FAIRFIELD -- When the worst team in the league walks into your gym, the first and only thing you do is not give them even the slightest thought of winning. You start the game hard, play hard for the entire 40 minutes, and you blow them out the doors and back into the snowdrifts still piled high outside.
Sacred Heart did just the opposite.
Without point guard Phil Gaetano, who missed the game because of the flu, the Pioneers had no rhythm, missed a ton of shots, had just seven assists and lost to last-place St. Francis (Pa.) 64-60 before 331 Thursday night at the Pitt Center. The Red Flash, who came into the game losers of 10 of their last 11, improved to 3-21 overall and 3-10 in the NEC. Sacred Heart fell to 9-14 overall and 7-5 in the conference.
"I thought that it was going to affect us a little defensively. That's probably the fewest assists we've had all season, and probably the worst (shooting) percentage," SHU head coach Dave Bike said about not having Gaetano. "We missed him. But I still think we had plenty of opportunities to win the game."
However, hampered by a 36.8 field-goal percentage (SHU made 21 of 57 shots) along with zero offensive motion, the Pioneers shot themselves in the foot.
"This one hurts," Sacred Heart assistant coach Johnny Kidd said on the postgame radio show. "Every one of these games now are must-win."
Starting on Saturday when powerful Robert Morris comes to town. SHU has already lost to the Colonials 66-62 on Jan. 17 in Moon Township, Pa.
"They're playing tougher than St. Francis," Bike said. "They play a lot tougher defense."
But St. Francis was tough enough. The Red Flash jumped right out of the gate, taking full advantage of Sacred Heart's troubles on offense, opening a 30-16 lead with 6:44 left before the Pioneers awoke -- for a while. The Pioneers put together a half-ending 16-2 run, sparked by 10 points from Shane Gibson -- who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, five steals and four assists -- to take a 32-32 tie into the locker room at halftime.
But SHU's momentum died right there. And when Umar Shannon canned a 3-pointer with 5:24 to play, the Red Flash took the lead and didn't look back.
"This was our first game playing without Phil and he's a big part of our offense," Gibson said. "He runs it well. We just made some key mistakes in the second half that didn't lead to points or production that slowed down our momentum."
Steve Glowiak, taking Gaetano's place at the point, missed a key one-and-one with 1:59 left and another free throw after making a basket to tie the game at 56-56 with 1:26 to play. And when Earl Brown hit a layup and made two free throws within the span of 30 seconds, the Red Flash were able to put the game away.
"We missed too many shots and we didn't get to the foul line," Bike said. "It wasn't any kind of situation where we couldn't get to the foul line. We had a lot of chances to pull ahead ... we missed 36 shots. That's where we got beat."