CHC’s Mark DiRugeris (left) dribbles past fellow senior guard Jim Connolly of Philadelphia University. Later, a three-point shot by Connolly would win last Wednesday’s game for the Rams. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the regular-season finale last Tuesday evening, there were various ups and downs for both the Chestnut Hill College men and the host Rams of Philadelphia University, but in the end it all came down to which three-point hero would have the last word.

The visiting Griffins, who trailed by as many as 17 points late in the first half, went ahead by two with 13 seconds to go in the game when sophomore guard Luke Dickson connected from beyond the arc. However, it was Philly U. senior Jim Connolly who would stick in the final long-range dagger, tossing in a trey with 3.7 seconds left to give the Rams a 74-73 victory.

Members of the Southern Division of Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, both teams would continue on into the conference playoffs.

Seeded second in the South, Philadelphia University (12-5 in the CACC, 17-9 overall) was slated for a home court appearance against Post University, the third seed from the Northern Division.

As the South’s number four seed, Chestnut Hill (8-9, 12-14) would venture just north of New York City to tackle the top team in the Northern Division, Dominican College. Last year, when CHC was ranked third and Dominican was a two seed, the Chargers ended the Griffins’ season in a 79-70 contest before bowing out themselves in the next round.

Prior to last Tuesday’s tilt, a Senior Night ceremony honored departing Philly U. guards Jim Connolly and Stephen Griffin. Five minutes into the game itself, CHC was hanging just one point back at 7-6, then Rams freshman forward Peter Alexis scored half the points in an 8-0 surge for the hosts. Later in the opening period, Philly U. had Chestnut Hill doubled up at 34-17 before the Griffins shaved a few points at the end for a 36-23 halftime tally.

The two clubs were fairly even in most statistical categories, but there was a glaring difference in field goal shooting accuracy; almost 52 percent for the leaders, and under 29 percent for CHC. Three different Rams had accumulated eight or more points, while senior guard Mark DiRugeris led the visitors with seven.

As the second period developed DiRugeris and sophomore center Seamus Radtke initially powered the Chestnut Hill offense, then sophomore forward Alssene Saintilus and freshman guard Christian Walck gave the Griffins a boost off the bench.

With six-and-a-half minutes gone they had the lead down to a single point, 42-41, but over the next two minutes or so Philly U. spread the score to 51-43. The Griffins made another run, inching ahead for the first time at 58-57 with 6:40 on the clock, and later, following a 59-all tie, CHC’s Saintilus broke the deadlock and then scored again off of a feed from Walck.

A “three” from the right wing by DiRugeris gave the Griffins their largest lead of the night, 66-59, with under four minutes left, but then the Rams charged back in front with treys by Connolly and Derek Johnson and a subsequent lay-up by Connolly. As the clock descended from two minutes to one minute remaining, Chestnut Hill’s Walck sandwiched a short jumper and a two-point trip to the foul line around another Philly U. three-pointer by Johnson, knotting the score at 70-70.

On the Rams’ next possession, CHC’s Radtke blocked a shot and grabbed the ball. The next time the Griffin sophomore went up for a board there was an apparent tie-up, but the refs ruled that Radtke fouled Philly U’s Alexis. The freshman then nudged Philly U. ahead, 71-70, by making the first of two free throws in the double bonus with 23.8 seconds to go.

Radtke rebounded the second shot, and once the Griffins got up in the offensive end Walck sent the ball over to the right wing for Dickson, who sank a three-pointer that thrust CHC in front, 73-71, with 13.1 seconds to go. After a time-out with nine seconds left, the Rams inbounded the ball from the left offensive baseline to the same side of the floor, finding Connolly. Coolly and quickly he launched the ball, and it rippled the net with 3.7 seconds showing to win the game for the home team.

The decisive trey gave Connolly a game-high 17 points, along with four rebounds and three assists. Small, speedy freshman guard Andre Gibbs added 15 points, seven boards, and four assists for the winners, and Alexis finished with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
All three Rams were named to the CACC’c All-Conference team, and Gibbs, who averaged 14 points per game, was picked for Rookie-of-the-Year. Another all-star team pick was Chestnut Hill’s DiRugeris, who fired a game-high 18 points last Tuesday to finish the season with an average of 18.9. He also turned in a free-throw percentage of 87.5, 11th in the nation in NCAA Division II.

Walck netted 13 points and a game-high seven assists at Philly U., while Saintilus scored 12 points and Radtke (seven rebounds) had eight.

UPDATE: In the first round of the CACC tournament on March 2, Philadelphia University received 24 points from Alexis in a 68-62 victory over Post, but a 30-point blitz by DiRugeris was not enough to save Chestnut Hill from a season-ending setback at Dominican, 91-85.