HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP)Ny’Ceara Pryor and Sacred Heart made the plays down the stretch to end an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought.
Pryor had 20 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to help Sacred Heart beat FDU 72-60 on Sunday and win the NEC title, earning the school’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2012.
Trailing 56-55 with just over 3 minutes left in a back-and-forth fourth quarter, Sacred Heart scored the next 10 points, including four by Pryor to take control of the game. Her pullup jumper with the shot clock winding down made it 63-56 with 1:14 left and the Knights couldn’t recover.
“This is unbelievable, 10 years in the making,” Sacred Heart coach Jessica Mannetti said. “We’ve dreamed of this for so long and now it’s here. I couldn’t be happier.”
Mannetti brought out the championship trophy that the 2011-12 team won before the team came down to New Jersey to try and inspire her team. It worked.
“A lot of people don’t know this. I took this job a month before my dad passed away 10 years ago. A really hard transition,” Mannetti said. “You talk about the little girl that grew up watching basketball. I remember vividly, the UConn and Tennessee battles when it got nationally televised. We’ve been really close for a really long time to get to this point. To feel this now and have it all settle in, is an unbelievable feeling.”
Second-seed Sacred Heart (18-13) built an early lead before the top-seeded Knights rallied back to take a one-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The teams exchanged leads a few times before Olivia Tucker’s pullup jumper from 10 feet made it 57-56 Pioneers and started the game-ending run.
On the ensuing inbounds play, Amelia Wood stole the ball and quickly scored to give the Pioneers a three-point lead with 3 minutes left.
Pryor then scored four straight points to seal the win, much to the delight of the Pioneers fans who made the trip down to FDU for the game.
“We turned the ball over a couple times I think, the fourth quarter second half came down to execution, I thought Sacred Heart executed better,” FDU coach Angelika Szumilo said. “We got some good shots, but we also a couple times turned the ball over at crucial moments and they capitalized on that.”
FDU (24-7) has never been to the NCAA Tournament. The school last won the NEC in 1992 but there was no automatic bid back then for the conference.
Pryor has dominated the NEC this season, becoming the first player ever to win the Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in the same season. She was bidding for the first triple-double in the conference tournament since Chinata Nesbit of Robert Morris in 2008.
Pryor was dominant in the first half to help Sacred Heart to a 40-35 advantage at the break. She had 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the opening 20 minutes. Tucker led the Pioneers with 11 points.
Chloe Wilson had 12 points and Sierra DeAngelo 11 for the Knights. Wilson finished the game with 19 to lead FDU.
“Everything we’ve accomplished this season. I know right now it just doesn’t feel like anything,” Szumilo said. “We will continue to make the right steps for this program in the years to come. There’s a lot to be proud of. We’re still not done, going to play in the WNIT.”
FDU took its first lead since early in the game on a 3-pointer by Dahomee Forgues with 1:55 left in the third quarter that made it 49-46. The Knights led 49-48 heading to the final quarter.
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