WRITTEN BY DAVID MENZE
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS, NEW YORK — St. Francis College Terriers overcame an eight point halftime deficit to defeat the Pioneers of Sacred Heart University 58-56 on Saturday in a MSG televised thriller that ended with junior forward Travis Nichols knocking down the game-winning basket with one second left.
Junior forward Travis Nichols hit the game-winning shot to beat Sacred Heart in St. Francis’ final home game of the regular-season
Nichols gave St. Francis senior’s Justin Newton and Stefan Perunicic a beautiful parting gift, a victory in the final home game of their respected regular-season collegiate careers, by hitting the game-winning shot on Senior Night.
Before the game, Newton and Perunicic were honored with their family members by St. Francis College.
The Terriers improve to 15-12 overall (12-4 NEC) with just two games left on the schedule, both are on the road.
Junior forward Akeem Johnson narrowly missed posting a double-double in the game as he led St. Francis in scoring with 16 points while grabbing nine rebounds. Perunicic (11 points) and point guard Brent Jones (10 points) also chipped in with double-digit scoring performances. Freshman power forward Jalen Cannon added a team-high 10 rebounds.
The saviour of the game Travis Nichols had eight points (all in the second half) and four rebounds in just 15 minutes of play as a reserve. Jones missed a lay-up with three seconds on the clock but Nichols was there to carral the board and knock down the key jumper with just one second left. Sacred Heart got off a desperation three-point attempt as time expired but it was off the mark.
Sacred Heart led 30-22 at halftime, but St. Francis tied the game three times in the first four minutes of the second half before going ahead, 42-41, on Nichols’ three-pointer at the 12:03 mark. Neither team led by more than five points after that.
Four players placed in double-figures for Sacred Heart as Shane Gibson, the conference’s leading scorer, recorded game-high’s of 21 points and 12 rebounds. He played all 40 minutes in the contest. Montes (14 points), Evans (11 points), and Gaetano (10 points) were the only other scorers for Sacred Heart.
The Terriers shot 41.8 percent (23-of-55) overall and connected on 6-of-24 (25%) from long-range while converting 60 percent (6-of-10) from the foul-line. SFC outrebounded the Pioneers by a 35-27 margin.
The Pioneers shot 44.4 percent (20-of-45) overall and drained 6-of-15 (40%) attempts from behind the arc while converting 83.3 percent (10-of-12) from the charity-stripe.
Sacred Heart is now 13-16 overall (7-9 NEC) and slips to eighth place in the conference standings after the loss. They entered Saturday’s match-up tied with Monmouth for seventh place but Monmouth beat Mount St. Mary’s 68-66 earlier in the day. Sacred Heart will host Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA) to end their regular-season.
The Terriers next game is at Monmouth Univesity (10-19 overall; 8-8 NEC) on Thursday, Feb. 23.
FINAL: SFC 58 – SHU 56
00:27 – Sacred Heart ties score 56-56.
00:48 – Terriers take 56-54 lead after Johnson sinks two clutch free-throws.
1:43 – SHU down 54-43 after hitting one-of-two foul-shots.
2:50 – St. Francis controls 54-52 lead after Mockford knocks down a jumper.
3:26 – Pioneers tie score 52-52 after Montes’ conventional three-point play.
4:55 – St. Francis goes up 50-49 after Johnson gets fouled and sinks two clutch free-throws.
7:00 – SFC cuts lead to 49-48 after Jones’ fast-break lay-up.
7:30 – SHU goes up 49-44.
12:00 – Terriers take back lead, 42-41, following two straight three-point makes by Nichols.
13:35 – Sacred Heart reclaims lead 41-36 after a quick 5-0 spurt.
16:00 – St. Francis starts second half on fire with 14-6 run to tie score 36-36.
First Half Recap:
St. Francis enters halftime down by eight points due to their lack of scoring – the Terriers have scored only one point in the final seven minutes of the first half.
As a team, SFC is shooting just 30 percent (9-of-30) overall, a miserable 14.3 percent (2-of-14) from long-distance, and 40 percent (2-of-5) from the foul-line. Senior Stefan Perunicic has a team-high eight points for St. Francis.
Sacred Heart is shooting 45.5 percent (10-of-22) overall, 37.5 percent (3-of-8) from behind the arc, and 100 percent (7-of-7) from the charity-stripe.
Shane Gibson is the high man for the Pioneers with 11 points and seven rebounds while playing all 20 minutes in the first half. Two other players for Sacred Heart chipped in with seven points apiece.
HALFTIME: SHU 30 – SFC 22
1:36 – SHU regains lead, 30-22, after 9-0 run fueled by Gaetano’s long-range bomb.
7:00 – Terriers take back the lead, 22-21, after Ulmer’s tip-in.
8:18 – Sacred Heart reclaims lead, 21-20, after Evans hit free-throw after being fouled on slam dunk.
9:29 – St. Francis goes up 20-14 after Cannon’s second chance putback.
10:34 – Pioneers cut lead 18-14 after 7-2 run capped off by Evans’ foul-line jumper.
13:00 – SFC takes first lead of game and leads 16-7 after a 9-0 run capped of by a Cannon slam and a Jones jumpshot.
16:00 – Terriers tie score 7-7 after Perunicic scores five straight points.
17:43 – St. Francis scores first points of game as Johnson sinks both free-throws but trails 7-2.
18:43 – SHU takes early 5-0 lead after Montes’ three-pointer.
St. Francis leads Sacred Heart in the all-time series by a 13-8 margin. Last time the team’s squared-off the Terriers had their best offensive performance of the season when they beat the Pioneers 99-84 on Jan. 7 in Fairfield, Connecticut. In the game, St. Francis shot a scorching 58.2 percent (32-of-55) from the floor overall and an NEC-best 55.6 percent (15-of-27) from behind the arc while converrting 90.9 percent (20-of-22) of their foul-shots.
The Terriers clinched a top-four seed in the conference and will host a NEC quarterfinal game after defeating the Quinnipiac Bobcats 64-56 Thursday evening on the road in Hamden Connecticut. Currently St. Francis owns the #3 seed and the tiebreaker over Robert Morris after sweeping them 2-0 in the regular-season series. The NEC tournament will start Thursday, March 1.
Freshman forward Jalen Cannon powered St. Francis over Quinnipiac by posting his seventh double-double of the season scoring 13 points and pulling down an NEC single-game high 19 baords. Cannon’s rebounding total was the most by an NEC freshman in 11 years. Sophomore point guard Brent Jones filled the stat sheet with 11 points, five assists, and four steals as teammates Travis Nichols and Akeem Johnson chipped in with 10 points apiece.
The Terriers struggled to makes shots in the game as they turned in a 36.1 percent (22-of-61) shooting display but played stellar on the defensive end forcing 20 turnovers and limiting the Bobcats to only 37.3 percent (19-of-51) shooting overall.
Junior forward Akeem Johnson has posted five consectutive double-digit scoring performances and is averaging 12.8 points per game while shooting 64 percent overall during the stretch. Junior forward Travis Nichols has reached double-figures in six of the last seven games.
Sacred Heart is coming off an 103-91 overtime loss to conference leader LIU-Brooklyn on Thursday. The loss to LIU snapped the Pioneers three-game winning streak. SHU enters this game tied with Monmouth for seventh-place in the NEC standings.