Kyle Lafferty (above) and Rosemont beat a ranked team for the first time in program history Wednesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
When Kyle Lafferty first arrived at Rosemont College, the basketball team wasn’t much of a draw.
The formerly all-women’s college, located just around the corner from Villanova on Montgomery Avenue in Rosemont, Pa., went co-ed in 2009, with its first men’s athletics teams competing that year. By the time Lafferty began his freshman year in 2013, the men’s hoops program was on its second head coach in Robert “Barney” Hughes, a former St. Joe’s manager and Washington College assistant who replaced Ryan Tozer in the summer of 2012.
And though the Ravens had won as many as 13 games in Tozer’s third year, there weren’t much more than 40 or 50 people on hand to watch the average Rosemont basketball game.
“When I was a freshman, it started off slow, a lot of people didn’t used to come to the games,” Lafferty said. “But as people noticed that we were going to get a playoff berth, my freshman year, they started to say ‘hey, something’s up, we should start going to games.’
“Now,” he added, “The word’s out on Rosemont.”
Fast-forward four years, and it’s clear Ravens basketball has come quite a way.
Alumnae Hall was packed to its gills on Wednesday night as Rosemont hosted No. 15 Neumann, and the several hundred fans who filled the small gym’s few bleachers and stood gathered in groups in its corners were treated to a bit of Rosemont history.
For the first time in the program’s eight years, the Ravens beat a nationally-ranked program -- and did it in as thrilling a fashion as possible, coming from 15 down in the second half and emerging with a 97-96 victory in overtime.
When Hughes emerged from the team’s post-game meeting room on the far end of the game, the several dozen students and faculty still in attendance gave a final cheer. They’d already swarmed him and the players at center court at the final buzzer after supporting them loudly all the way through.
“Oh my god, the atmosphere was crazy,” senior Jamier Hughes said. “I love our fans, they came out and supported us, that was real big. That was a real big win for us, real big.”
“The fan support’s been amazing,” Barney Hughes said. “It makes 200 people sound like 1000 people and that’s pretty special. There’s a lot of gyms in Division II you can’t fill them no matter how many people you put in them, so we’re very lucky to have that here.”
Jamier Hughes (above) had 34 points and 14 rebounds to lead Rosemont to the win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Hughes, a 6-3 forward and Philadelphia native -- but not related to his coach -- certainly left his imprint with a game-high 34 points and 14 rebounds in the win. The Manor College transfer, now in his second and final year at Rosemont, had a key 3-pointer with 1:36 left in regulation to bring his team within five and knocked down two FTs to keep his team within one point with 3:17 left to go in overtime.
“We were down by a lot but we just kept fighting, kept fighting, believed in our coach, believed in the players and all of that,” he said.
Neumann seized advantage of the game midway through the first half and had led by as many as 62-47 with 11:10 remaining; it was 76-66 with 3:23 before Rosemont’s pressure started to really get to the Knights.
The Ravens have had experience this season with comebacks, down 13 at home to Ursinus with under four minutes to play and down nine with two minutes to play against Cairn before winning both.
“I think that our guys, in a certain way, we’re comfortable playing from that spot,” Hughes said. “I knew we were going to give up a couple [layups due to the press], but the fact is you’re trying to do it over time and it was really just if we had enough time, and fortunately tonight we did, we had enough time to make that comeback.”
Hughes was only one of several standout stars for the Ravens on on Wednesday. Clemons, a 6-0 junior, hit a 3-pointer to put Rosemont up with 38 seconds to go in overtime -- Neumann sent it to the extra period on a Darian Barnes triple with 10 seconds to play -- and another one early in the extra session.
Sophomore guard C.J. Wolfe, who finished with 20 points, scored the last eight points of the game for Rosemont, including the go-ahead foul shots with 1:12 left that proved to be the game’s final points.
The final 20 seconds of the game were spent with the ball in Neumann’s hands, and the Knights got off several looks before a rebound squirted away from the pack as the buzzer sounded.
“I know they had like four shots,” Hughes said. “I started walking [to shake hands], when the ball got tipped away, I started walking and I even hesitated because they got their hands on it again and I thought maybe a shot was going to go up and go in.”
The win lifts Rosemont to 12-10 on the season but 10-5 in CSAC play, putting the Ravens in fourth place in the league, a game behind Gwynedd-Mercy. Three games remain in the regular season before the six-team CSAC playoffs begin; if the standings hold, Rosemont will host Immaculata in the first round before a matchup against Neumann would loom in the semifinals.
Two more wins sets a new program best; Rosemont has also never finished a season (including playoffs) above .500, going 13-13 twice (and 13-14 once) but never better.
Neumann, now 20-2 (14-1 CSAC) is still the league favorite, even if a chink in the Knights’ armor finally showed. They won’t have to play in many more unfriendly gyms, playing two of their final three at home before going into the CSAC tournament with home-court advantage the whole way through.
“They’re a really, really good team and they deserve their ranking,” Hughes said. “They’ve still got the target on their back, they’re still the guys that we’re going to have to beat, and my only hope is we get to play them one more time.”