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WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Saint Joseph's Notches Huge - and Historic - Victory in Season Finale

By John Knebels (Photos/James Quinn), 03/03/24, 4:30PM EST


(Photos by James Quinn for PSD / videos by John Knebels)



PHILADELPHIA – First, a gutsy win over Rhode Island. Then, a kick-in-the-gut loss to Fordham.

As for Saturday’s afternoon regular-season finale at Duquesne University? Call that a gut-check victory. On second thought, make that a major gut-check victory.

With sophomore Laura Ziegler roaring for a career-record 27 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, and two steals while junior Mackenzie Smith provided 24 points and five boards, visiting Saint Joseph’s University defeated Duquesne, 77-73, and clinched a three-seed in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“We knew how important this game was going into it,” said Smith, “and we had to do whatever was needed to come out on top.”

The victory contained historic value, as it improved the Hawks’ overall record to 26-4, thus tying the program’s most-ever victories in one season. More importantly, SJU finished 15-3 in the A-10, thus supplying a double-bye in the post-season tournament that begins next week in Virginia, home of Conference top-seed Richmond, which has received consistently outstanding contributions from sophomore Cardinal O’Hara graduate Maggie Doogan.

To illustrate the mettle it took to prevail past Duquesne, a brief summary of the Hawks’ two previous games warrant mention. 

Back on Feb. 24, Rhode Island visited Hawk Hill and, through three periods, appeared destined for a sure loss. But the Rams (then 17-12 overall, 9-7 conference) rebounded from a 56-43 deficit and trimmed their deficit to 68-67 with 17 seconds remaining in regulation.  

A crowd of 1,222 celebrating ‘Senior Day’ methodically went from relaxed to, well, nervous. Maybe even a bit scared. Four straight free throws by junior Talya Brugler (17 points), however, calmed their anxiety, and the Hawks emerged in good spirits with a 72-67 victory.

All was fine. With 12-15 Fordham up next, it would take a stunning turn of events to suffer a key loss. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what occurred. Despite Smith scoring 24 points, grabbing six rebounds, and making three steals – all team highs – Fordham used an 18-12 fourth quarter and shocked the Hawks by an eminently forgettable 62-57.

The Hawks 72-67 victory over Rhode Island. (Highlights/John Knebels for PSD)

How surprising was the loss? Fordham would ultimately end up losing to LaSalle – an 8-20, 5-12 squad – yesterday afternoon.

A loss to Duquesne (18-11, 13-5) would have dealt the Hawks a disappointing fifth-place finish in the A-10. But while improving their road record to a seriously impressive 14-1, the Hawks bounced back in impressive fashion and won’t have to play until next Friday night in the quarterfinals.

“Playing on the road is always hard no matter where you go,” said Smith. “But coach always tells us that when we are on the road, we need to play like we are down 10, so pack defense and rebounding in our suitcases with us. So we really try to focus on that and make every away gym feel like home.”

SJU head coach Cindy Griffin appreciated her team’s resolve. (Video/ john Knebels for PSD)

SJU Head coach Cindy Griffin’s product has brought local talent to Hawk Hill

The Hawks, who got four points from freshman Penn Charter grad Aleah Snead and a three-pointer from freshman Lansdale Catholic alum Gabby Casey, still need to work on finishing off opponents. Again, they surrendered a big lead – this time 14 points – before icing the game at the free-throw line.

Afterwards, the Hawks celebrated briefly and then, after an off-day Sunday, will immediately focus on an opportunity to win three games and reach the coveted NCAA Division I tournament later this month.

“This group is just special all around,” said Smith. “We are very connected both on and off the court, and I would say our last loss only brought us together more. Our core values are to be selfless and relentless, and we knew that coming into this game, we needed to embody those more than ever.”

Mission accomplished.

(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)