Eljamal’s dominance not enough to carry Senators past Taft


If you’re familiar with the film “Groundhog Day” when Bill Murray is forced to experience the same series of events day after day, then you’ll have an idea of how the American Studies girls basketball team was feeling after last Friday’s game against Taft.

The first time the Senators and Eagles locked horns was Dec. 19 when American Studies was forced to rally from a double-digit deficit in the second half only to fall short in a four-point loss to the Eagles.

Fast forward to last Friday’s return engagement between the two programs and the setting was eerily similar. The Senators trailed by 10 points at halftime, and once again were tasked with staging a furious second-half rally.

But just like the first encounter, American Studies saw its spirited comeback attempt fizzle in the end. When Emily Eljamal’s half-court heave at the buzzer missed its mark, the Senators again found themselves on the short end, this time in a 37-36 loss to first-place Taft.

“We had our eye on this game for a while just because of how it turned out the first time around,” Senators head coach Ryan Hondorf said. “We were down 13 at the beginning of the fourth quarter in the first game and we cut it to one at the end. It ended up being a four-point game, but we knew we had a chance to win that one.

“So we were really looking forward to this one, but we just couldn’t come up with the big shot when we needed it.”

American Studies (11-4 Bronx B West Division) trailed 22-12 at the half but came out on fire in the third quarter as Eljamal scored eight of her game-high 24 points to get the Senators back in the game. And when Jacqueline Harari’s free throw with just over a minute left in the period brought American Studies within 24-23, momentum seemed to be fully on the Senators’ side.

But two late baskets by Taft’s Skyy Moye — who scored 21 points in the game — bumped the Eagles’ lead back to five points entering the fourth quarter. Eljamal did all she could to help the Senators take down Taft in the final period scoring nine of American Studies’ final 13 points. But even her valiant effort was not enough to pull out the victory for the Senators.

“We were looking for some revenge, basically,” said Eljamal, who also logged 15 rebounds. “It was a tight game last time, and we came back from a 13-point deficit. We had to come back again in this game, but we couldn’t close this one out, either.”

The loss was only the second for the Senators since before Christmas. But Hondorf thinks his team needs to fine-tune a couple of areas before the playoffs tip off in a few weeks.

“If there were two things we could point to that we need to improve on, it’s coming out more crisp early in the game and limiting the silly turnovers like the travels, poor passes and the decision making,” Hondorf said. “If we clean those things up, we’ll have a good shot at making a run in the playoffs.”

With the dream of a division title gone, Hondorf said the Senators will now concentrate on finishing the regular season strong in their last three games — all on the road at Tuitt, Jane Addams and Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy. Each game presents an opportunity for the Senators to enhance their playoff profile.

“If we had won this one, we would have gotten a better seed and it would have given us a less tougher team in the second and third rounds of the playoffs,” Hondorf said. “So that’s kind of what we’re looking at right now, fighting for the best playoff seed possible.”

Despite the loss, Eljamal thinks the Senators are still going to be a team to be reckoned with once the playoffs commence.

The proof, she said, is pushing mighty Taft to the brink in both of their meetings this season.

“We know we’re one of the top three teams in the league, and we know we can beat teams like Taft and Tuitt,” Eljamal said. “If we can beat teams like them, and we play Tuitt (on Jan. 30), it will look good for us going into the playoffs. It would show we can beat any team that comes our way.”