Posted: March 8, 2009
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Mountain Hawks earned a spot in the Patriot League Tournament Championship game for the third time in school history by defeating the Army Black Knights, 61-42, in Stabler Arena Sunday. Lehigh overcame a tough start by going on a 17-2 run to open the second half and cruising to the 19-point victory.
The Mountain Hawks set a new school record with their 25th win of the season (25-6), and have now won eight consecutive games. Army’s season comes to a close with a 19-12 record. Lehigh will play archrival Lafayette in the title game on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Stabler Arena.
After trailing for the entire first half, the Mountain Hawks came to life at the start of the second, turning a three-point deficit into a 12-point lead. The run started on defense, with five turnovers leading to eight points. Lehigh pulled to within one for the first time when Alex Ross hit a jumper in transition off an Erica Prosser steal, then pulled ahead on the next possession when Haly Crites sank a layup and was fouled on the break.
“Their defense was impressive in the first half,” Lehigh head coach Sue Toryan said. “They really didn’t give us any easy looks. We just said at halftime that we needed to pick up the tempo and I think we used our depth in the second half to our advantage.”
After the squads traded baskets, Ross buried a 3-pointer that sent a surge of energy through the entire arena. The Lehigh bench sprang to its feet and the crowd roared as Army was forced to call timeout, trailing 31-26 with 17:51 remaining.
The lead grew to as much as 12 points before the Black Knights scored a point on Erin Anthony free throws. The momentum had already swung, however, and Lehigh would extend the lead to as many as 21 points.
“Alex’s three to start that run off was huge,” Troyan said. “She’s the type of player that can inject energy and confidence into this team. We just never looked back from there.”
Four Mountain Hawks scored in double figures on the day. Prosser led the way with 14 points, followed closely by Ross with 13 points and Tricia Smith with 12 points and a team-leading nine rebounds. Emily Gratch threw in 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
The first half was a battle of the guards, with Erica Prosser and Nalini Hawkins carrying their teams into halftime. Hawkins scored 12 of Army’s first 16 points and finished the half as the game’s leading scorer with her 12 points coming on 4-for-7 shooting. Prosser also shot 4-for-7 in the period, s coring 11 points for the Brown and White.
Lehigh struggled to find balance on offense in the first, which was one of the Mountain Hawks’ strengths during the regular season. Prosser scored more than half the team’s 21 points, and only three players were on the scoreboard at the break. Emily Gratch came off the bench to give Lehigh seven points on 3-for-6 shooting in 10 minutes, and Tricia Smith sank the only other field goal of the first period, as she put up three points.
Both teams had difficulties from downtown, combining to shoot just 4-for-19 from 3-point land in the first half. Lehigh shot 2-for-8 (25 percent) on 3-pointers, while Army shot just 2-for-11 (18.2 percent).
Army opened up a nine-point lead, 20-11, with just less than eight minutes to play in the first, its largest lead of the game. That’s when the Mountain Hawks defense began to show signs of life, limiting Army to just four points for the rest of the half, and cutting the deficit to just 24-21 at the break.
“With the defensive intensity we showed in the first half, I don’t think anybody had any doubts going into the second,” Smith said. “It’s a real team effort defensively.”
Lehigh outscored the Black Knights, 40-18, in the second half to put the game away. The Mountain Hawks shot 57.7 percent in the second half, to end the day shooting 46.0 percent. Army shot just 23.8 percent in the second, finishing with a 29.8 percent success rate overall.
The Mountain Hawks forced nine turnovers in the second, while committing just four, starting the offensive success with strong defense on the other end. Erica Prosser finished the day with three steals to lead all players.
“My biggest concern was just the tempo,” Troyan said. “We had to look to push the ball and run, and that starts with rebounding the ball and getting stops on defense.”
Lafayette advanced to the championship game with a 62-55 victory over Navy on Sunday. The Leopards won just two regular season Patriot League games, but rattled off two-straight victories in the tournament this weekend. Lehigh swept the season series against the Leopards, and won the last Patriot League Tournament meeting last season.
Buzzer beaters: Lehigh advances to the Patriot League title game for the first time since 2001, when it lost to Holy Cross…The only other time the Mountain Hawks were in the championship game, they knocked off archrival Lafayette, 65-63, for the school’s only Patriot League Championship…Lehigh is now 16-0 at home this season, the most wins in Stabler Arena in school history…The Patriot League Championship game will be aired nationally on ESPNU starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
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