By Jerry Del Priore
In its first-ever home playoff game at the Hill Center, in front of a raucous crowd, No. 4 St. Joseph College (Brooklyn) Women’s basketball team fought valiantly to the end.
But the Bears failed to surmount a pair of fourth-quarter ten-point deficits, ultimately falling to fifth-seeded Purchase College, 80-76, Tuesday night in first round Skyline Conference postseason action in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.
Under intense playoff pressure, St. Joe’s struggled to find its footing in the first quarter, committing all sorts of unforced turnovers. But the Bears, somehow, only trailed the Panthers 18-15 at the of the period.
“We’re home, and we’re throwing the ball all over the gymnasium,” head coach Tom Flahive said. “It was upperclassmen who were throwing the ball around, and that was unfortunate.
“But this comes with the territory when you’re breaking new grounds, you’re setting new frontiers,” he continued. “We never hosted before, the gym has never been that packed. These are all conditions that will pay dividends next year, but during the moment, it created a lot of anxiety and careless turnovers”
Both squads traded baskets to start the second quarter. Sophomore Kelly O’Donnell scored three points, while senior Victoria Porcasi nailed a three-pointer that gave St. Joe’s a 23-21 lead with 5.59 left in the first half.
But that would be short-lived, as Purchase’s Amber Jones tied the tilt at 23.
However, a hotshot shooting O’Donnell rolled off eights points to the Panthers one for a 31-24 Bears’ advantage with 3:30 to go in the half.
The first half ended with St. Joe’s ahead, 33-29, with O’Donnell draining a total of 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the second period alone.
The red-headed Marine Park resident continued her torrid pace, dropping in back-to-back treys to start the second half, while junior Lauren Quesada increased the Bears’ lead to 41-29 1:52 into the second half.
But St. Joe’s failed to sustain that lead, as Purchase went on an unprecedented 18-2 run to close out the third quarter ahead by four points (47-43).
It was what Flahive called a pivotal point in the contest.
“The turning point in the game was when we had them by 12 and we failed to continue the pounding on them,” he said.
Refusing to roll over, however, the Bears clawed their way back into the affair, with O’Donnell cutting the game down to a point (53-52) with 7:01 remaining on the clock.
After a Panther three-pointer, senior Caitlyn Staab banged home a trey of her own, closing the gap to a point (56-55) again before Purchase added seven more for a 63-55 advantage with 3:30 left in the contest.
St. Joe’s fell behind by ten points, and the game looked bleak for the home squad.
But Porcasi poured in another from behind the arc to shrink the lead to 67-60 with 1:53 to go in the game.
Down by ten points again with 1:47 left in the affair, Porcasi and O’Donnell brought the tilt to 70-65 with 1:18 remaining.
A Panther successful free throw increased its advantage to six points, but Staab came up big, knocking down a trey and slicing the margin to three (71-68) with a minute left in the game.
Porcasi dropped in an unconscious three-pointer to cut the deficit to one with 11.2 to play.
But the Panthers slammed the proverbial door shut on the Bears with four made free throws down the stretch.
Panthers head coach Varell Eddie said it was one of the biggest wins of his college coaching career.
“I was an assistant at Purchase for two years and we went to the conference championship my first year and we lost by one,” said the Brooklyn-born Eddie. “So for me to be able to come back as a head coach and get a playoff win, it’s a pretty big win in my career. The only win that’s bigger than this is my first one (at Purchase).”
O’Donnell scored a game-best 33 points and grabbed 19 rebounds. It was her 14 double-double of the season.
Porcasi contributed 18 points, capping her career as the third leading scorer in program history with 1,647 points over 102 games played and claimed the program’s three-point queen title with 260 made threes at an impressive 35.4 percent success rate, both of which are Bears’ records.
Staab chipped in with 13 points, with 11 coming in the final stanza, and collected five boards and four blocked shots, while Quesada pulled down 12 rebounds, scored six points, dished out four assists and had four steals.
Jones enjoyed a solid game for Purchase, posting a team-high 22 points.
The Panthers will travel to top-seeded Mount Saint Mary Thursday at 7:00 p.m. for a semifinal Skyline Conference matchup.
Watch Victoria Porcasi (hidden in the corner) nail a three-pointer in video below.