by Tom Utescher

Jesse Balcer, the men’s basketball coach at Chestnut Hill College, said last month that defensive lapses were a major factor in the Griffins’ 2-7 record in November and December.

The problem persisted in the first game of the New Year for Balcer’s ballclub, which wasted a 12-point lead early in last Thursday’s home game and lost to the visiting Tigers of Holy Family University. The Griffins had come back to tie the contest late in the second half, but fell behind once more and went down to an 89-79 defeat.

It was a particularly damaging conference loss for the Griffins (now 0-4 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference), because Holy Family has also been struggling this season, and departed from Chestnut Hill last week with a modestly-improved mark of 1-3 in the CACC and 3-11 overall.

CHC fans saw their ballclub make a good beginning, as senior Brandon Williams and sophomore Mark DiRugeris each popped in a three-pointer in the early going. Senior Trenton Davidheiser, junior Dan Comas and sophomore Francis Ashe also joined in on the scoring, and when Griffins sophomore Jakeem Bogans hit a 15-foot jumper with 9:46 remaining in the first half, Chestnut Hill was up by a dozen, 22-10.

Brandon Williams, a senior guard out of Abington Friends School, scored 11 points in CHC’s first game of 2011. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

The game changed as if someone had flipped a switch. Tigers guard Tim Smith started his team’s rally with a trey from the keytop, but CHC’s biggest problem on defense was that it rarely was able to prevent dribble penetration by Smith and the other HFU guards.

The Tigers rapidly clawed their way out of their 12-point hole with a five-minute, 18-0 run, and they led 34-28 at the intermission.

Comas, a power forward who led the Griffins in points (23) and rebounds (12) for the night, scored 18 of his points in the second half. CHC had its shortfall down to a single point several times in the middle of the period. Later, the Griffins were down by three with 6:57 remaining when Ashe sent a pass across the baseline to set up a lay-up by Comas. He made the shot and also converted a free throw tacked onto the play, leveling the score at 60-60.

A Chestnut Hill turnover led to a lay-up and foul shot by Tigers guard Khiry Hankins, then a lone free throw by Sam Mushman gave the visitors a 64-60 lead.

A Comas bucket from the paint cut the margin to two points heading into the final five minutes.

Holy Family was already in the one-and-one bonus, and the Tigers outscored their hosts 25-19 the rest of the way, netting 23 of those point on just 24 shots from the foul line.

Backing up Comas for the Griffins were Davidheiser (12 points, seven rebounds, five assists), Williams (11 points, two assists, two steals), junior Uros Kovacevic (10 points, three assists), and Ashe (eight points, seven rebounds, four assists).

HFU’s Smith hit a game high 25 points (along with 11 rebounds and five assists) and fellow guard Nate Hodge was close behind with 22 points. Hankins, Mushman, and Alberto Munoz registered 11 points apiece in the Tigers’ winning effort.