Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Gabby Crawford has been a journeywoman thus far in her college career. At La Salle, it looks like she’s finally found a comfortable landing spot.
The Memphis native, who’s playing at her third school in four years, has become a key part of the Explorers’ rotation since she was ruled eligible in December, making the most of the minutes she’s gotten thus far. The 6-foot-2 forward did it again Monday, scoring 15 points in 14 minutes off the bench, including four free-throws in the final minute, as La Salle beat St. Joe’s 69-65 in a Big 5 rivalry matchup on the Hawks’ court.
Gabby Crawford (above) had 15 points in 14 minutes off the bench as La Salle beat St. Joe's on Monday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Crawford, who’s from Memphis, started her college career at Ole Miss in 2018-19, then transferred to Morehead State, where she sat out 2019-20 and then averaged 12.4 ppg and 8.8 rpg last season. But she left the OVC school after last year and came to Philadelphia, where it wasn’t clear if she’d be eligible this season or not.
“Just coming here was a blessing, for coach Mountain [MacGillivray] and his staff just giving me another opportunity to have another chance to play this game,” she said. “Coming in, it was hard for me, not knowing if I was going to be able to play, but Coach Mountain, he just let me know whatever happens that it’s not even about basketball, they’re there to be my support and that’s what really mattered to me — just having the coaches I can confide in and trust, because I never really had that before.
“My teammates, I say this all the time jokingly, but this is probably the most I ever spoke to any of my teammates, because I don’t really speak a lot [...] and they just took me in. I just really felt loved just coming here and I never really had that experience before. It was really a blessing.”
Crawford made her season debut on Dec. 18 against Sacred Heart, scoring 17 points with five rebounds in 15 minutes; she added 17 more against Villanova before her third double-digit scoring outing in four games on Martin Luther King Day.
None of her points Monday were bigger than the two foul shots she knocked down with 0.9 seconds remaining to ensure the Explorers (9-6, 2-1 Atlantic 10, 2-1 Big 5) walked out of Hagan Arena with the win.
“Gabby, I think it just shows you the level of trust we have in her,” MacGillivray said. “She’s not run our stuff as much as everybody else and know exactly what we’re doing, but at the end of the game, we’re able to put the ball in her hands to take the fouls, get to the free-throw line and make free-throws.”
Crawford’s freebies capped off a perfect day for La Salle at the line. The Explorers were 18-of-18 from the charity stripe, a major reason they were able to hold off a Hawks’ comeback attempt down the stretch.
Kayla Spruill had 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-3 3PT) to lead the way for La Salle, which also got 10 points from Claire Jacobs and nine from sophomore guard Jaye Haynes.
“Kayla’s been leading us in scoring all season long and I was just joking with her, it looked like an easy night for her, the easiest 19 I’ve ever seen,” MacGillivray said. “Six for seven, don’t miss a free throw, don’t miss a 3-pointer.”
Questionable clock management costs Hawks
With her team down two points, 35 seconds on the game clock and a five-second difference between game and shot clock, St. Joe’s head coach Cindy Griffin allowed La Salle to drain 25 seconds off the clock before fouling.
By the time the Hawks picked up two more fouls, getting them to the limit, there were only eight seconds remaining. When Talya Brugler scored at the other end, following Jacobs’ two foul shots, there were only 2.9 seconds on the clock. Even if Crawford had missed one of her two final free-throws, taken with 0.9 seconds left, St. Joe’s would have needed a miracle to pull out the win.
Afterwards, Griffin wasn’t second-guessing the decision.
“They’re a very good free-throw shooting team, they shoot 80% from the foul line,” she said, “and our number is usually six seconds, so we’re not fouling if it’s a one-possession game with that differentiation, that’s our philosophy.
“Unfortunately we didn’t foul quick enough, and they made free throws.”
Hawks struggle around the rim
St. Joe’s offensive struggles could all be boiled down to one simple issue: making layups.
The Hawks were plenty effective from deep, knocking down 7-of-16 from beyond the arc. But they were just 18-of-46 from inside it — and while there were certainly some contested shots taken, there were also plenty of clean looks at the rim that St. Joe’s just couldn’t put down.
“We certainly missed a lot of layups and free-throws that we unfortunately can’t get back,” Griffin said. “But I told our guys that the fact is that we worked hard enough to get ‘em, I think we’re good enough to make them. And that’s the next step for this team in these types of games.”
SJU’s offense was otherwise efficient, with 20 assists on 25 buckets — their first 18 made shots were all assisted, with senior guard Katie Jekot dishing out a career-best 12 dimes. Freshman guard Mackenzie Smith led the way with 17 points on 6-12 shooting (4-6 3PT), while Brugler (16 points) and Kaliah Henderson (10 points) joined the sharpshooter in double figures.
The Hawks were playing without graduate forward Alayna Gribble (7.7 ppg), who’s been out the last few games due to injury, while freshman forward Laila Fair returned after a four-game absence to grab five rebounds in 13 minutes.
“We obviously want to be winning games right now,” Griffin said, “but we’re working towards playing our best basketball at the end of the year.”
Julie Jekot (above, left) and Katie Jekot share the court during Monday's Big 5 contest. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jekot sisters (briefly) share the court
Katie Jekot had a small moment of realization when she saw La Salle’s No. 25 take off her warmups.
“When I saw her check in, I was like ‘oh my gosh, here we go, this is what the buildup was for,” she said.
Explorers freshman Julie Jekot got nine minutes of action against her older sister, and while they only were face-to-face at brief moments, that was plenty for the older sister.
“I’m a point guard, she’s more of a 3-guard, so we weren’t matched up too many times,” Katie Jekot said. “But I saw her out there, she was working really hard, so it was good to see that.”
This isn’t the first time a Hawk’s been matched up against her sister for the first time on a college floor. Back in November, St. Joe’s freshman Talya Brugler went up against her older sister Tessa Brugler, a fifth-year forward at Drexel, in their first-ever game together, high school or college.
Like the Bruglers, these two Jekot sisters never played together in high school at Cumberland Valley (Pa.), Katie graduating in 2017, Julie arriving at the school that fall.
Going up against Julie might have been new for Katie Jekot, but seeing her sister on an opposing bench is not.
A third Jekot sister, Kelly Jekot — the oldest of four — played her first three seasons at Villanova (2016-19) before transferring in Jan. 2020 to Penn State, where she’s finishing her college career this season. Katie, who redshirted the 2017-18 season, got one game against Kelly in 2018-19, both playing more than 30 minutes in a 47-35 ‘Nova win.
“It was definitely different too because I was the older sister,” Katie Jekot said. “With Kelly, I was just one year younger than her, so I was a little bit more nervous, because I was the younger sister — and it was Villanova.”
There’s one more Jekot sister on the horizon — Jill Jekot, a sophomore at Cumberland Valley this season, will undoubtedly follow her sisters into the Division I ranks.
Looking ahead to the rematch
The two programs are scheduled to meet again on Feb. 2 at 6 PM at La Salle, two weeks and a couple days down the road. Saint Joseph’s plays three games between now and then: at St. Bonaventure (Jan. 21), at Fordham (Jan. 26) and at home against Massachusetts (Jan. 29).
La Salle has four contests coming up before they see their city rivals again: at George Mason (Jan. 21), vs. Richmond (Jan. 23), at St. Bonaventure (Jan. 26) and at Duquesne (Jan. 30).