by Tom Utescher
Victories of any variety haven’t been easy to come by this season for the men’s basketball team at Chestnut Hill College, so the Griffins’ home crowd was very happy indeed with last Wednesday’s 20-point conference win over visiting Georgian Court University.
Taming the Lions, 88-68, CHC improved to 3-11 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, and 4-17 overall. Senior point guard Demetrius Isaac, a Penn Charter alum, led the way for Chestnut Hill with game highs in both points (26) and assists (seven). With six rebounds, he tied for the team high in that category with junior teammate Tony Toplyn, who scored 10 points and recorded the game high in blocked shots, with four.
Also in double figures in the scoring column were junior transfer Cartier Talford (17 points) and junior Liban Awl (13).
Georgian Court headed back to Central New Jersey with a record of 5-10, 5-18.
CHC’s Isaac already had 21 points in the book at halftime. A pair of three-pointers contributed to Awl’s 10-point total at the intermission, when Toplyn also had 10 points in the scoring column.
Isaac and Toplyn got the Griffins out to a 9-2 lead, but following a time-out, the Lions recovered and hung close to the hosts until late in the half. Going into the last two minutes, the visitors were just three points behind, at 37-34.
CHC head coach Jesse Balcer related that during a time-out, “We talked about locking up on defense and having good possessions for the rest of the half. We did that and we took the lead up to 13 points and didn’t let them score. That was a critical point in the game. I think what we did there was huge and it gave our guys a lot of confidence.”
Early in the second half, Chestnut Hill was limited to a lay-up on a baseline drive by freshman Rich Dean, Jr. in the midst of an 8-2 rally by the visitors that pared the lead down to seven points, 49-42. In many of their losses this season, the Griffins had seen leads disappear in the second half.
“We’d have stretches where we’d just stop defending,” Balcer explained. “Even when we were ahead by more than a few baskets we’d find a way to make it a close game.”
Before things could get to that stage last Wednesday, CHC picked up its defense while three-point field goals by Isaac and Awl revived the offense. By the time nine minutes had gone by in the second period, the Griffins were holding a 20-point advantage, 66-46.
“It was nice to get up by a lot and not have to worry all night, for once,” Balcer said.
Talford, who scored 14 of his 17 points after halftime, helped extend the Chestnut Hill lead even further, and when freshman Colin Flach bagged a “three” from a few steps above the key, the gap spread to a full 30 points (88-58) with just under two minutes remaining.
It was just as well that the Griffins possessed a prodigious point cushion, because in the final phase of the game they experienced one of the lapses of focus that has puzzled Balcer this winter. Five fouls by CHC helped Georgian Court score the final 10 points of the night, but Chestnut Hill’s margin was still 20 points at the buzzer.
“In practice, as coaches we watch what they do and we can see there’s talent there,” Balcer said. “The guys don’t just go through the motions, they work hard. For one reason or another they have trouble putting it together and executing in game situations.”
Even though the team is out of contention for the CACC playoffs, their coach observed, “We still have a lot to play for, in terms of pride. It’s not fair to the conference and to the other teams we’re playing against if we don’t give our best effort. During these last games we’ll be taking a hard look at things with an eye toward next season. We want to see what guys are made of.”