CHC senior Latoya Laing (right) pokes the ball out of the hands of Molloy College’s Nicole Arnone. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In their final home court appearance before setting out on a Thanksgiving week pilgrimage to New England, the women of Chestnut Hill College let a last-minute lead slip away on Friday evening, and fell to the visiting Lions of Molloy College, 83-81.

Up 81-78 in the final minute, the host Griffins lost the ball in transition, and Molloy scored two lay-ups and a free throw in the last 43 seconds.

“We had an uncharacteristic turnover when there wasn’t even a lot of pressure,” commented second-year CHC head coach Laura Pruitt. “I don’t feel that we were beat; this is definitely a game that we lost, we gave this one away.”

It’s still early days in the basketball season, but a 1-3 start has the Griffins already playing catch-up in terms of their overall record. This weekend they will play road games against the University of Southern New Hampshire and another Division II team based in the town of Manchester, St. Anselm College.

Last Friday Molloy improved to 2-1 on the season, and for the Lions any kind of positive news was welcome. Located on Long Island a few minutes east of JFK Airport, the college recently re-opened after a two-week shutdown caused by Hurricane Sandy power outages. Women’s hoops head coach Tim O’Hagan, who lived about half-a-mile inland from Long Island’s South Shore, lost his home and several vehicles in the devastating storm.

After the visitors opened the scoring with a three-point field goal, CHC zipped ahead 7-3 with a lay-up by Tenisha Townsend-Mobley (12 points, five rebounds total), a short jumper by fellow sophomore Olivia Gorczynski (19 points, eight rebounds, four assists), and a three-pointer from the right wing by senior Latoya Laing (18 points, six rebounds).

The Lions responded with a two-minute, 10-2 run, and the Griffins didn’t lead again until the first half was almost over. After trailing by 10 points a little over seven minutes in, the Griffins chipped away, and were down by three (32-29) when they called a time-out with 3:36 remaining.

Laing lofted a “three’ from the right corner to tie it, and after Molloy responded in kind, a lay-up by Laing and a trey by senior classmate Lindsay Alexander (12 points, six rebounds) moved the hosts ahead, 37-35. Letting loose from the left corner with nine seconds left, Ikema Ross drained a triple for the Lions a 38-37 halftime edge.

After perusing Molloy’s stats from its first two games, Chestnut Hill knew the Lions were prone to fling a flurry of three-pointers towards the basket, but the Griffins still didn’t pressure the outside shot very effectively on Friday. The visitors ended up 17-for-40 from the long-range loop.

“They play in a unique way,” pointed out Pruitt. “They’re coming down, making one pass, and chucking up three’s. They shot 49 of them the game before this. If they make just a fairly small percentage of those shots, you’re going to have a long night.”

Although Gorczynski ended up leading the Griffins in scoring and rebounding, the small, slim guard is best known for her outside shooting, and that part of her game was largely absent. Appearing a little off-kilter as she set up for her perimeter shots, she was one-for-11 from the three-point arc.

She at least performed well in other areas, but many of the larger Griffins who are supposed to shoulder most of the rebounding load didn’t get the job done. Although half-a-dozen boards were pulled down by Alexander, a forward still hampered by a hamstring injury from lacrosse season last spring, CHC got 22 of its 37 individual rebounds from guards.

After the second half began with just a single point separating the teams, Chestnut Hill fell behind by 10 once more, down 53-43 with a little over 13 minutes left in the game. Again, the Griffins clawed their way back into contention, pulling even at 68-all on an inside bucket by power forward Aimee Bouie, a junior transfer.

The Lions inched back into the lead by making one of two free throws resulting from the fifth personal foul on CHC’s Alexander, who left the floor with 6:17 to go. Completing a nice little burst of activity, Bouie blocked a Molloy shot in the paint, then drew a foul at the other end and tosses in two from the line for a 70-69 Griffins edge.

The visitors tied it with a free throw and then were fouled on a made three-pointer, ending up with a four-point play to gain a 74-70 advantage.

Trailing 78-76 a few minutes later, Chestnut Hill had Gorczynski make her first trey of the evening with 90 seconds left, then Laing’s jumper from the right baseline gave the Griffins their biggest margin since the early minutes of the game, 81-78.

Molloy trimmed the lead to one with a lay-up, but CHC was still ahead and had possession with 43 seconds to play. Inbounding the ball from their own baseline, the Griffins didn’t get much more than a dozen feet before turning the ball over, and the visitors’ Alex Hampton quickly parlayed her steal into a lay-up, pushing her club ahead for good. Following a Griffin miss and a Malloy rebound, Hampton went to the foul line, sinking the second of two shots to put the 83-81 final on the board with nine seconds on the clock. The hosts missed their final shot, a short baseline jumper.

“We made good decisions on offense for the most part, and we fought to get back into the game, but our transition defense was disappointing,” summed up Pruitt. “Our mentality has to be a defensive one. If we let games get up into the 80’s, we’re not going to win basketball games – that doesn’t suit our team.”