by Tom Utescher
In 1776, George Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night. This year, the girls of Germantown Friends crossed the same Bucks County portion of the river two days after the holiday to engage in a basketball battle with rivals stationed in New Jersey. At a tournament at Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, GFS leveled its season record at 5-5 by defeating Princeton High School, 44-36.
Accounting for more than half of the victors’ points was senior guard Imani Ross, who got GFS going with 11 points in the first quarter and went on to chalk up a game-high 24.
The game was a tussle between Tigers. Princeton High shares that mascot with the college around the corner, as well as with GFS. Only one player from each team scored in the first quarter, when Germantown seized the early lead and never lost it. After two strikes from the paint by Ross, Princeton’s Julia Ryan popped in the first of her two three-pointers in the opening round.
It was still only 4-3 going into the last two minutes of the quarter, but then a lone trey by Princeton’s Ryan was outweighed by seven points from Ross, who completed her 11-point period with a three-point bucket of her own and two shorter jumpers to take the local Tigers out of the quarter with an 11-6 advantage.
“When Imani is “on,” she does a lot of good things for us,” said first-year GFS head coach Tiffany Davis. “Today she was looking to drive and also shoot, so that was great.”
The senior kept going in the second round, adding another “three,” and later putting in a follow-up field goal from the paint to hoist Germantown’s lead into double figures, at 20-9 with a little over three minutes elapsed in the period.
Other GFS players were now joining in the scoring. Sophomore forward Nikki Williams had come off the bench to deposit the first field goal of the second round, and a pair of senior forwards, Schuyler Alig and Julia Mankoff, contributed two and one basket, respectively. Ahead 24-11 at halftime, Germantown appeared to be in command against a Princeton offense that was only scoring sporadically.
Things changed as the third quarter got underway, and the Philly ball club found itself calling a time-out three minutes into the second half. GFS had added just a lone free throw by Ross, while Princeton guard Catherine Curran-Groome had nailed a three-pointer at the outset and then went inside for a lay-up. She would tally 11 of her team-high 12 points in the second half of the contest.
“They came out pressing us, which we didn’t expect,” Davis noted. “We’ve got to work on our press-breaker some more, because we broke down a little bit. We also need to make sure who we’re covering when we’re in man-to-man.”
When the action resumed after the GFS time-out at 25-16, the rest of the quarter was basically a draw, with the Pennsylvania pack still ahead by nine points, 30-21, for the start of the fourth quarter. However, developments in the third round had encouraged the Jersey Tigers, who saw Curran-Groome reduce their deficit to seven points with a lay-up at the dawn of the fourth quarter.
Princeton’s Ryan, who had not scored since the first period, came back to hit a jumper and a lay-up. GFS did not score a field goal for some time in the fourth quarter, but part of the reason for that was that its shooters were being fouled. Over the first four minutes or so, Williams went three-for-four at the charity stripe, and junior point guard Lizzie Becker hit two foul shots awarded to her.
This had the Tigers ahead 35-27, but half of that eight-point lead quickly disappeared. Princeton’s Brianna Blue bagged a short jumper from the lane and Curran-Groome garnered her final two points of the day from the foul line to make it a four-point affair, 35-31, with 2:42 remaining. GFS wasted a chance to reinforce its lead by missing four straight free throws, but the team would have other opportunities at the line, now enjoying a double-bonus situation as Princeton picked up its 10th team foul.
As the clock descended from two minutes to one, a running lay-up and two made free throws by Ross bracketed one successful foul shot for the opposition. When Williams opened the final minute with a score in transition, Germantown’s position was more secure, at 41-32. Princeton managed two more field goals, while GFS had Becker, Alig, and Mankoff each convert one of two free throws to make it an eight-point final.
After Ross’s game-high 24 points for GFS came seven apiece from Alig and Williams, and three each from Becker and Mankoff. Princeton (1-1) wound up with two double-digit scorers; Curran-Groome finished with 12 points and Ryan added 10, while no one else scored more than four points in the losing cause.
Asked if her ball club might be making any New Year’s resolutions, Germantown’s Davis responded “Our resolution should be that everybody needs to be a scoring threat – it can’t just be Lizzie Becker and Imani Ross. Forwards and other people have to step up, and when that happens, we’re more of a force to be reckoned with. Individually, I think everyone needs to keep improving their shooting and their dribbling.”
The Tigers will take another trip to New Jersey on January 9, when they resume their Friends Schools League schedule in a game at Moorestown Friends.