Hooper powers first-place Terriers past Sacred Heart

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With talk of one the best seasons in program history swirling around the Pope Center, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s basketball team continued to roll.

The Terriers shrugged off a poor start and rallied from a four-point halftime deficit to beat visiting Sacred Heart 71–62 last Saturday afternoon. Junior forward Chris Hooper (16 points) and senior point guard Brent Jones (15 points) ignited the big second half.

St. Francis (18–9, 12–2) has now won six straight and 15 of its last 17 games. It leads the Northeast Conference by three games with four regular season contests remaining. One of the Terriers’ biggest challenges has been managing expectations in a season that by some measures is the program’s most successful ever.

The Terriers’ are off to their best start since 1998–99 when Ron Ganulin — now an assistant on coach Glenn Braica’s staff — led St. Francis to a 16–4 conference record and 20–8 overall. Hopes are now high for a program that has never won a conference title or qualified for an NCAA tournament.

“It’s hard to grind it out every night, but you learn a lot about yourself when things don’t go well, and it didn’t go well for us in the first half,” said Terriers head coach Braica. “But we’ve got good guys. We talked about it at halftime and they responded.”

Sacred Heart (12–15, 6–8) came to Brooklyn Heights on a three-game winning streak, including an overtime win over Bryant, the conference’s second-place team. The Pioneers took a 35–31 lead into intermission on the strength of freshman Cane Broome’s 12 points, including five during a Pioneer 14–1 run that helped give Sacred Heart a 35–27 lead.

Braica challenged his players in the locker room to remember how they achieved the success they’ve enjoyed this season, and his team responded — led by Jones’s second-half explosion, a tenacious defense that held Sacred Heart to 27 second-half points, and unexpected contributions from Hooper. Hooper scored his 16 points on 7 of 10 shooting.

His contributions were important on night where Jalen Cannon, who was the focus of the Sacred Heart defense, was held to seven points. All the attention paid to the Terriers’ star gave Hooper plenty of room to operate underneath at both ends of the floor. In addition to his career-high offensive output, the 6-foot-6 forward blocked three shots, all in the second half.

“When one person isn’t going well we’ve just got to pick him up,” Hooper said. “Jalen had his hot streak, Brent had his streak, but when it doesn’t go their way, that’s when we step in.”

Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina, whose team has now squandered two big leads this season to St. Francis — including an 18-point advantage in a 73–71 home loss on Jan. 3 — acknowledged how difficult it is to stop this Terrier team, which he believes is the favorite to win it all.

“What I see is a veteran team that doesn’t panic,” Latina said. “Brent Jones and Jalen Cannon don’t allow them to. It was a combination of their poise and physicality in the second half. They imposed their will on us.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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