BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh women’s basketball team won its third consecutive Christmas City Classic title on Thursday night, in a 68-59 overtime thriller over Mississippi State. The victory marks the Mountain Hawks’ (9-5) eighth consecutive win and their first ever over an SEC foe.
In an exciting back-and-forth game that featured 14 lead changes, the Mountain Hawks ran away in overtime, outscoring the Lady Bulldogs 10-1 in the extra frame. The win came over a Mississippi State team, who made it to the NCAA Sweet 16 last season.
"I loved how all of these kids competed today," said head coach Sue Troyan. "We played really hard and were really looking forward to this game. We thought this was definitely a game we could win if we brought our ‘A’ game."
Senior Erica Prosser, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, led the way for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 17 points and tying her season-high in assists, with eight.
"Erica has been such a great leader for us," said Troyan. "That’s something you always hope for. This was a great opportunity for us to step up at home against a good SEC team. Erica stepped up and showed why she has always been a great competitor for us."
Junior Emily Gratch had a career-high 25 points, making eight field goals and sinking 9-of-13 free throws, earning her tournament MVP. Junior Alexa Williams posted her second-straight double-digit scoring effort with 10 points and also added eight rebounds. Junior Aly Byorick added nine points on three critical three-pointers.
Diamber Johnson and Porsha Porter each netted 17 points for Mississippi State, earning them spots on the All-Tournament Team. Buffalo’s Kourtney Brown was the final player named to the squad.
Lehigh came out firing on all cylinders, playing up tempo and aggressive defense. The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 4-0 lead when Gratch hit a jumper and a layup on back-to-back possessions. Three-pointers by Byorick and Prosser on consecutive possessions gave Lehigh a 10-2 advantage. Williams then hit a jumper to increase Lehigh’s lead to 10 just four minutes into the game.
After the hot start offensively, the Mountain Hawks went cold from the field up until 6:25 to go. Lehigh led 14-7 for the next four-plus minutes, in which both teams went scoreless. Two free throws by Mississippi State cut the Mountain Hawk lead to 14-9. Prosser free throws gave Lehigh a 17-11 edge with 7:42 to go in the first half. Baskets by Gratch and senior Courtney Dentler then gave the Mountain Hawks a 23-16 advantage with 4:19 remaining in the first stanza.
The Lady Bulldogs closed the second half on an 11-4 run, led by hot shooting from Porter and Johnson. With Lehigh trailing 27-25, Gratch hit two free throws to tie the game up at 27 heading into the half. Gratch had 12 of Lehigh’s 27 first half points.
The second half got off to a back-and-forth start. Johnson and Catina Bett hit back-to-back baskets for Mississippi State to give the Lady Bulldogs a 31-27 lead. Williams and Gratch answered with field goals to cut the Mississippi State lead to 32-31. A jumper by Prosser and a nice post-move layup by Gratch gave the Mountain Hawks a 35-34 advantage. After the Lady Bulldogs answered with a field goal, Byorick hit a three pointer that bounced off the rim and in, which gave Lehigh a 38-36 lead.
For a moment, it looked like Mississippi State was on a run, as it took a 43-40 advantage on a Fatima May layup, followed by a turnover on the inbound pass. The Lady Bulldogs failed to capitalize and Prosser laid one up and in to cut the lead to 43-42. Williams and Gratch then sank four consecutive free throws to give the Mountain Hawks a 46-43 lead with 9:10 remaining.
Gratch continued to be the story coming down the stretch. With 8:45 to go, she made a layup and was fouled. After she sank the free throw to give Lehigh a 49-43 lead, Porter responded with a three pointer for the Lady Bulldogs, cutting the lead in half. Gratch again made a nice move on the following possession and sank a hook shot to increase the Mountain Hawks’ lead to five. After a Mississippi State three point play and a made Lehigh free throw, the score was 52-49 in favor of the Mountain Hawks with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation.
Prosser put Lehigh up by five and then Johnson cut the lead back to three with just over six minutes to go. After an empty Mountain Hawk possession, Johnson hit another jumper to cut Lehigh’s lead to 54-53. The Lady Bulldogs capped off a 6-2 run with a basket to take the lead again, 55-54.
Kristen Dalton answered back with a three to give Lehigh a 57-55 lead with 2:40 remaining. Johnson yet again answered with a three, giving Mississippi State a 58-57 lead. Lehigh missed three of its final four free throw attempts, but still managed to force overtime as the Lady Bulldogs went scoreless for the final 2:40 of regulation.
In overtime, Williams opened it up with a layup on the first possession. After an empty attempt by Mississippi State, Byorick banked in a three to give Lehigh a 63-58 lead with 3:45 remaining in the overtime period. After the Lady Bulldogs hit one of two free throws, Prosser drove in the lane and hit a shot that gave Lehigh a 65-59 lead. Prosser then hit two free throws to increase the lead to 67-59 with 53 seconds to go in overtime. From there, the Mountain Hawks never looked back on their way to the 77-64 victory.
Lehigh finished 38 percent (21-of-55) from the field, 22 percent (5-of-23) from three-point range. Mississippi State shot 29 percent (22-of-76) from the field, 27 percent (8-of-30) from long range. The Mountain Hawks won the battle of the boards, 51-46.
In the consolation game of the Christmas City Classic presented by Wells Fargo, Buffalo held off Rider, 67-51.
Lehigh returns to action on Sunday, Jan. 2 as it hosts the La Salle Explorers. League play opens up on Jan. 8, when the Mountain Hawks will play host to preseason Patriot League favorite American at 2 p.m. in Stabler Arena.