by Tom Utescher
The women of Chestnut Hill College went up by 10 points early in the second half of last Tuesday’s conference road game, but it was a player who played high school hoops right down the street from CHC that helped host Jefferson University rally to an 81-71 overtime victory.
Guard Caitlyn Cunningham is a redshirt freshman at Jefferson (the former Philadelphia University) and a graduate of Mount St. Joseph Academy. Against the CHC Griffins, she recorded a game-high and career-high 24 points. She hit two of her four three-point field goals during the five-minute overtime period, along with two free throws, as the Lady Rams moved up out of a 67-67 tie at the end of regulation play.
The Jefferson line-up also includes Mount alum Kelsey Jones, a senior guard. Another backcourt player, junior Jess Kaminski, led the winners in rebounds, with 13, and both she and sophomore forward Ayoola Oguntuase scored 15 points as Jefferson improved to 8-1 overall and 2-0 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.
Senior shooting guard Vicky Tumasz totaled 19 points to lead Chestnut Hill. The Griffins got 18 points and a game-high 17 rebounds from junior forward Jaeda Wildgoose, who was doing a physical bump-and-grind under the glass with Oguntuase much of the evening. CHC had a third double-digit scorer in sophomore swing player Shannon Glenn, who put up 11 points and handed out four assists. With Tuesday’s setback, the Griffins levelled out at 1-1 in the CACC and 4-4 overall.
With the Pearl Harbor anniversary coming up later in the week, a Military Appreciation Night ceremony was held before the game. Veterans in attendance were recognized, and players and staff from both teams held a giant American flag that covered most of the court while the national anthem was played.
CHC head coach Mike West, a former assistant for Jefferson mentor Tom Shirley, wanted to play an up-tempo game against the Lady Rams, although it took a little while for his Griffins to start doing it.
After Jefferson got out to a 6-0 lead, Glenn got Chestnut Hill on the board with a free throw a little over two minutes in. She went on to hit two lay-ups and a three-pointer to help the visitors take the lead. Near the close of the first quarter, senior forward Tomiaya Graham bagged a baseline jumper to put the Griffins up, 19-14.
Less than two minutes into the second quarter, the Lady Rams closed to within one point of the leaders (21-20) as Jones assisted on a lay-up by Oguntuase. The Griffins never relinquished the lead, though, spreading the gap to six points later on. With a little over a minute left in the half Lady Rams sophomore guard Alynna Williams, a Plymouth Whitemarsh High School grad, deposited a lay-up to make it 31-27 at the break.
Netting two three-pointers, CHC’s Tumasz led all scorers with 10 points, while Cunningham had come off the Jefferson bench to score seven points in the second quarter.
After halftime, Chestnut Hill sandwiched two Wildgoose field goals from the paint around a transition lay-up by junior point guard Mary Trossi (eight points, total). That put the visitors up by a full 10 points (37-27), and forced Jefferson to call time-out less than two minutes into the third quarter.
“We wanted to get them running and get them out of their comfort zone,” said the Griffins’ West. “We wanted to limit [guard] Rachel Day’s touches and also contain [forward] Erin Maher. We did a pretty good job of that, but they have a bunch of weapons and other players stepped up for them.”
JU’s Shirley related, “In the first half and the first few minutes of the second half we were playing scared. The half-court pressure they were putting on got us off-balance. In the time-out I told them that we needed to take charge of the tempo. After that we were able to slow it down a bit. We did better getting the ball inside, and overall we became more confident.”
Kaminski began to revive the Lady Rams when she made good on a drive to the hoop and completed an “and-one” play.
“She’s the X factor,” Shirley said of the 5’8″ guard. “She doesn’t say a lot, she just wants to play. She’s a tenacious rebounder; she actually led us in rebounds last year.”
A little more than halfway through the third round, Oguntuase converted off of a rebound to nudge Jefferson ahead, 44-43. After the score seesawed to 46-45, CHC went up by four on a bucket from the paint by Wildgoose and a three-pointer by Tumasz.
Jefferson’s Maher, who was Tumasz’ teammate at North Penn High School, drained two free throws for the hosts, and in the final seconds freshman forward Sabria Lytes scored off a rebound to send the contest into the fourth quarter tied at 50-all.
On defense, Coach Shirley had Lytes guarding CHC’s Wildgoose late in the game to keep the Griffin junior from running amok in the paint.
Freshman guard Cassie Sebold got Chestnut Hill going in the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, but fellow rookie Lytes matched that with an old-fashioned three-point play. The teams went neck-and-neck through most of the rest of the quarter, but then CHC fouls got the Lady Rams to the free throw line a number of times.
Early in the final minute the home team led by six points, then CHC’s Glenn put in a lay-up and a foul shot to tighten the score to 65-62. Following an exchange of free throws by CHC’s Tumasz and JU’s Williams, Trossi hit a lay-up with 11 seconds left to get CHC within one point of the leaders, 67-66.
Jefferson then turned the ball over through a back-court violation, and when CHC’s Sebold was fouled during a baseline drive, she made one of two free throws to tie the game at 67-67. A late heave by the Lady Rams’ Williams sent the ball glancing off the rim, and overtime ensued.
Before the OT began, Shirley asked his team, “It’s tie score and it’s a five-minute game – who wants it more?”
MSJ grad Cunningham had not scored in the first quarter of the game, but she had accumulated 16 points over the next three periods. She would continue to produce in the overtime session.
It started with a lay-up by Williams that was answered by one from CHC’s Wildgoose. That would be the last field goal of the evening for the Griffins, though.
Chestnut Hill lost Tumasz to a fifth personal foul and Oguntuase netted both of the resulting free throws. A three-pointer from the top of the key by Cunningham made it 74-69, and after the Griffins picked up a made free throw by Sebold, Cunningham struck again from long range to put her squad up by seven points.
“We ran out of gas a little bit, and Caitlyn Cunningham hit two really big shots to help them separate,” remarked Chestnut Hill’s West. “When you fall behind in overtime by more than a couple points, there’s not much time to recover.”
A jumper by Kaminski and two free throws by Cunningham got Jefferson to its final total of 81 points. The former Mountie then left the floor with her fifth foul, but only 16 seconds remained when Sebold scored CHC’s final point from the charity stripe.
Asked about the make-up of his 8-1 team, Jefferson’s Shirley said, “I think we have nine players that could start on other teams. We have good chemistry, and there’s really no drop-off in the level of play when we go to our bench. We also have a number of players who redshirted early in their career here, so you essentially have a player who’s officially a freshman that has sophomore experience, and so on.”
He made sure to add a compliment to his former protégé, CHC’s West.
“Chestnut Hill continues to improve under Mike West,” he said. “They’ve become a team to be reckoned with, and one that you definitely have to prepare for.”