By Chris McLaughlin
Using its trademark defense, the CCSU women’s basketball team opened up the NEC tournament by knocking off third-ranked Sacred Heart 54-49 on the road.
The Blue Devils (19-10) held Sacred Heart (18-12) to 36 percent shooting and stayed on top the majority of the game.
Justina Udenze led all scorers with 15 points and picked up eight rebounds to set the tone for CCSU’s offense. The defense was anchored by Leanne Crockett, who had three huge blocks in the second half, helping CCSU maintain its lead. Though CCSU had the lead throughout, Sacred Heart hung in until the end.
“To beat Sacred Heart at Sacred Heart is an awesome accomplishment,” said Head Coach Beryl Piper. “The kids executed the game plan to a T, in terms of what they had to do to defend. Sacred Heart had advantages and we were able to take them away with our defense and didn’t allow anyone in double figures.”
Led by Kerrianne Dugan in the first half, the Blue Devils built up a quick lead. Her 10 first-half points helped the Blue Devils jump out to a 10-point lead.
“We were looking to get out to a big lead in the first,” said Dugan. “We kept pushing and pushing, we were really pumped up.”
Though CCSU went up 10, Sacred Heart fought its way back. Going on a 13-0 run, Sacred Heart took its first lead of the game. During the run, CCSU fell flat on offense, going over seven minutes without a point. However, once Sacred Heart took the lead the Blue Devils located its offense and went on a 9-0 run of its own.
“You lose, you’re done, it’s over,” said Piper “ There’s no way they were going down without a fight. We went on a run, they went on a run, we went on a run, they went on a run. I had to tell the kids to just get on to the next play.”
The Blue Devils closed out the half up five and came back from half time focused. While Dugan led in the first half, Udenze took over in the second. CCSU made it a point to give her the ball and she rewarded them. Her 10 second-half points immediately drew the attention of Sacred Heart defenders. Double and sometimes triple-teaming Udenze, Sacred Heart opened up the court for the rest of the Blue Devils.
“Getting Justina [Udenze] going is always apart of our game,” said Piper. “We always try to work inside out and once we did we tried to get Leanne [Crockett] going. She hadn’t been getting many touches in the first half but she had some big backdoor cuts at crucial times for us.”
Udenze and Crockett combined for 20 of CCSU’s 27 second-half points. While both were providing the bulk of offense, they also both played great defense, helping to shut down Sacred Heart’s Callan Taylor, a member of the All-NEC first time.
The Blue Devils once again built up a double-digit lead, but saw it vanish. Sacred Heart refused to quit and crept back into the game. The lead was brought down to three points in the final minute and Sacred Heart’s post season hopes were still alive. On three straight possessions, Sacred Heart gave CCSU great difficulty in-bounding the ball, forcing two time outs and one tipped pass out of bounds. On the fourth however, Crockett found Dugan wide open under the basket for an easy lay-up to put the game out of reach.
“We ran the same play every time,” said Piper “Then we ran it for Kerrianne, and Leanne and Kerrianne have been playing for so long together and Leanne made that pass right to her. I can’t believe it was that wide open.”
With the win, the Blue Devils move on to the semi-finals, where it will take on number-one ranked St. Francis (PA) tonight.