by Tom Utescher
Host Chestnut Hill College kept the Cheyney University Wolves from the door last Saturday afternoon, winning the non-conference Division II tussle, 67-62, to reach an overall record of 2-4. For Cheyney, it was the first loss of the season in five outings thus far.
The Griffins played without two of their mainstays at forward, senior Trent Davidheiser (family commitment) and junior Dan Comas (illness), but freshman forward Khadim Ndiaye stepped up with 18 points and 10 rebounds. CHC also received strong performances at guard from senior Brandon Williams (nine points, six assists, five rebounds, three steals) and sophomore Mark DiRugeris (14 points, five rebounds, four assists).
“Every team has injuries and sickness and other things to deal with,” commented Griffins coach Jesse Balcer, “but the good thing is that we’re finding out the depth that we have on this team.”
Thrust into a starting role, forward Uros Kovacevic (a junior transfer) produced 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while CHC regular Andre Rivers, a sophomore swing player, posted nine points and seven rebounds.
Taking the court with a 1-4 record, was Chestnut Hill able to correct any negative tendencies that had surfaced in earlier games?
“The difference was, we played defense the whole way tonight,” Coach Balcer stated without hesitation. “We played a good first half against Slippery Rock, didn’t defend in the second half, and got murdered. We were up by six at Kutztown, didn’t defend, and they came back and beat us by 15. Yesterday at practice we didn’t work on offense at all; we just got back to basics on defense.”
Cheyney was led by guard Sharif Bray, with 18 points, but he only scored seven in the second half. Forward David Burton helped keep the Wolves in contention after halftime, when he deposited 14 of his 17 total points.
From the outset both ballclubs played determined defense, particularly in the paint, and the scoreboard turned over slowly. With just over seven minutes to go in the first half the teams were locked up at 12-12, then CHC forged ahead with a lay-up and foul shot by Ndiaye and two free throws by Williams.
After enjoying a 28-24 advantage at the intermission, Chestnut Hill remained ahead, but Cheyney stayed within striking distance. With the count 43-40 just past the midpoint of the second half, Chestnut Hill went on an 8-2 run that made it 51-42, but the gap never reached double digits.
Still, CHC did a skillful job of controlling a close contest.
“We were patient on offense,” Balcer explained. “We waited for good shots, and even when we didn’t make them, we took a lot of time away from Cheyney in the process.”
Only six of the Griffins’ 14 turnovers occurred in the second period.
Ahead 58-54 as the one-minute mark approached, CHC did the rest of its scoring from the foul line, going nine-for-12 in the last 75 seconds. Three successful drives by Burton kept the Wolves close, but during the final 15 ticks Shay missed twice from the three-point loop.
“It was nice to see us get a win by out-defending the other team,” Balcer remarked. “We have a great bunch of kids and they all work hard, but they had been losing focus on the defensive end. Tonight we played 40 minutes on defense, and now we’ll see if we’re able to do that consistently.”