Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Cindy Griffin and the St. Joe’s women didn't need any proof of just how valuable Talya Brugler is to the 2022-23 Hawks’ squad. Either way, the sophomore's value was made abundantly clear on Wednesday in a Big 5 contest against Temple.
“No question about it,” Griffin said, “[...] she just makes the difference.”
With Brugler off the floor due to some early foul trouble, the Owls took advantage, building their biggest lead going into the half. As soon as Brugler returned to the court, however, the momentum swung right back in the Hawks’ favor — and never left.
Talya Brugler (above, right) had 17 points to lead St. Joe's to a 5-0 start to the season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Brugler’s big third quarter sparked a terrific team offensive performance, as St. Joe’s continued its unbeaten start to the season with a 75-66 win.
Trailing by six at halftime after an opening 20 minutes that saw four lead changes and three ties, the Hawks (5-0) scored the first eight points of the third, utilizing a 15-2 run out of the break to seize a lead it never again relinquished.
Brugler was right in the middle of it all, scoring eight of her game-high 17 points in a quarter that saw St. Joe’s out-score Temple 27-13. It wasn’t that she was all of their offense; it was just that she made the biggest difference. Her plus/minus of +17 was the largest on the Hawks, another testament to her value to her team whenever she’s on the floor, forcing opponents to adjust and account for the two-way presence.
“We don’t really run a whole lot of stuff for her,” Griffin said of her star forward, the Hawks’ leading scorer (14.6 ppg) this year and last. “She just finds ways to make plays.”
Far from a one-woman show, Brugler had plenty of help from a Hawks attack that saw its entire top eight join in the fun. Sophomore wing Mackenzie Smith added 14 and freshman forward Laura Ziegler had 10 as the only two others in double figures, but Olivia Mullins (9), Julia Nystrom (9) and Katie Jekot (8) were right behind.
Even in the third quarter, Brugler scored off dimes from four different teammates in that period — Jekot, Mullins, Nystrom and Jaden Walker. That was fitting on a night where the Hawks racked up 20 assists on 28 buckets, four players dishing out three-or-more dimes.
“It helps me a lot, my teammates can find me in places where it creates good opportunities for the offense,” Brugler said. “Even though we kind of have a young team, our experience from the past few years has helped us develop relationships on the court that we know where each other are in the right times, right places.”
As a team, the Hawks shot 49.1% from the floor (28-of-57), including 6-of-17 (35.3%) from 3-point range and 13-of-14 from the foul line. That helped them survive giving up 16 offensive rebounds to Temple (1-4), which was just 22-of-64 (34.4%) overall.
Aleah Nelson led Temple with 16 points; Jasha Clinton had 12 off the bench and Tarriyonna Gary added 10 a game after she went 7-of-9 from downtown against Villanova.
When the Owls made their push, it was by taking advantage of transition moments and taking it to the rack, drawing several fouls and getting to the line. But without the ability to get out and run in the third quarter, Temple quickly found itself back to play St. Joe’s more methodical style, and couldn’t adjust.
“In the first half we were denying passes, in the second half we stepped back and let them get their passes and then decided to defend,” Temple coach Diane Richardson said. “But earlier we were blowing up their plays based on the scout, we were blowing up their plays because we were putting pressure on them, and then the third quarter we just sat back and didn’t do the things that got us there in the first half.
“One of the things we’ve got to do is we’ve got to be consistent,” the first-year coach added. “To have a great defensive first half and then have a total opposite in the second half, that can’t happen. We’ve got to be consistent with our defense and play for 40 minutes. I’m not satisfied with that, as you can tell. But we cannot, we cannot be lax; we’ve got to go 40 minutes, hard.”
Hawks off to best start in five years
After four straight losing seasons, St. Joe’s looks quite ready to end that trend. The fifth straight win to start the season equals the Hawks’ unbeaten start through that many games in 2017-18, when they went 19-15, their last overall winning season. One more win and it would be their best start since 2005-06, when they won seven straight to start the year and finished 20-10 overall.
Thanks to COVID pauses and youthful struggles, St. Joe’s didn’t pick up its fifth win last season until mid-January, finishing 13-17 on the season and an only-slightly-better 7-8 in Atlantic 10 play. The Hawks were expected to improve this season, picked to finish sixth in the A-10 preseason poll, but look even further ahead of schedule, thanks to the impressive early play of Ziegler (10.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg), plus the improvements of the sophomore class and overall team depth.
Dating back to last season, when the Hawks won their season finale and then made it to the Atlantic 10 semifinals, they’ve won eight of their last nine games.
“We’re very happy with where we are, but we’re not satisfied yet, we still have a lot of stuff to accomplish this season,” Brugler said. “We ended [last season] on a very strong note, and we wanted to keep that same momentum coming into this year, and we’re doing a really good job of doing that, and we keep battling every day.”
Interior defense a troubling issue for Temple
Just four days after giving up a 41-point game against Villanova star Maddy Siegrist, Temple coach Diane Richardson was left frustrated with a defense that allowed St. Joe’s to outscore her Owls 36-22 in the paint, with Brugler and Ziegler’s combined 27 only part of the problem; most of Smith’s production also came at the rim as well.
Temple isn’t having any issue getting production from its guards, but its frontcourt has been a different story. Starting forward Denise Solis is averaging 3.0 ppg and 3.2 rpg, while backups Brittany Garner (4.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Caranda Perea (3.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg) are right around those numbers. Opponents are shooting 42.1% against the Owls, and those interior buckets are a big reason why.
“We’ve had some deficiency lately,” Richardson said, “and we’ve gotta be able to defend those post players like Brugler and Ziegler and Maddy Siegrist.”
St. Joe’s gets boost from Boslet
Emma Boslet (above) popped in six points in her first game of the season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Hawks welcomed Emma Boslet back to the court for the first time this season, as the 5-11 junior guard from Edison, N.J. made her return from a preseason knee sprain to provide a nice pop off the bench.
Last year, Boslet played in 24 games off the bench for the Hawks averaging 1.6 ppg and 1.4 rpg, topping out with nine points against Temple. She had no trouble surpassing those numbers in her first appearance, scoring six points with a steal and a rebound in nine minutes, including four points during the crucial third-quarter push; she came up with a second-chance bucket and a couple mid-range shots, missing her one 3-point attempt but hitting her other three shots.
“She does all the little things for us, she’s a great passer, defensively, she gets her hands on a lot of deflections,” Griffin said, “and [she] knows what we want, knows the offenses, knows the right plays to make. It just helps, even with the rotation, to be able to get Mac out for a couple minutes that we really haven’t been able to do in the first couple games without her.”
Griffin excited for local pair
The Hawks have officially received National Letters of Intent (NLIs) from three prospects for the 2023 class: guard Aleah Snead (Penn Charter), guard Gabby Casey (Lansdale Catholic) and forward Lizzy Gruber (Gardiner, Maine). With those NLIs in hand, that allows Division I coaches to finally comment on their committed players. Griffin’s happy about her class, but is looking forward to having a little more local flavor on her roster, which has some regional players but only one (her daughter, Kaylee Griffin) from the direct Philadelphia area.
“I think them being local and just understanding, especially on a day like today with the Big 5 and having a local rivalry, I think they’ll be able to understand that right away — not that our foreign kids don’t understand that, because they do,” Griffin said, joking with Smith, who’s from Canada, one of several internationals on the roster. “But they understand the game and they’re competitors and I think that’s what we want, we want high-skilled players that are very competitive and want to play team basketball.”
Nelson gets the last word
Aleah Nelson (above) is super-confident that Temple can turn it around after a 1-4 start. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
At the end of Temple’s press conference, Nelson had a final statement, making it clear the Owls’ mindset moving forward:
“Yeah we’re 1-4 but we need to hit adversity right now, as a new team, so then when we come into conference play, we know what it feels like to be down 10 on the road,” she said. “Hit adversity now, get to know each other more, and I’m going to say it again, I’m not worried. The goal is to win a championship, (Richardson) wins championship, that’s her mindset, I followed her here for that reason, and I’m not worried. And the next game we are going to win, and so on. That’s all I’m going to say.”
St. Joe’s hits the road after the holiday, traveling down to the Sunshine State to play at North Florida (1-3), which just played a pair of games in Dublin, Ireland. The Hawks then return to Philadelphia for a pair of home games against Boston University (Dec. 1) and Drexel (Dec. 4).
Temple has two more road games, its only three-game road stretch of the season, with games at Bucknell (Nov. 27) and Old Dominion (Nov. 30) before returning home with a game against UMBC on Dec. 3.