BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s basketball team picked up its seventh straight win with a 58-41 victory over Rider on Thursday in the Christmas City Classic presented by Wells Fargo. With the win, the Mountain Hawks will advance to play Mississippi State in the championship game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Stabler Arena, looking to win the tournament for the third consecutive year.
Despite struggling on offense after an 18-day layoff, the Mountain Hawks held their ground defensively, holding Rider to 28.8 percent shooting from the field. Lehigh also forced 33 Rider turnovers on the way to its 12th straight December win dating back to last year.
“It is pretty typical for a team this time of the year to come out and play this way,” said Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan. “You can really tell we were coming off an 18-day stretch where we didn’t have any games. We struggled to shoot the ball well and we couldn’t get in a rhythm offensively. We played well on defense, but just struggled on the offensive end.”
Junior Alexa Williams had by far her best game of the season, posting Lehigh’s first double-double of the season. Williams put up season highs in points (10) and rebounds (12). Sophomore Becky Guman also dished out a career-high six assists while tying a career-high with six points.
“Alexa has had a couple good weeks of practice,” said Troyan. “With her ability to contribute offensively and rebound, she will be a key player for us come Patriot League play.”
Senior Erica Prosser led all scorers with 15 points. Junior Emily Gratch was also a key contributor for the Mountain Hawks, as she netted 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Gratch additionally had six of Lehigh’s 18 total steals.
Shereen Lightbourne led the way for Rider as she scored 13 points.
The Mountain Hawks jumped out to an early 9-2 lead within the first four minutes, but Broncs fought back to knot the game back up at 11-11 with 10:34 remaining in the first half. That would be the closest Rider would get for the rest of the night.
Lehigh increased its lead to five points on a layup and a made free throw on the next possession by junior Alexa Williams. Gratch followed with a layup to make the score 16-11 with 7:40 to go in the first stanza. Rider cut the lead to 16-14, but the Mountain Hawks went on an 11-6 run to close the half with a 27-20 lead.
The Mountain Hawks extended their lead in the beginning of the second half, opening it with a 7-2 run, thanks to a Gratch layup and a three-pointer by junior Aly Byorick. Gratch followed with a layup to increase the lead to 34-22.
Rider clawed its way back, though, with an 8-2 run to make the score 36-30 heading into the media timeout with 11:53 remaining. Lehigh ran away with the game from there, going on a 14-3 run to take a 50-33 lead, a 17-point margin that stood as the Mountain Hawks’ largest of the day.
The Mountain Hawks will face Mississippi State in the championship game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. This will be the seventh-consecutive year that the Mountain Hawks advance to the Christmas City Classic Final. The matchup will be the first between the Mountain Hawks and the Lady Bulldogs. Lehigh has already faced an SEC team this year, losing 74-63 to LSU on Nov. 26.
Following the Christmas City Classic, Lehigh will host the La Salle Explorers on Sunday, Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. league play opens up on Jan. 8, when the Mountain Hawks will play host to preseason Patriot League favorite American at 7 p.m. in Stabler Arena.