Sacred Heart men keep roster together, aim for NCAA tournament berth

Anthony Latina is right to smile these days.

The Sacré-Cœur men’s basketball team sack all major contributors from last season, including Northeastern Conference top scorer, guard Tyler Thomas.

As Latina enters his ninth year as a head coach, it’s not something he takes for granted.

You see, hardly anyone has been hit harder by recent memory transfers than the Pioneers. EJ Anosike (Tennessee), Cane Broome (Cincinnati) and Quincy McKnight (Seton Hall) all started their careers at Sacred Heart, but ended up looking for bigger opportunities at the higher level.

“Usually we try to replace the best player in the league who still had two or three years of eligibility,” Latina said. “We are grateful that this is not the case. “

As tantalizing as it may be to think of what might have happened if players of this caliber had stayed, Latina knows there is no point in looking back.

“We lost three transfers to graduate schools and another handful to some higher level schools. But that’s part of the deal now, ”said Latina, whose team ended the season shortened by COVID 9-9. “I think we are a little better equipped to handle this. Last year we lost the league’s top player to Tennessee and were picked last (in the NEC). We still finished third. I thought it was a good sign. In previous years, when we lost a player of this caliber, we did not do as well.

“We hope to build a foundation to last and overcome the loss of one or two players. It is hope. We have some great players back. “

The main one of them is Thomas. The former Amity High star averaged 19.1 points and 5.2 rebounds in 36.4 minutes per game in his sophomore, earning NEC Most Improved Player honors and consolidating himself as the next staple on the program.

“He made a major leap from – he was in the rotation for us – sort of a sixth, seventh, eighth man to sort of a top 10, maybe among the top five players in the league,” said Latina. “He’s been really, really hard working this offseason. He’s a top-notch gym rat. He has a great work ethic and a real desire and commitment to be great. He is focused. He certainly has a chance to be as good as any player we’ve ever had at Division I level.

And the best? Thomas fully embraced what it means to be a pioneer.

“It’s all about the win,” Latina said. “Winning is a major priority for him. This bodes well. When your top scorer and best player is one of your hardest workers, things tend to go a lot better. “

He should also have some help. Guard Aaron Clarke, the Pioneers’ second leading scorer (13.3), is also back. Moreover, forward Zach Pfaffenberger, a key part of the rotation, is back in good health after being absent last season with a torn Achilles.

“While it’s always Tyler’s job to score, if he doesn’t have his typical night out we have three, four or five other guys who can get you 20 (points) in one night,” said Latina. “It’s a luxury that we certainly haven’t had often. A lot of teams don’t.

The importance of this is not lost on Thomas.

“We have a lot of talent at all levels,” said Thomas. “Anyone can make coins. It should be a fun team to play.

Newcomers include his brother, Tanner, a freshman forward, and former East Catholic High star Joey Reilly, who transferred after two seasons at Holy Cross.

“There is a level of comfort,” Latina said. “We believe that if we can stay healthy and perform at our level, we will have the opportunity to be a factor in the league. We have the most wins (32) in the Northeast Conference in the past three years, which we’re proud of, but now it’s time for us to take the next step: find a way to move forward in our conference tournament and reach the NCAA tournament.

This is something they haven’t done yet in their 22 seasons at Division I level.

“Some teams have lost guys. Our team, we have stayed together this year, ”said Thomas. “Our collective unity, we all hang out on the pitch. It’s like we are a family.

[email protected]; @DougHello

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