By Pete Chiodo
“Our conference is crazy,” laughed Allegheny College’s head women’s basketball coach Kate Costanzo, standing just outside the women’s locker room at the David V. Wise Center and checking her phone for an update of the Denison-Wittenberg game that was, at the time, just finishing up over in Ohio.
The Lady Gators came into Wednesday night’s tilt against Hiram in the midst of a heated battle for one of the top four spots in the North Coast Athletic Conference standings. Denison and Wittenberg are both involved in that race. So is Ohio Wesleyan. So is, technically, Kenyon. They all played on Wednesday night. And until Constanzo could get some final scores, the status of her team was uncertain.
There were a couple of definites that Costanzo knew at the time, though. One was that the Lady Gators had held up their end of the bargain on Wednesday, beating the visiting Terriers 54-42.
The other was Allegheny’s path forward:
“We have to take care of business,” Costanzo said.
That race for one of the top four spots — and a home playoff game for the NCAC quarterfinals — was still very much in the running after last night’s finals came in.
Allegheny, with its win, improved to 12-10 overall and 7-6 in the NCAC. They stayed tied for fourth place with Wittenberg, which defeated Denison 59-45 last night. And that also means that Denison’s third place status in the league is now in jeopardy. The Big Red slipped to 8-5 in the NCAC, just a game ahead of Allegheny.
And guess who Denison hosts on Saturday afternoon?
“Saturday is a must-win,” said Allegheny’s senior forward Daryl Ford. “Denison beat us here by five. So we’re looking to go there and play like we did (on Wednesday), come out hard on defense, play good offense and get the win out there and set ourselves up nicely for our last two games going into the playoffs.”
Ford’s analysis of last night’s game against Hiram was pretty spot-on. The Lady Gators played a tough game defensively. That 42 points scored by the Terriers was the fourth-lowest total allowed by Allegheny this season. (Third-lowest was the 29 they allowed the Terriers in January.)
Hiram came out of the gates hot, racking to a 6-0 lead. But then the Gators yanked the leash on the Terriers, who scored just three more points over the next 12 minutes of the first half. Allegheny, meanwhile, surrounded that lone 3-pointer with 20 points, taking a 20-9 lead with 4:24 to go in the period.
“The game plan was to come out and really pressure the ball and get a lot of turnovers off of easy points,” said Ford. “And definitely at the beginning of the game we were able to do that.”
Allegheny would end the first half up 26-16. And Hiram was never able to dig into that lead very deeply during the second half.
Hiram ended up shooting 24 percent in the first half (6-for-25) and 26.4 percent for the game (14-for-53) while forking over 19 turnovers during the game.
“We played tough on defense,” said Costanzo. “We really got after it. We switched up the press a lot and I think it kept (Hiram) off balance.”
The Gators also did a masterful job on the glass, out-rebounding Hiram 51-38 for the evening, including 28-15 in the first half. Twelve of the 15 Gators that got on the court last night pulled in at least one board.
Ford had 14 of those rebounds and finished the game with a double-double, scoring 10 points. Ann Ryan added eight rebounds.
Rachel Vigliotti led the offensive effort with 12 points. Emma Pellicano scored nine.
Hiram was led offensively by Alexis Kemper, who was 4-for-9 from the 3-point arc and scored 12 points. Christy Griffin scored nine points.