Sophomore sensation Mustapha Heron and Sacred Heart roll to win at Torrington
Mustapha Heron showed off his all-around game in leading Sacred Heart over Torrington on Thursday. Picture: Marianne Killackey
TORRINGTON –Mustapha Heron’s story may be the most intriguing one in the Naugatuck Valley League this season.
The much-celebrated sophomore, seemingly out of nowhere, transferred from Wilbraham (Mass.) Monson Academy to Sacred Heart right before the start of the season, immediately making the Hearts one of the favorites in the NVL and Class S. He has since committed to play for the University of Pittsburgh.
In his two months playing in Waterbury, he has proved worthy of the hype.
Torrington fans saw Heron up close Thursday and the Red Raiders tried everything to stop him, swarming his 6-foot-4 body with double, and sometimes, triple teams.
It worked to an extent as Heron finished with 14 points, nine below his season average, on four field goals and six free throws. The Hearts, though, maximized their depth and ultimately prevailed with ease, 77-56, at the Connie Donahue Gymnasium behind 25 points from Malik Petteway and 20 from Charles Fisher.
Heron had minimal openings to work through and scored three of his baskets on physical lay-ups in the lane. His passing, however, is what set the tone as the Red Raiders had difficulty keeping up with Sacred Heart’s precise ball movement.
“We were going to give up something, but we were not going to give it up to Mustapha,” Torrington head coach Eric Gamari said. “We took him and Fisher away for a while. We just couldn’t do it long enough.”
Having played with several of his teammates during the summer, the adjustment to his new team, even as late as it was, has been easy for Heron.
“It’s been a smooth transition,” Heron said. “I’ve known some of these guys forever and they’ve helped me a lot.”
“In the first five games, it was a little tough since we had only five or six practices as a group,” noted Hearts head coach Jon Carroll, whose team is now 10-2, winners of their last seven. “In the past couple of weeks, it has really started to come together fo us.
"Mustapha has a great sense of the floor and is very unselfish," he continued. "Coming into a new situation with all the hype is not easy, but he's done a great job being one of the guys and having fun.”
Heron says making a college decision this early has helped ease his mind. The versatile left-hander projects to play either guard position for Pitt.
“It has made playing more fun,” Heron said. “It’s also helped me concentrate on my school work and I won’t have to worry about it when playing AAU this summer.”
The Hearts had minimal worries Thursday, scoring on four lay-ups in the first quarter en route to a 22-12 lead. Torrington cut it to eight early in the second, but trailed by double digits the rest of the way.
Emotions on both teams were high in the third quarter with some hard contact, a little pushing and shoving and two technical fouls called. No punches were thrown, though.
“It got a little chippy there,” Carroll said. “It was very physical and it’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. I thought both teams did a good job not letting it escalate.”
“In the beginning of the year, we did not handle stuff like that well,” added Heron. “We know teams are going to come at us, but we need to keep our composure. We’ve come a long way as a team.”
Mitchell Zagrodnik led the Red Raiders (7-4) with 13 points, while Zak Mancini finished with 12. Gamari is hoping this loss will motivate his team going forward.
“I told the guys that we need leadership,” Gamari said. “I was honest with them. It starts with me and it starts with communicating. I am positive we will be ready for Wilby (next Tuesday). Period.”
The Red Raiders were ready for Heron on Thursday. He and the Hearts showed they are ready for bigger things ahead in the future.