Posted: December 30, 2008
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Mountain Hawks claimed their first Christmas City Classic title since 2000 with a thrilling 53-49 victory over the La Salle Explorers Tuesday night in Stabler Arena. The Brown and White had to stage a dramatic comeback after falling behind 29-18, but a 35-point second half helped propel the Mountain Hawks to the title.
“We’re keeping a bucket list this year for the seniors,” Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan said. “There are a few things on it, but it’s nice to be able to cross this one off. It’s really nice for the seniors because they’ve finished in second place in all three previous years.”
Erica Prosser earned Christmas City Classic MVP honors for her performance in the tournament, averaging 14.0 points and 6.5 assists over the two days. Prosser’s eight assists on Tuesday tied a career high and added to her 12 points on the night.
Courtney Dentler also represented the Mountain Hawks on the All-Tournament team after she tied a career-high with 15 points to lead the team in the championship game.
“She played great,” Troyan said of Dentler. “She’s got the ability to step out and shoot the three and she can go inside. She’s just a real versatile player who’s really coming into her own.”
With the win, the Mountain Hawks improve to 10-3 for the first time since the 1985-86 season. The Brown and White also improved to 6-0 at Stabler Arena for the first time since 1989-90.
Lehigh overcame the hole it dug in the first half after putting up just 18 points on 9-for-22 (40.9 percent) shooting with a strong second-half comeback. The Mountain Hawks outscored the Explorers 35-20 in the final frame en route to the four-point victory.
The 18-point half was the lowest scoring first period for Lehigh since Nov. 17, 2007, when the Mountain Hawks trailed Fordham 16-15 at the half. Lehigh came back to win that game against the Rams, 46-33.
The Mountain Hawks turned the ball over 10 times in the half and went 0-for-5 from downtown. The Explorers shot just 10-for-28 (35.7 percent) but made three 3-pointers and only turned the ball over four times.
“We came out pretty flat in the first half,” Troyan said. “At halftime we didn’t go over a lot of X’s and O’s because there wasn’t much to change. We just knew we had to play harder and play smarter.”
It took Lehigh 4:05 to get on the board on Tuesday night as the Brown and White missed its first four shots from the field. Erica Prosser’s jumper stopped a 6-0 La Salle run with a long jumper, but it did little to stop the Explorers’ momentum.
La Salle jumped out to a 13-4 lead and looked to be running away with the game early on. The Mountain Hawks never pulled to closer than four points behind the Explorers for the rest of the period and went into the locker room trailing 29-18.
But the Mountain Hawks would not go that quietly into the Bethlehem night, as they came out firing in the second half. Lehigh soared out of the locker room with a 9-2 run that cut the deficit to 31-27. Dentler proved to be the catalyst as she scored five points in the run and would eventually score eight of Lehigh’s first 12 points in the half.
“That was probably the worst first half we’ve had all season,” Dentler said. “But we just said, ‘this is our house and we don’t lose at home.’ Then we just went out and did it.”
The teams traded baskets up and down the court as neither team could make a run, but it was Kristen Dalton coming off the bench that ignited Lehigh’s final push. Trailing 41-36 with just more than six minutes on the clock, Dalton buried a 3-pointer from the wing to cut the lead to two points and fire up the crowd. The next time down the court, Dentler banked home a layup to tie the score for the first time since 0-0.
A Dalton free throw put Lehigh up, 42-41, for the first time all night, and another Dentler triple extended the lead to four points. By the time the dust settled, the Mountain Hawks had scored 13 unanswered points to grab the 45-41 lead, which it would not relinquish.
When the buzzer sounded, the Lehigh players celebrated something that had taken them eight years to accomplish: winning their home court’s tournament. It was a special moment not only for the feeling that night, but for what it could mean when the Patriot League Tournament comes to town in March.
“We’re hosting the tournament here in a few months, so we told them to treat this game like the Patriot League Championship,” Troyan said. “We want to protect our home floor, and the more we do that leading forward, the better.”
Valparaiso clinched the third place spot with a win over North Florida in the first game of the evening. The Crusaders pulled away in the final minutes for a 58-49 win to move to 5-5 on the season and 1-1 at the Classic. Aimee Litka led the way for Valparaiso with 12 points and five rebounds, while Ashley Varner chipped in with seven points and a team-high nine rebounds in the win.
Kayla Mobley paced the Ospreys with a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in the losing effort. North Florida falls to 2-9 after an 0-2 week in Bethlehem.
Joining Dentler on the All-Tournament team were Kayla Mobley (UNF), Lauren Kenney (Valparaiso), Ashley Gale (La Salle) and Morgan Robertson (La Salle).
The Mountain Hawks return to action in the New Year with a matchup against Fordham on Friday at 2:05 p.m. in Stabler Arena. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by visiting the Lehigh Athletics Ticket Office, located in Grace Hall, or by logging onto Lehighsports.com.
Fans that cannot make it out to Stabler Arena can listen to the Lehigh game live on 91.3 WLVR (FM) with Jeff Tourial calling the action, or they can log on to Lehighsports.com for a live video broadcast of the game.
Buzzer beaters: Lehigh used its third different starting lineup of the 2008-09 season, with Claire Sullivan earning her first start of the year…The Mountain Hawks matched their longest winning streak of the season with their fourth-straight win Tuesday…Lehigh broke a streak of six-consecutive finals appearances without winning a title by beating La Salle.
WLVR-FM Post-Game Show, December 30, 2008