CHC freshman Noel Hightower (right) goes up for a shot against USP junior Pat Connaghan, a graduate of the old Chestnut Hill Academy. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

After trailing for the last eight minutes of the first half and the first 10 of the second period, host Chestnut Hill College went up by six points with seven minutes to go in last Saturday’s conference match-up against the men of University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

Even after the USP Devils moved ahead once more, the Griffins were just a point behind (57-56) at the start of the final minute, but in the end the visitors took a victory back to West Philly, prevailing 63-57.

At the end of the first week of February, the CHC men owned a record of 7-4 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference and were 11-9 overall, but going down the stretch in the regular season, they have pulled up lame. They’ve gone down to defeat in four of their last five outings, all in conference play. One more CACC opponent – nearby Philadelphia University – still lies in wait.

“Right now, we’re really searching for guys who will play the way we want them to play,” revealed Griffins head coach Jesse Balcer. “When you reach a point late in the season where you’re not winning, the hardest thing to do is stick together. So basically what’s happening is, we’re taking a hard look at which guys are going to play within our system, and which guys just sort of go off on their own.”

Prior to Saturday’s game, there was a Senior Day ceremony honoring guards Francis Ashe and Mark DiRugeris, and team manager Christina Csicsek.

DiRugeris would lead CHC in scoring in the opening half with nine points, matching the totals put up by USP forwards Garret Kerr and Henry Messinger. CHC took a 7-0 lead on a drive by DiRugeris, a three-pointer by freshman guard Noel Hightower, and a lay-up by sophomore center Seamus Radke, but the latter two would not score again before halftime.

Treys by guards Will Kernan and Alec McClure helped the Devils get back in contention quickly, and the last time the Griffins led was at the 10-minute mark, when the count was 14-12. After the score evened out at 16-all two minutes later, USP’s Messinger delivered five points from the field in a 10-0 run that also included five-for-six foulshooting by the visitors. CHC trimmed the lead a little before halftime, when the scoreboard paused at 29-23.

With field goals by DiRugeris and Hightower, Chestnut Hill could have taken the lead in the first two minutes of the second half if it had made more than one of its four foul shots. As it was, the Griffins were still one point short at the end of this spurt, and USP got back on track with five straight points of its own.

Midway through the half, the Devils were holding onto a 39-36 lead, then freshman guard Jordan McDaniel moved the hosts ahead. After hitting a short baseline jumper, the rookie scored twice in transition off of passes from DiRugeris, and with McDaniel also making a free throw along the way, CHC now led 43-39.

“Jordan has been working hard in practice all year long and he deserved a shot,” Coach Balcer related. “He’ll make a few freshman mistakes, but he’s playing well overall so we let him go.”

DiRugeris scored a lay-up and a “three” over the next few minutes, and when the visitors called a time-out with 6:56 left on the clock, Chestnut Hill led 49-43.

However, the momentum shifted immediately, partly due to a technical foul on the Griffins that yielded two easy points for USP. With CHC leaving lay-ups a little short of the rim on several possessions, the Devils came the rest of the way back and then went ahead for good, 52-50, with 2:43 to go.

The Devils weren’t making all of their lay-ups, either, but many times they were getting more than one chance. On one play, USP missed twice from right under the basket, but Kerr finally scored off of the second offensive rebound.

“That’s something that’s plagued us all year long and it hurt us again tonight,” Coach Balcer stated. “That kid Garret Kerr’s a beast. He had 13 offensive rebounds in their last game against Post, so he’s going to get them, but we picked some bad times to let him do it.”

After the visitors went up by six points, CHC freshman guard Christian Walck canned two foul shots, then with 58 seconds remaining a three-point shot by Chestnut Hill sophomore Luke Dickson made it a one-point contest, 57-56. That was as close as the Griffins got, as USP finished out with a 6-1 burst made up of four-for-four foulshooting and a drive by freshman guard Sho DaSilva, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half.

In his Sorgenti Arena swansong, DiRugeris led the Griffins with 18 points while pulling six rebounds. Dickson, McDaniel and Walck added eight points apiece and Hightower had seven points and a team-high eight rebounds. USP followed the lead of Kerr, with 26 points and 22 boards, while Messinger had nine points and five boards.