FAIRFIELD -- Heading into the final minute, the team that had been voted to finish last in the Northeast Conference was beating the team that was picked to finish first.

Sacred Heart, picked 10th in the preseason poll, gave St. Francis Brooklyn, picked to win it, everything it could handle and more for 39 minutes in a league opener. But in those final 60 seconds, the Terriers made two huge plays and held off the Pioneers 73-71 before 455 on Saturday afternoon at the Pitt Center.

"I told them at halftime that we have to learn how to play in different situations," Terriers head coach Glenn Braica said. "Recently, we've been playing with the lead, but today we had to play from behind. We had to scrap."

And maybe get a little lucky. Down 71-70, Brent Jones drove down the lane and scooped up a prayer that found nothing but net to give St. Francis Brooklyn a 72-71 lead with 28 seconds left. From there, the Pioneers missed their final four chances, a jumper by Evan Kelley with eight seconds left, a Kelley putback and a Tevin Falzon putback with four seconds left, and a half-court heave from Kelley at the buzzer.

"You've got to give them credit, they imposed their will on us a little bit and we were not able to sustain it," Sacred Heart head coach Anthony Latina said. "That being said, we had a chance to stop them at the end and we had a couple of pretty good looks to win it. It's unfortunate because I thought our guys gave maximum effort. We just have to play a little smarter."

Kelley led the Pioneers with 18 points. Jalen Cannon had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Terriors.

After Sacred Heart shot a blistering 63 percent and outrebounded the Terriers 19-13 in the first half en route to a 42-32 halftime lead, St. Francis Brooklyn grabbed 26 rebounds in the second half, including 12 on the offensive end. Even better, the Terriors held SHU to just 26.7 percent shooting as the Pioneers missed 21 of 29 shots.

"We were up 18 and we should have pushed it to 22, 24, but instead, they cut it to 10 (at halftime) and you can't do that against a good team," Latina said. "We gave them life at the end of the first half and that hurt us bad. We weathered the storm and kept it at nine, 10 for a while, but they make a living on offensive rebounds."

With 2:31 left in the half, SHU held a commanding 42-24 lead, but the Pioneers missed their last four shots as St. Francis Brooklyn scored the last eight points of the half to get back in the game.

"We knew we had to play 35 seconds of each possession and just chip away," Braica said. "And we just kind of hung around. We weren't even scoring on some possessions, but we weren't letting the lead go back to 15, we kept it at nine, seven, and that gave us a chance. We hung in there and just kept fighting."

SHU was down 70-67, but Falzon worked inside to score with 1:38 left and then made two free throws with 59 seconds left to give the Pioneers the lead, 71-70. But Sacred Heart couldn't close the door. At least, not this time.

"We're ready to take the next step (and win these kinds of games), I believe that," Latina said. "We're physically ready, our talent level is ready. We just have to do it."

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ST. FRANCIS BROOKLYN (7-7, 1-0 NEC)

Cannon 8-15 2-5 21, Hooper 1-3 2-3 4, Ulmer 0-1 0-0 0, Jewell 5-13 4-7 15, Jones 3-8 6-6 13, Hopkinson 1-4 0-0 3, Jenifer 2-6 0-0 4, Sanabria 2-4 1-2 6, Fall 3-5 1-1 7. Totals 25-59 16-24 73.

SACRED HEART (6-8, 0-1 NEC)

Barnett 2-6 2-2 6, Falzon 3-5 3-4 9, Broome 5-10 2-5 13, Kelley 6-17 5-5 18, Gaetano 1-3 0-0 3, Allen 4-7 3-4 11, Glowiak 1-3 2-2 5, Nowicki 3-5 0-0 6. Totals 25-56 17-22 71.

Halftime--Sacred Heart 42-32. 3-Point Goals--St. Francis 7-24 (Cannon 3-6, Sanabria 1-2, Jones 1-4, Hopkinson 1-4, Jewell 1-5, Jenifer 0-3), Sacred Heart 4-11 (Glowiak 1-2, Broome 1-3, Gaetano 1-3, Kelley 1-3). Fouled Out--Allen. Rebounds--St. Francis 39 (Cannon 13), Sacred Heart 35 (Falzon, Kelley 8). Assists--St. Francis 11 (Jones 7), Sacred Heart 14 (Gaetano 8). Total Fouls--St. Francis 19, Sacred Heart 19. A--455.