by Tom Utescher

In a conference-opening basketball doubleheader at Chestnut Hill College last Tuesday night, the outcomes of the games were not surprising, but there were some interesting twists and turns on the way to the final horn.

CHC senior guard Brandon Williams penetrates toward the basket while surveying the court. He handed out a game-high nine assists in the Griffins’ conference opener last week. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Against the nationally-ranked women of visiting Holy Family University, the host Griffins actually led the Tigers at halftime and were still ahead with three minutes to go before they succumbed, 59-52. The Chestnut Hill men pulled out a 77-75 victory, but the Griffins had held a seemingly comfortable 16-point lead midway through the second period.

The result of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference debut was an overall record of 7-3 for the CHC men, and 0-6 for the ladies. Holy Family, which had opened its CACC season a few days earlier, saw its women leave Chestnut Hill at 2-0, 5-3, while the male Tigers owned a mark of 0-2, 3-4.

Coming off the CHC bench, junior guard Latoya Laing popped from the perimeter to lead all scorers in the women’s game with 21 points. Holy Family had been ranked 18th nationally in NCAA Division II in the pre-season USA Today/ESPN poll, but at that time it was assumed that fourth-year starting point guard Lauren Peters was good to go following a knee injury in the CACC championship game last March. She has not played for the Tigers so far this season.

HFU is still a formidable squad, and took an early 7-3 lead against Chestnut Hill on Tuesday. Laing subbed in and picked up the Griffins, hitting a jumper that moved the hosts ahead, 10-9. With under eight minutes left in the opening frame, CHC pushed its lead to seven points at 19-12, then Holy Family closed to within four at the end of the half, 25-21.

The Tigers tied the game at 29-all six minutes into the second stanza, and for most of the remainder it was a close contest. With three minutes to go Laing stuck a three-pointer from the top of the key, reaching her total of 21 points and putting the Griffins up, 50-47.

All-Conference Holy Family forward Erin Mann, a junior who gave Mount St. Joseph Academy plenty of trouble back when she played for Villa Maria, scored off a rebound and nailed an accompanying free throw to tie the game for the final time at 50-all. A trey by the Tigers’ Maggie Serratelli followed, then a drive by Molly Hanlon made it 55-50 with a minute-and-a-half remaining.

CHC freshman Lila Jones bagged a baseline jumper to make it a three-point game with 23 seconds to go, but the Griffins were out of time-outs and the Tigers were in the foul double-bonus. The visitors’ Hanlon and Mann each made a pair of free throws to tack the final score on the board.

Laing’s effort for CHC was backed up by Aiesha Smith, with 10 points and five rebounds, and by Ebony Washington, who scored four points and shared high-rebounder honors with HFU’s Mann, with nine grabs.

Mann and point guard Anna Cruz each posted 11 points for the winners, who were led by Hanlon’s 12 points.

Over the first five minutes of the men’s game, five of the six field goals scored were launched from beyond the three-point arc. Two apiece belonged to CHC guards Mark DiRugeris and Luke Dickson, who paced the Griffins to a 12-6 lead. Later, a third trey by DiRugeris put the hosts up by 10 points and caused the Tigers to call a time-out with nine minutes left in the opening period.

Inside, freshman forward Alssene Saintilus had been working hard, scoring on a dunk, a little jumper from the lane, and three free throws. Later on he followed in a teammate’s shot to make it 30-17 with six minutes remaining in the first half. Holy Family quickly carved up most of the CHC lead with 10 consecutive points, five of them on foul shots.

With about three minutes still remaining, the Tigers were in the foul double bonus, and although the Griffins still led at halftime, 43-37, 6’9” Chestnut Hill freshman Seamus Radke had four personal fouls, Saintilus had three, and Dickson and CHC seniors Dan Comas and Brandon Williams had two apiece.

In the second half, mounting foul trouble helped prevent the hosts from getting the defensive stops they needed to hold the double-digit leads they built up at various times. In the early minutes the Griffins enjoyed several 14-point advantages, and right at the 10-minute mark, Dickson stuck a jumper from the left end of the foul line for a 16-point gap at 64-48.

As in the late minutes of the first half, Holy Family countered with 10 consecutive points to get right back in it. During this charge by the Tigers, CHC’s Comas, Saintilus, and Williams each acquired a fourth personal foul. The visitors were not immune from the refs’ whistles, and with 3:22 left to play guard Angel Ayala fouled out with his Tigers trailing by just two points, 70-68.

CHC’s Williams soon followed him to the sidelines, but Comas, who sat out for part of the period, remained eligible and hit two big buckets, twisting around a defender for a lay-up and later tipping in his own missed shot at the rim. That made it 74-69 going into the final minute.

Holy Family’s Maurice Hargrove made one of two free throws on Comas’ fifth foul with 0:44 in the clock, and Radke reentered for Chestnut Hill. Two made free throws by DiRugeris were answered with a score off a rebound by the Tigers’ Eric Fleming, and the tally was 76-72 with 27 seconds remaining. When HFU guard Rashaad Sneed fouled out the Griffins netted nothing at the free throw line, then the visitors closed within a point when Khiry Hankins hoisted a trey from the keytop with a hair under 11 seconds to go.

With 9.8 showing, DiRugeris hit the second of two foul shots to put the 77-75 final on the board. Holy Family came down over the half court line and called time-out with five ticks remaining, then a shot by Hankins was blocked by Griffins sophomore Mike Perry and the ball went out over the right baseline with one second outstanding. The Tigers inbounded the ball on the near side to 6’9” center Rickie Crews, but the buzzer sounded just before he released a shot that banked through the rim.

The Tigers were led by two double-digit scorers, guard Alberto Munoz (25 points) and forward Richard Council (14), who each gathered five rebounds. DiRugeris gave an impressive all-round performance for Chestnut Hill, notching 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and two steals, a Dickson also provided important backcourt production with 15 points, four assists, and three steals. Comas led the pack on the boards with 11 rebounds while scoring nine points, and Saintilus scored 18 points and pulled four boards.