Princeton Tops Fordham in Holiday Classic
By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, DECEMBER 31- Fordham hosted the eighth annual edition of the Fordham Holiday Classic on December 29 and 30. The invited teams for the end of the year women’s basketball tournament in the Bronx were the Hartford Hawks (6-8), the Princeton Tigers (15-0) and the Savannah State Lady Tigers ((4-7).
In the opening game of the tourney the hosts, Fordham Rams (8-5), were not overly hospitable to the visitors from Georgia. Neither team scored during the first 33 seconds of the contest, but Fordham’s first basket, a three by Hannah Missry, was a harbinger of what was to come. The Rams held the lead and built upon it throughout the game. Missry continued her pinpoint shooting from beyond the arc as she netted 5 of 9 to tie her career high of 15 points. The Rams took its first double digit lead, 12-2, at 15:21.
Despite the passage of 15 days since their last game, the Fordham defense held the visitors to a shooting percentage of only 24.1 while controlling the boards (24-14) in the first half. Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley commented on the reasons for her team’s victory, “Our defense was a strong one. Outrebounding our opponent is a big part for us.”
The Lady Tiger’s one point advantage in the second half did not cut the deficit to single figures as Fordham moved to the tournament final with a 63-53 win. Fordham could not stop one player, Ezinne Kalu, who scored 26. Gaitley admitted her pre-game plan for the pre-season MEAC Player of the Year “was to not let her touch it [the ball].”
The other first round game on Monday was similar to the first game. The superiority of the undefeated Princeton Tigers in the first half could not be overcome by the resurgence by Hartford in the second half. Neither team scored for the first 32 seconds. Blake Dietrick’s basket gave the Tigers a lead that was never relinquished. Dietrick was the game’s high scorer with 27 points in 27 minutes on court during the contest.
Two one-sided scoring runs gave the Tigers a 25 point advantage at the end of the first half. They scored 12 unanswered points to take a 23-7 lead at 11:51. Later in the half they scored 15 straight points to go up by 25 points, 41-16, at 2:29. The Tigers shot 59.4% while holding the Hawks to 27.6 percent in the first half.
The shooting percentages of the two teams were reversed in the second half as Hartford made a comeback attempt. Hartford shot 57.1 percent and held Princeton to 26.1 percent, but the seven-point advantage on the second period only cut the final score lead to 18 points for Princeton.
The consolation game that began Tuesday’s action was an exciting comeback win for Hartford. Savannah State’s defense kept the Hawks to only seven field goals on 33.35 shooting.
Three Hawks, Amber Bepko, Cherelle Moore and Morgan Lumb, showed energy, ability and leadership as they accounted for 38 of the 40 second half points scored by their team. The 52 percent shooting allowed the Hawks to make a late game run to win by four, 59-55. The absence of Kalu from the Savannah State lineup was also a factor in the result.
The Princeton Tigers showed their undefeated record this season deserves respect as they did not allow a second half surge by the Rams to nullify their victory. The final of the three lead changes took place mid-way through the first half during a run of 10 unanswered points scored by the Tigers. As the half neared its end, sight straight points by Princeton gave them a double figure advantage that remained through the first half.
The Rams, held to 25 percent shooting in the first half moved to a sterling 56 percent in the second. Gaitley remarked, “In the second half, we settled down and shot the ball well.” Despite cutting the deficit to single figures, 10 unanswered points by the Tigers raised the lead to a game-high 19 points at 4:11. The visitors won the two-day tourney with a 67-53 win.
The knowledgeable and gracious Fordham coach spoke highly of her opponent, “They’re [Princeton] a top 25 team. They’re a very sound defensive team. They move the ball up the court very quickly.” The Tigers were 11-0 over the Rams in fast break points.
Blake Dietrick of Princeton led the Tigers with 14 points and 7 assists. She was named the Tournament MVP. Gaitley spoke words of praise, “She’s a very good decision make. You don’t know how good she is until you play her.”
Fordham graduate student Tiffany Ruffin was the only Ram with double figures in each game and on the tournament team. Of her, Gaitley said, “Tiff’s the key to how far we will go.”