WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph closed the game with a 7-0 run, keeping Nichols College scoreless over the final 2:52, to escape with a 53-48 victory over the Bison in a non-conference tilt inside the O'Connell Center on Thursday night. The victory snaps a four game skid for the Blue Jays and improves their record to 8-11 on the season. Nichols drops to 2-18 with the loss.
Senior captain Carlee Putnam (Niantic, Conn.) sealed the victory hitting three free throws in the final minute, finishing the contest in double-figures with 12 points. Junior forward Kayla Guest (Newington, Conn.) led the way for USJ with a game-high 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field and also grabbed seven rebounds.
The first half was tightly contested with both teams battling back and forth throughout the opening 20 minutes of play. With just under two minutes left in the half the Blue Jays led 24-19, but a quick 3-0 spurt pulled Nichols within a bucket. However, junior Rajeen Mayo (Middletown, Conn.) beat the first half buzzer with a fast break lay-in to give USJ a 26-22 edge heading into the locker rooms.
Guest led all scorers at the break with seven points and junior Brooke Packard (Dudley, Mass.) led Nichols with six points. Sophomore Dhimitra Hatika (South Windsor, Conn.) provided a spark off the bench and on the glass for USJ in the first half grabbing an impressive eight rebounds.
USJ carried the momentum over to open the third stanza, building their lead to double digits, 34-24, at the 6:14 mark in the period. Freshman Charlotte Eberhardt (Thomaston, Conn.) capped the opening quarter spurt with a lay-in following a nice post move. The Blue Jays would continue to control the pace of play in the quarter and built their lead to as big as 15 (41-26), but the visitors closed the period with a quick 5-0 run over the final 1:30 to make it 41-31 entering the final quarter.
Nichols used high-pressure defense and turned it into offense as they quickly chipped into the USJ lead to open the fourth quarter. Putnam hit a jumper to open the period, but then the visitors exploded with a 14-1 run to take back the lead since the middle of the second quarter, 45-44. Senior Taylor Daniels (Dudley, Mass.) fueled the run with six points, including a huge three give the Bison back the lead with 4:06 left in regulation.
Both teams traded points over the next few possessions until Guest hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 48-48 and then followed with a lay-in to give USJ the lead for good, 50-48, with 2:00 left to play. Putnam would hit three clutch free throws down the stretch and USJ kept the Bison scoreless over the final 2:52 to escape with the 53-48 final margin.
Guest finished with a game-high 15 points and Putnam joined her in double figures with 12 for USJ. Mayo added nine points with ten rebounds and a game-high six steals. Hatika finished with a career-high 11 boards as USJ won the battle on the glass, 50-42.
Daniels led the way for Nichols with 12 points and was joined in double digits by sophomore Anna McDaniel who finished with 11. Daniels and classmate Brittany Donovan (Newport, R.I.) both pulled down a team-high seven boards.
USJ shot 33.9 percent (19-of-56) from the field, including 37.5 percent (3-of-8) from beyond the arc. They converted at a 52.2 percent (12-of-23) clip from the free throw line. Nichols hit for 29.5 percent (18-of-61) from the floor and just 7.7 percent (1-of-13) from distance, while shooting 57.9 percent (11-19) from the charity stripe.
The USJ basketball team will be back in action next on Saturday when they return home for a Great Northeast Athletic Conference matchup with Johnson & Wales beginning at 1 p.m.