Pioneers might not have known it was a milestone night for Dave Bike, but they sure made their head coach’s 1,000th game with the program turned into a memorable one.
Shane Gibson scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half and overtime as the Pioneers stormed back to stun Yale 85-82 in the Connecticut 6 on Saturday night at the University of Hartford’s Chase Arena.
“This game was different,” said Bike, who collected his largest comeback win at the NCAA Division I level with the 24-point recovery. “The way it was going, for a long time I’m not sure it was supposed to end this way.
“But fortunately, we kept playing. … This was a hell of a way to start the season.”
The Pioneers (1-0) barely showed up offensively in the first half, fumbling their way to a 44-28 deficit with 11 turnovers and just five points from Gibson. It turned darker early in the second half as Yale (0-1) extended that lead to 61-37 with 14:54 to play.
“He’s a talented scorer, he was the fourth leading scorer in the country,” said Morgan (28 points) of Gibson. “The coaches had a game plan. In the first half we executed it, the second half we didn’t.”
And then, the Pioneers woke up.
An 11-0 run gave them life, closing Yale’s lead to 61-48 with 11:14 to go. A 12-0 made it a ballgame again, with the Pioneers trailing 71-66 at 3:34. And Gibson’s layup with 8 seconds left deadlock the team’s at 76 and forced an extra session.
Even then the Pioneers quickly fell behind 81-76 in OT, but their resiliency shined through again.
Phil Gaetano hit a foul shot, Gibson made a jumper, and Louis Montes turned an offensive rebound into a basket. Down 82-81 with 1:27 left, Justin Swidowski (17 points) made two free-throws with 55 seconds left to give SHU the lead and Steve Glowiak sealed it with two more free throws with 19 seconds left.
Game. Set. Match.
“Great energy and comeback by Sacred Heart to come back from a 20-point (actually 16) halftime deficit,” Yale coach James Jones said afterwards.
The celebrating in the Yale locker room at halftime might have helped ignite the SHU comeback. With the locker rooms side-by-side, the Pioneers could hear how happy it was next door.
“We heard them at halftime yelling and cheering,” said Montes, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds. “We felt disrespected.”
The Pioneers were also tried of watching Morgan and the Bulldogs beat them up on offense. Morgan had 12 points at the half and would score 13 of the Bulldogs’ final 15 points in regulation, but the SHU defense didn’t let anyone else hurt them.
“We tried to limit their second shot opportunities, by getting the first rebound and we put on the press also,” Gibson said. “They were getting a lot of comfortable looks (in the first half) and a lot of shots, so we tried to speed it up.”
Justin Sears finished with 19 points for Yale and Stratford graduate Brandon Sherrod added six