by Tom Utescher
The problem with playing winless teams is that, almost always, they’re eventually going to stop losing. At home last Saturday afternoon, the men’s basketball team at Chestnut Hill College became the first victim of the 2012-2013 season for the Mercy College Mavericks, a non-conference Division II rival from Dobbs Ferry, NY.
The Mavericks came in with an 0-8 record and left with a 79-74 victory, giving CHC an overall record of 4-6. At the NCAA Division I and II levels, where teams give athletic scholarships, there aren’t many truly hopeless cases, and half of Mercy’s early setbacks had come by five points or less.
“Last Wednesday night they lost 94-88 to Pace, who’s a very good team,” said CHC head coach Jesse Balcer. “So when they have 88 against a good team, that tells you they have the ability to score. Part of the scouting report was, they’re going to win a game, and you just don’t want to be that team.
“I tried to explain that to our guys,” he went on, “but it’s one thing to hear it and another to get it done on the court. It looked like our guys were just not fired up to be playing an 0-8 team, and we have no business having that attitude about anybody. The good thing is that it’s a non-conference game, and hopefully we learned a lesson.”
In their previous outing, the Griffins had won in overtime against Post University, improving to 1-2 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.
On Saturday, visiting Mercy built a 16-8 advantage over the initial seven minutes or so. The Mavericks scored frequently in transition, and this would be a problem for the Griffins throughout the contest. After lagging by eight points early, Chestnut Hill had senior guard Mark DiRugeris net a pair of free throws, which started him on his way to a 15-point first half.
Later, with sophomore guard Torrell Candelaria’s putback of a teammate’s missed transition lay-up, CHC pulled even at 21-all with 7:52 to go in the period. The rest of the half the teams stayed within five points of one another. In the waning moments Mercy led by two, then with five seconds a short jumper from the right side of the lane by CHC junior Jakeem Bogans sent the teams into the locker room knotted up at 37-all.
Francis Ashe, a senior guard for the Griffins, got the home team going with aggressive moves to the basket at the start of the second half, scoring four driving lay-ups to lead CHC out to a 46-39 advantage in a little over three minutes. Still, with a three-pointer and a lay-up by Joseph Pope, Mercy was right back in it with just a two-point deficit.
Chestnut Hill managed to stay a basket or two ahead for some time, and the lead eventually rose to seven points once more when DiRugeris drained a triple from the right wing, making it 69-62 with 4:58 to play.
That marked the end of his scoring for the day, but while he had done his part with a team-high 23 points, no one else really stepped up in the last five minutes, when the Griffins were outscored 17-5.
After Kirk Bailey’s lay-up with 2:33 to play tied the game for the last time at 71-71, CHC missed three shots in a row on the same possession. Firing from the left corner, the Mavericks’ Chaz Morrish bagged a three-pointer to put the visitors in front for keeps.
“I don’t think we were focused defensively, and that’s something I thought we’d gotten over,” Balcer said. “We didn’t have that intensity on defense at the end of the game.”
Aside from DiRugeris, Chestnut Hill received double-digit scoring from Ashe (15 points), freshman Dexter Harris (13), and Bogans (10), but overall the Griffins shot 37.5 percent from the floor, while the Mavericks’ aim was almost 11 percentage points better than that. Pope put in a game-high 24 points for the winners, with Bailey and Morrish adding 15 and 14, respectively.