Strong fourth propels Flash to ‘W’
By Nate Ritchey
LORETTO — In the first half of its game against Bryant, Saint Francis got up by as many as 15 points only to have the Bulldogs close the gap to five at the half.
Following a close third quarter in which they led by just one at the end, the Red Flash decided they had enough of the pesky Bulldogs and used a huge scoring run to finally put away Bryant for good, 78-66, to earn a Northeast Conference win on Monday night at DeGol Arena.
“Basketball’s a game of runs. When we went on that run, the team energy was high, and I think everyone, like coach said, was feeling confident,” Saint Francis guard Jess Kovatch said. “We wanted to attack the basket still, draw the fouls and get their players in some foul trouble — I think that’s what we did. I think we executed well in the fourth quarter.”
The win marked the fifth straight for SFU and pushed its overall mark to 11-12 and 8-3 in conference play. Meanwhile, Bryant fell to 6-16 and 4-7.
Bryant coach Mary Burke was unavailable for comment following the game.
Leading 54-53 heading into the final 10 minutes of play, the Red Flash came out clicking on all cylinders. They used a 21-4 burst to turn a one-point advantage into a 75-57 edge with 1:32 left when seldom-used Jada Dapaa got a putback.
The Bulldogs hit three 3-pointers in the final minute, including two from Haley Connors who had all 24 of her points come from beyond the arc, to set the final.
However, on defense in the fourth quarter, the Red Flash forced six turnovers, had three blocks from Courtney Zezza, several defensive deflections and steals that led to run-outs and points in transition.
“In those two stretches where we took the lead significantly, we created offense off of our defense,” Saint Francis coach Susan Robinson-Fruchtl said. “A lot of deflections, some steals, some rebounds — we were able to run. I thought our depth and our conditioning down the stretch really helped us be successful in this game.”
After Bryant shot 47 percent from the field through three quarters, the Red Flash defense tightened up, holding them to 30 percent in the final stanza to pull away for a win.
Zezza, who scored 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds, played her usual important role patrolling the paint as she helped hold Sydney Holloway, the league’s leading rebounder, to just six boards — half of her average — and 13 points, which was four below the normal.
“Court also got hot with the blocks,” Robinson-Fruchtl said. “She did a great job in there of protecting the hoop. Really, in the second half, of holding (Hannah) Scanlan and then Holloway down in the second half.”
The senior also tied Cheril Meier’s all-time SFU block total of 278 when her sixth and final rejection stuffed a Holloway putback attempt in the fourth quarter.
“I think I definitely have to credit my volleyball in high school because I played that since middle school. So, I think that’s really helped me out a lot,” Zezza said of her shot blocking prowess. “I think just playing this zone and being in the middle, my teammates trusting me if somebody blows by them that I’m there to protect the rim.”
The Saint Francis defense helped fuel the offense during the game-changing quarter. They shot a blistering 10-of-13 from the field, including 16 points in the paint.
Six different players scored in the fourth as SFU shook off three turnovers to open the quarter, scoring the first seven points before Ashley hit a bucket at 6:27 to stop the spurt.
Kovatch, who was her usual lights-out self that carried the team through several stretches, knocked down six from 3-point range and totaled a game-high 28 points, including five straight in response to an Ashley hoop before Haley Thomas had two straight layups — the second of which resulted in an successful and-1 opportunity that pushed the lead back to 16 (71-55) with 4:54 to go.
A layup by Scanlan ended a 10-0 Saint Francis run on the next Bryant possession. But, Zezza converted a layup right before Dapaa’s bucket allowed the lead to get to 18 at the 1:32 mark.
A six-point lead after one quarter of play quickly exploded into a 15-point margin for Saint Francis it reeled off an 11-2 run, kicked off with a Sam Sabino layup to begin the second.That was capped off with a Leah Morrow putback at the 6:15 mark.
At that point, the Red Flash, up 32-17, seemed in complete control and ready to keep piling on.
“Bryant, ever since they’ve come in the NEC, has always been such a gritty program — home or away,” Robinson-Fruchtl said. “… We were taking quick shots. I think there were six straight possessions where we only passed the ball one time … They (Bryant) came down and took advantage in their transition offense. We didn’t get back down the floor.”
The Bulldogs wouldn’t go away. They chipped away, and after an Aunesha Williams layup had SFU up 14 (36-22) with 3:15 left, the Bulldogs made a run of their own as Holloway delivered four straight points before Ashley, who also reached double figures with 12 points, finished off the 9-0 run with five consecutive to cut the lead to five (36-31) with 38.7 to go.
Kovatch, who had 16 first-half points, buried a fallaway 3-pointer at 14.2 before Connors, who connected on 4-of-7 from downtown in the opening half, made a triple from the right corner at the buzzer to send Saint Francis into the break up 39-34.
“It’s going to get tougher each and every weekend,” Robinson-Fruchtl said. “We just have to keep focusing on day-by-day making improvements.”
BRYANT (66): Holloway 6-11 0-4 13, Scanlan 3-5 0-0 6, Zegarowski 0-6 0-0 0, Ashley 5-12 2-7 12, Connors 8-16 0-0 24, Palmer 1-7 0-0 3, LaFrance-Boyce 1-2 0-0 2, Bravo 2-3 0-0 4, Bjelko 1-2 0-0 2. Totals: 27-64 2-11 66.
SAINT FRANCIS (78): Zezza 5-7 0-0 10, Swogger 2-5 1-4 6, Sabino 3-5 0-0 6, Thomas 3-10 3-5 9, Kovatch 9-17 4-6 28, Carroll 3-4 0-0 6, Williams 2-4 0-0 4, Morrow 2-4 0-1 4, Mastellone 1-1 1-2 3, Pollard 0-2 0-0 0, Dapaa 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 31-60 9-18 78.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bryant 15 19 19 13 — 66
Saint Francis 21 18 15 24 — 78
3-point field goals: Bryant 10-26 (Connors 8-15, Holloway 1-2, Palmer 1-6, Zegarowski 0-3); Saint Francis 7-20 (Kovatch 6-11, Swogger 1-3, Zezza 0-1, Sabino 0-1, Carroll 0-1, Pollard 0-1, Thomas 0-2). Rebounds: Bryant 36 (Ashley 9); Saint Francis 36 (Zezza 8). Assists: Bryant 18 (Zegarowski, Palmer 6 each); Saint Francis 11 (Thomas 5). Blocks: Bryant 4 (Bravo 2); Saint Francis 6 (Zezza 6). Steals: Bryant 4 (Ashley 2); Saint Francis 12 (Swogger 4). Turnovers: Bryant 18; Saint Francis 12. Total fouls: Bryant 16; Saint Francis 14. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none.
Officials: Norma Jones, Kenneth Kelly, Geraldine Smith.