MORRISTOWN, N.J. – It was a night of thievery in St. Joseph’s Hall on Wednesday as two of the best basketball burglars in Division III were on the court in a North Eastern Athletic Conference women’s game between visiting Penn State-Berks and homestanding Saint Elizabeth.
CSE senior guard Kelly O’Dell came into the action averaging 4.5 steals per game this season, ranking fourth in all of Division III while her senior counterpart on the Nittany Lions, Keisha Robinson, was 13th in the nation with 4.1 swipes per contest.
The two cagey capers did little to disappoint the fans – O’Dell totaled seven swipes on the night while Robinson registered six steals.
In the end it was O’Dell and her Screaming Eagles (6-5, 4-1 NEAC) who pulled off the biggest heist, rallying back from a halftime deficit to claim their fourth consecutive victory, 82-74.
Penn State-Berks dropped to 2-9 and 1-4 in the conference.
The Nittany Lions held a 35-32 lead at the break after shooting a slick 53.6 percent from the floor. The visitors kept a slight edge over CSE for the opening five minutes and used a 5-0 burst capped off at 13:35 by a three-point play by PSU Berks senior Fatima Rone.
CSE dug in on defense after Cheyenne Grant’s lay-up from an Amerisse Rogers feed cut the deficit to one. Freshman Sharolin Sanders made a steal – one of her career-high five on the night – and classmate Ashley Pledger canned a 3-pointer off a pass from Noelle Grande to give CSE a 54-53 lead with 10:43 left.
Rogers and Pledger helped CSE push its lead to 66-61 at the five-minute mark. Rodgers made a steal and finished a fast-break lay-up and then corralled a PSU Berks miss and hit a streaking Pledger for another transition bucket.
The Screaming Eagles scored 20 fast-break points to 10 for the visitors.
Robinson hit a pair of free throws and then drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key. A free throw by forward Nichole Young-Trappe got the Nittany Lions within two, 69-67, with 2:24 left.
Grant, CSE’s sharpshooter, made her first free throw and missed the second, but Clark swooped in for the offensive rebound. On an ensuing baseline out-of-bounds play, O’Dell hit a wide-open Grant for a corner jumper and a five-point lead.
Rogers turned a defensive rebound and a steal into four more points and CSE bled the clock for its fourth win in a row, a season-best streak.
Rogers finished with 14 points and four steals and CSE totaled 22 swipes on the evening while shooting a stellar 56.8 percent in the second half.
O’Dell continued to fill her stat coffers, scoring nine points with seven rebounds and the seven steals. Clark followed in her footsteps, scoring eight points with a game-high 11 rebounds along with five steals, four blocks and four assists.
Pledger led all scorers with 27 points, including 8-of-10 from the charity stripe, to tie her career high set on Saturday against SUNY Morrisville. Grant chipped in 16 points to hit double figures for the sixth time this season.
Shanelle Koch led the Nittany Lions with 23 points and eight rebounds while Young-Trappe contributed a double-double with 15 points and a team-high 10 rebounds. Robinson finished with nine assists and the six steals.
PSU Berks held a 45-38 advantage on the backboards, but CSE evened it out by forcing 31 Nittany Lion turnovers while committing just 21 themselves.
The Screaming Eagles continued the athletic department-wide “We Back Pat” initiative on Wednesday night prior to the game, sporting bright orange T-shirts during warm-ups in support of legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who is battling on-set Alzheimer’s.
The Nittany Lions were clicking early in the game, racing out to an 8-0 lead after Koch made her first three shots.
Clark broke the ice for CSE with a lay-up out of a CSE timeout with 17:20 showing on the clock.
PSU Berks would maintain a lead through much of the first half, including a seven-point advantage after Robinson found Rone for a lay-up at 12:03.
CSE got within one on a smooth jumper by Grande off a dish from Rogers, but the Nittany Lions used seven points, including a 3-pointer, by Koch to hold the Screaming Eagles at bay.
Koch led all scorers with 13 points for PSU-Berks, who hit 53.6 percent of their shots in the first half.
Pledger topped CSE at the half with eight points while O’Dell added seven points and five steals.
This is the third time this season CSE has hit the 80-point mark. With the victory, the Screaming Eagles kept pace in the NEAC South Division with leaders PSU Harrisburg (4-0) and PSU Abington (4-0)
Saint Elizabeth hits the road for five of the next six conference games, starting on Saturday, Jan. 12 with a 1 p.m. game at SUNY IT in Utica, N.Y. After traveling to Lancaster Bible College on Wednesday, Jan. 16, the Screaming Eagles will return to St. Joseph’s Hall on Sunday, Jan. 20 for a crucial 1 p.m. contest against Keuka College.