By Amie Canfield
POUGHKEEPSIE – Rookie guard Rance Russo scored a game-high 24 points to lead Elizabethtown College to a 71-65 win over Vassar College in the opening game of the Hochberg Family Tip-Off Tournament at the AFC Gym on Friday evening. The Bluejays improve to 2-0 on the young season, while the homestanding Brewers are 0-1.
Elizabethtown will now play in the Hochberg Family Tip-Off Tournament Championship Game tomorrow at 3pm, facing the winner of game two’s contest between Albright College and Wesleyan University. Vassar will play in Saturday’s Consolation Game at 1pm.
The Brewers opened the game’s scoring and controlled the scoreboard for a majority of the first half. Vassar led by as much as six (10-4) following a free throw make by senior Jack Rothenberg, but the Bluejays battled back into the contest, tying things at 23-all before taking a one-point advantage at the 7:20 mark behind a pair of layups and a free throw make by freshman guard Rance Russo.
An ensuing layup, coupled with a Russo three-pointer pushed Elizabethtown ahead by a 29-23 margin with 6:25 to play in the half. A tip-in from Vassar junior forward Zach Johnson helped pull the Brewers to within four (29-25), but another layup from Russo made it a six-point lead (31-25) for the visitors.
Trailing 37-30, the Brewers got a critical three from senior captain Neville Lee with 1:58 to play and Rothenberg drained a layup at the 1:09 mark, but Elizabethtown headed into halftime with a 43-35 advantage following a three-pointer from senior guard Aidan Trynosky.
Second half action saw the Brewers battle back following a layup from Jalin Robinson that put the home team at a 50-38 deficit. Junior guard Ethan Ellis poured in a layup, while Lee also found the bucket to close the gap to 50-42 with 13:30 to play.
A shot from beyond the arc by Russo helped the visitors expand their advantage once again and despite a Johnson layup, the Brewers found themselves down 59-49 with 9:55 left in the contest. Finding themselves down by 12 (61-49) with 7:25 remaining, Vassar got an outstanding jumper from junior guard Avni Mustafaj to narrow the gap back to 10 with just over seven minutes to play.
Following an Elizabethtown foul, Rothenberg sank a shot from outside, making it a 61-54 game with 5:48 on the clock and another drained three a minute later from Mustafaj saw the Brewers make it a four-point (61-57) game.
Elizabethtown got a bucket from Trynosky, but Vassar continued to battle back as Mustafaj sank a layup to record his 11th points of the contest and make it a 63-59 lead for the visitors with 3:42 remaining. Out of a Bluejays timeout, the Brewers made it a one-point game as junior guard Kevin McAuliffe nailed a three for the 63-62 score at 3:01.
Trynosky poured in his 15th points of the contest with an inside layup, drawing a foul for the And-1 that put the visitors back up by four (66-62) with just 2:09 to play in the contest. Johnson stepped up to the line in the final 1:06, draining one of two to close the gap to three (66-63), but the Brewers were unable to narrow the deficit further as Russo nailed another three at the 37 second mark en-route to the victory.
In addition to Russo, who went 8-16 (50.0%) from the floor and 4-8 (50.0%) from beyond the arc, the Bluejays saw Trynosky record 16 points. Robinson posted 12 points as sophomore guard Jared Archer had a game-best three steals. Three Bluejays recorded five rebounds on the evening, including sophomore center Nick Rapp, who added a game-high three blocks.
For the Brewers, Johnson led the way with 18 points, going 8-13 (61.5%) from the floor, while adding a game-best 11 rebounds. Rothenberg added 14 points, including a 3-5 (60.0%) effort from the line. Mustafaj had 13 points with nine rebounds and a steal on the night.