COMMENTARY: Sacred Heart boys start slow, finish strong and win third straight NVL title

Sacred Heart head coach Jon Carroll talks to his team during a timeout.

For a big chunk of Wednesday night’s NVL boys basketball tournament final, it appeared second-seeded Holy Cross wanted the trophy more than Sacred Heart.
The Hearts lacked the energy they needed to get over the top, and head coach Jon Carroll noticed, ripping into his team at times. Sacred Heart entered the fourth quarter down 44-42, but took the lead quickly. From there, the Hearts held off the Crusaders and won 60-51 to capture their third straight NVL title in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Wilby’s Reggie O’Brien Gymnasium.
Raheem Solomon, named tournament MVP, battled his way through a knee injury that took him out for a large chunk of the second quarter. Solomon got a soft bounce on a key pull-up jumper in the lane in the fourth quarter. Despite missing a big chunk of the game, Solomon finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds, according to stats posted on Twitter by the Waterbury Republican-American.
Also big for Sacred Heart were Isaiah Gaiter and Omar Rowe. Gaiter slashed his way to 18 points and 11 rebounds, and he played a much better second half after trying to do too much at times in the first half. Rowe knocked down key foul shots at the end for the Hearts and finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
In the first half, Marcellus Gomes came up big for Holy Cross. He knocked down three 3-pointers and helped the Crusaders earn a 24-21 lead after a sloppy, ragged first half. Gomes finished with four 3-pointers and 18 points to go along with eight rebounds. DeAndre Wallace had eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
There was way too much one-on-one basketball in the first half, which led to struggles for both offenses and made the action hard to watch. Gomes was the constant for Holy Cross in the first half, and the Crusaders needed his output.
Holy Cross continued to stay ahead in the third quarter, though not by much. Sacred Heart contained Wallace and Nyzair Rountree, holding them to a combined 12 points for the game. Solomon had a huge putback at the end of the third quarter to send the Hearts to the final eight minutes down 44-42.
Sacred Heart took a 46-44 lead in the fourth quarter, then Johnson made a play worth a All-Tournament selection on its own. Johnson weaved through traffic in the lane with a Euro-step, then corkscrewed and put up a reverse right-hand lay-up on the left side of the glass. The shot went in, and Johnson’s free throw put Sacred Heart up 49-44 with 5:47 to go in the game.
Solomon helped keep the Hearts just out of reach of the Crusaders. Kerson Etienne (10 points) hit a 3-pointer later to make the score 55-51, but it was as close as Holy Cross got.
Sacred Heart has its NVL three-peat. The next goal for the Hearts is a state four-peat, and that run starts next Monday against Joel Barlow in a Class L first round game.
Class M should be worried about Holy Cross, the No. 4 seed. The Crusaders, with their length and athleticism, will be a tough out.
NOTE: As reported by the Rep-Am, the All-Tournament team was made up of Gaiter, Johnson, Solomon, Wallace, Gomes, Jeremiah Kendall of Crosby and Ty Sands of Kennedy.