by Tom Utescher
With last Wednesday’s home-court conference victory over Holy Family University, the Chestnut Hill College men’s basketball team has put up a record of 4-1 thus far in 2013, and resilience and tenacity has been a major part of the equation for the Griffins.
In the Holy Family game, the Griffins repeatedly built up leads in the low double digits and kept seeing the Tigers claw their way back, but the locals kept plugging away until they’d secured a 73-63 win. With the outcome, they improved to 5-3 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, and 9-8 overall.
Holy Family (10-6 overall), which came in ranked one spot higher than the hosts in the CACC’s Southern Division, departed with a mark of 6-3.
Griffins senior guard Mark DiRugeris Jr. exceeded his conference-leading average of 19 points per game with a 24-point effort. Sophomore forward Alssene Saintilus (five rebounds, three assists) made an appearance off the bench in the first half but saved most of his 19 points for the second stanza.
Junior Jakeem Bogans and sophomore Luke Dickson, both guards, registered 12 and 10 points respectively, and although their senior backcourt companion, Francis Ashe, ended up with a relatively modest seven points, he scored most of them while the Griffins were fending off the final comeback attempt by Holy Family.
“The most notable thing is that our effort is being sustained for a longer period of time than when the season started,” remarked CHC head coach Jess Balcer. “Our thing tonight was, we had to play hard for 40 minutes, because we knew that’s what they were going to do. Holy Family doesn’t make it easy; they keep coming at you.”
Three-point field goals by DiRugeris and Bogans helped the Griffins get out to a 10-3 lead over the first five minutes. Saintilus subbed in to contribute a few inside buckets, and Dickson struck twice from trey territory. When DiRugeris completed a traditional three-point play following a lay-up with 8:51 left in the half, Chestnut Hill led 24-11.
The Tigers began to put more pressure on CHC shooters, and on possessions when the Griffins couldn’t make their first shot, they often didn’t have another chance. They only managed five offensive rebounds in the first period, and Holy Family capitalized on its increased time of possession to get back in the game.
Only two-and-a-half minutes after the home side went up by 13 points, the visitors were back within five at 26-21. By the break, the margin was down to just two points, 30-28.
In the first seven minutes of the second round, Bogans, DeRugeris, and Saintilus powered the Griffins out to a 10-point advantage, 48-38. Holy Family junior guard Alberto Muñoz cut in for two lay-ups and stepped back for a three-pointer from the right wing, accounting for seven points in a 9-0 Tigers counterpunch.
However, it wasn’t until the game clock was down to seven-and-a-half minutes that the visitors finally pulled even at 54-all. DiRugeris rifled a three to put Chestnut Hill ahead for good, and after the visitors got two points back on a lay-up by junior guard Ervin Ezell (who scored 15 of his team-high 22 points after halftime), CHC shored up its lead with three straight baskets by Saintilus and a driving lay-up by Ashe.
That made it 65-56, but it looked like the Griffins still might not be out of the woods when the Tigers tightened the score to 68-61 with 1:34 still to play. Chestnut Hill came away empty from a two-shot stint at the foul line, then CHC freshman guard Christian Walck stole the ball and shoved it ahead to Bogans for a breakaway bucket near the one-minute mark.
Missing their next shot, the Tigers had to foul DiRugeris, who hit two from the stripe for a 72-61 tally with 46 ticks remaining. The visitors’ Angel Ayala converted off an offensive rebound, then with 25 seconds showing CHC’s Saintilus netted the second of two free throws to tack the final score on the board.
Holy Family’s last three-point shot missed, and the Griffins handled the ball for the final 14 seconds.
Afterwards, Coach Balcer observed, “In my opinion, Holy Family and Philadelphia University are the class of the league, so you want to see how you measure up against them. We didn’t play that well against Philly U. (CHC lost 67-63 on January 12), but tonight I thought we played well overall. Our offensive rebounding was a weak point and there were some stretches where we got outhustled a little bit, but we had different guys stepping up at different times when we needed to pick up our game.”