NVL FINAL ANALYSIS: Balance key for Hearts in fourth straight title victory

Sacred Heart and Holy Cross played a NVL boys final classic on Wednesday night. For the fourth
straight time, the Hearts won the championship. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69, 2017 file)

You know about Isiah Gaiter and Raheem Solomon.
Those two players have carried the Sacred Heart boys basketball team for most of this season. It was more balance, however, that lifted the Hearts to their fourth straight NVL Tournament title in a 52-50 win over Holy Cross on Wednesday night at a full Reggie O’Brien Gymnasium.
Gaiter had 21 points and Solomon 12, but there was balance to be had for Sacred Heart. Connor Tierney scored eight points and Zach Francisco added six points. The balance was more evident on the boards, where three Hearts grabbed double digit rebounds. Tierney led that category with 13 rebounds, followed by Zach Francisco with 12 and Solomon with 10.
Gaiter made five steals and Tierney blocked three shots. That balance will be big for Sacred Heart in the potent Division I state tournament. Teams will focus on Gaiter and Solomon, meaning others must step up as much as possible.
It was Gaiter who made the game-winning shot on a floater. There was still time left on the clock, however, and Sacred Heart transfer Mikey West almost won the game for Holy Cross with a 3-pointer. The shot struck the back rim and fell off.
West made a whole bunch of big shots for the Crusaders and led all scorers with 28 points. He made four 3-pointers, including one that tied the game at 50-50. DeAndre Wallace pulled in 16 rebounds, but was held to four points. Nyzair Rountree had seven points while Jack Greene and Akili Evans scored six apiece.
Sacred Heart’s four years of dominance began on another big shot in 2015, a buzzer-beater from current Auburn star Mustapha Heron that downed Crosby 68-66. Gaiter brought it back full circle on Wednesday night.
For these two teams, this game meant a lot. Sacred Heart hung on to NVL bragging rights, but both teams got a great test in a tournament atmosphere. The challenges only get bigger from here, given both teams are in the loaded Division I state tournament.

Full a full story and video highlights, check out Joe Palladino’s work for The Zone.