WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph basketball team trailed by 24 points halfway through the third quarter, but mounted a vicious comeback against Rivier University in a GNAC cross-divisional game inside the O'Connell Center on Thursday evening. USJ surged over the final 15 minutes of the game to pull within four (65-61) with just under a minute to play. However, there was just not enough time on the clock to complete the comeback as the Raiders held on for a 68-63 victory.
The loss drops the Blue Jays overall record to 7-10 on the season and they slip to 2-7 in Great Northeast Athletic Conference action. The Raiders grab their second straight GNAC win as they improve to 5-11 overall and 3-6 in the conference.
A big second quarter by the Rivier Raiders where they outscored the Blue Jays 16-5 gave the visitors a 35-19 lead heading into halftime. The difference would be just enough as USJ started to mount its charge in the final quarter and a half.
Rivier opened the third quarter with a 6-0 spurt to build its lead to 22 (41-19) just over a minute into the period and then would eventually take its largest lead of the game, 44-21, one minute later. Both teams traded buckets over the next several minutes until the Raiders once again led by 24 (49-25) after a Kaylee Kacavas (Dracut, Mass.) lay-in with 4:51 to play in the third.
USJ then began to slowly chip away at the oppositions lead over the second half of the period and was able to trim the deficit to 15 (49-34) heading into the final period. The Blue Jays held the Raiders scoreless over the final 4:51 and capitalized with a 9-0 run to account for the difference. Junior Rajeen Mayo (Middletown, Conn.) led the way with four points over the spurt.
An old fashion three-point play by Kacavas to open the fourth built the visitors lead back up to 18 (52-34), but the Blue and Gold answered with a 10-4 run to pull within 12 (56-44) with just under seven minutes left in regulation. Sophomore Diamond Wallen (Hartford, Conn.) powered USJ with six points during the run.
The Blue Jays would get the game back within single digits, 60-51, after a pair of made free throw shots by junior Kayla Guest (Newington, Conn.) with 2:42 to play as the intensity of the game began to really pick up. High pressure defense by USJ turned into into a couple quick lay-ins to get the Blue Jays within four (65-61), but there simply wasn't enough time left on the clock as the Raiders held on and walked away with the 68-63 final.
Sophomore Kaylee Kacavas had a huge game for the Raiders with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-23 shooting from the floor and hit 6-of-7 attempts from the foul line. Senior Rebecca DeBaldo (Pelham, N.H.) also finished with 20+ points sinking 22, while converting 12-of-18 attempts from the charity stripe. Defensively for Rivier, senior Savanah Butterfield (Londonderry, N.H.) had a game-high 13 rebounds and six blocks.
Guest led the way and the second half comeback for the Blue Jays with a team-high and season-high 22 points, including 16 in the second half. She shot 9-of-22 from the field, had eight rebounds, four steals and three assists. Mayo joined Guest in double-figures finishing with 18 points, including 12 in the second half. Wallen led the way on the glass with a career-high 10 boards.
Rivier held a slight edge in the team rebounding department, 51-48. USJ forced 21 Raiders turnovers with 14 steals, while only turning it over 14 times themselves.
The USJ basketball team will be back in action next when they travel to Suffolk this Saturday in a 1 p.m. tip-off with the Rams. Rivier returns to the hardwood the same day and is also on the road against the Mount Ida Mustangs beginning at 1 p.m.