Uncanny Shooting and a Late Basket Doom the Setters

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Until last Wednesday evening, Southern New Hampshire sophomore forward B.J. Cardarelli had probably never reminded anyone of Larry Bird.

Pace University forward Jonathan Merceus shoots the ballin last Wednesday's game vs. Southern New Hampshire. Photo by Andy Jacobs
Pace University forward Jonathan Merceus shoots the ball
in last Wednesday’s game vs. Southern New Hampshire. Photo by Andy Jacobs

But on the coldest of nights, Cardarelli quickly discovered he had the hottest of hands, tossing in one 3-pointer after another and providing a remarkable imitation of the former Celtic legend before the disbelieving eyes of Pace University coach Jim Harter, who could do nothing about it except just shake his head.

“It’s not like the kid’s one of the best shooters in the league,” Harter would say later, after Cardarelli’s astounding nine 3-pointers and a go-ahead basket by Mike Stys with 10 seconds remaining had lifted the Henmen to a 68-67 victory over the Setters at the Goldstein Fitness Center.

Cardarelli made all but one of his shots from beyond the arc, finishing with a career-high 32 points, as Southern New Hampshire managed to hang on after squandering a seven-point lead with just 80 seconds to go. The defeat dropped Pace to 8-8 this season, 5-7 in the Northeast-10.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” said Harter after witnessing perhaps the most disappointing finish of the year for the Setters. “They’re all tough. But this was a tough one, to come back like we did and then take the lead and not be able to get that stop on the last possession. It’s been one of those years. The kid’s a 36 percent shooter, averaging one and a half 3s a game and then, sure enough, with our luck, he comes in and bangs nine on us.”

As a freshman, Cardarelli made three 3-pointers in a game four different times, but finished up shooting at a .375 clip from behind the arc. This year, he was just about the same, despite starting the season 3 for 14 and then enduring a later three-game stretch in which he went 2 for 10. Prior to stepping onto the Pace floor, he had missed six of his last seven 3-point attempts.

“I thought the first few we contested pretty well,” said Harter. “He just had one of those nights where he was in a zone. He’s not nearly as good a shooter as what he showed tonight. But he shot great tonight.”

Cardarelli served notice he was on his way to a special game when he made all four of his treys during an opening half in which the lead changed hands nine times. Despite 11 points from Jonathan Merceus and 10 from Denzel Primus-Devonish, the Setters walked off the court at halftime trailing 36-31 as SNHU closed with a 9-2 run.

The second half began ominously for the Setters as senior center Keon Williams was whistled for his third foul just 45 seconds in and Cardarelli soon followed with a 3-pointer from the left corner that gave the Henmen their largest lead of the night, eight points. But Merceus, who led Pace with 24 points and nine rebounds, scored back-to-back buckets to start a 6-0 spurt that brought the Setters right back.

Still, Southern New Hampshire managed to soon rebuild an eight-point advantage thanks to two more 3-pointers from Cardarelli. The Setters responded by going on an 11-2 run, drawing within a point on a 3-pointer by Kai Smith with 9:30 remaining and then grabbing a 50-49 lead 50 seconds later when Smith’s jumper from the top of the key rattled off the rim and dropped in.

Williams picked up his fourth foul with 8:11 to go, but the Setters took a 53-51 lead on a Merceus conventional 3-point play as he worked his way into the paint. Cardarelli then provided the game’s next six points, hitting a layup while getting fouled and adding the free throw before connecting on a right-side 3-pointer. His final triple of the game, from the left corner with 5:15 on the clock, gave SNHU a 62-55 edge.

The Henmen lead was still seven points when Elijah Bonsignore scored on a put-back with just 1:49 left. Williams, though, began an 8-0 Pace run with a pair of free throws. Primus-Devonish drove in for a basket with 50 seconds remaining that closed the deficit to 66-63. Following a Southern New Hampshire turnover, Williams made one of two foul shots with 37 seconds to go.

Just 12 seconds later, Ahmad George made his fourth steal of the game and sailed in for a layup. Fouled on the play, he hit the free throw and gave the Setters a 67-66 lead.

“It was a great play by Ahmad,” said Harter. “We were clawing our way back at the end and then for him to strip the guy and go in and get that 3-point play, that was huge.”

But the Henmen came out of a timeout and Stys wound up using a screen handoff that enabled him to get into the lane, where he flipped the ball off the glass into the basket to regain the lead for SNHU.

With less than 10 seconds to work with, the Setters got the ball to  Primus-Devonish. The speedy guard took the ball the length of the court and, surrounded by three Henmen, sent up a shot in the paint that wouldn’t fall. A wild scramble for the rebound ensued as the buzzer sounded, leaving several Setters sprawled on the floor in frustration.

“We just needed one stop or even just one score at the buzzer to win it,” Harter said. “We couldn’t get either and we fall one short. Yeah, I was proud of the way they hung in there and made a run at it and took the lead. It would’ve been a heckuva win if we had come back and got it. We just fell a little bit short.”

PACE PLUS:  The Setters ended their week by overcoming a 13-point halftime deficit to beat host Franklin Pierce 65-62 on Saturday. Merceus scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Williams provided 14 point and eight boards. Primus-Devonish, who collected his 300th career assist vs. Southern New Hampshire, added 14 points.

Pace goes on the road to face Merrimack tonight (Tuesday) before returning to the Goldstein Fitness Center on Saturday for a 3:30 game against Stonehill.


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