NEWARK, N.J. – With the game knotted at 45 and four seconds on the clock, sophomore Katie O’Reilly knocked down a crucial free throw to give the Lehigh women’s basketball team a 46-45 victory over NJIT on Saturday afternoon. The Mountain Hawks and Highlanders exchanged leads five times on the day, but in the end, Lehigh’s free throw shooting proved to be the difference for its seventh victory.
After falling behind 6-0 just under three minutes in, the Mountain Hawks battled back by forcing multiple Highlander turnovers, and after freshman Kerry Kinek’s jumper at the 12:44 mark, Lehigh knotted the game at 10 apiece. Following the jumper, senior Sarah Pearce’s trey gave Lehigh its first lead of the afternoon at 13-10.
Following the three by Pearce, Lehigh did not relinquish the lead throughout the remainder of the half, outscoring NJIT 13-11 over the final 11:26. Kinek scored her 10 halftime points in a variety of ways, knocking down long jumpers and working in the paint as the Mountain Hawks outscored the Highlanders 10-6 on the inside and out-rebounded the host 18-11 over the first 20 minutes. The Whitehall, Pa. native shot 4-of-7 from the field in the first half, while Lehigh shot 42 percent as a team.
A late Highlander three cut the lead to just 26-21 at the half, but the Mountain Hawks held advantages in almost every statistical category including points off turnovers (8-7), second chance points (4-3) and bench points (10-7). Lehigh also took advantage of the six first half fouls by the Highlanders, going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
NJIT began the second half much like the first, scoring the first eight points to grab a 29-26 advantage about three minutes in. A trey by junior Hilary Weaver halted the 8-0 run by Highlanders and tied the game at 29, but on the next trip down the floor, NJIT scored as the shot clock expired to retake a two-point advantage.
After falling behind 33-30, Egan scooped a layup in to cut the Highlander lead down to just one, but NJIT answered with a bucket of its own from the elbow. Lehigh continued to inch its way back into the game and eventually brought the game to a tie at 38 apiece with just under eight minutes left in regulation after a basket by Pearce.
The Mountain Hawks grabbed leads at 40-38 and 42-40, but after two free throws by the Highlanders at the 2:46 mark, NJIT took a late one-point lead at 44-43. Lehigh answered with a foul shot of its own from Kinek to knot the game again at 44. Free throws again proved crucial to Lehigh as Pearce’s 1-of-2 effort from the line with 1:57 on the clock gave the Mountain Hawks a one-point advantage as the back-and-forth affair continued.
After a yet another free throw by NJIT, the game again played to a draw at 45 apiece with 1:24 to play in regulation. The Mountain Hawks came up with a huge defensive stand with 36 seconds left and controlled the ball with 19 seconds to play at mid-court when head coach Sue Troyan called a full timeout.
Out of the break, O’Reilly drove from the far side of the court and drew a foul on the baseline under the basket. She then calmly connected on the first of two free throws to give the Mountain Hawks a one-point advantage. Off the miss on the second foul shot, the Lehigh defense stifled the Highlanders as NJIT was unable to get off a last-second heave and the Mountain Hawks earned a dramatic 46-45 victory.
Lehigh shot 33.3 percent from the field and 64.7 percent from the line on the afternoon. The Mountain Hawks again out-rebounded their opponent, 41-30, while outscoring the Highlanders 20-14 in the paint. Kinek led the Mountain Hawks with 17 points and nine boards, yet again narrowly missing her fourth double-double. O’Reilly finished with four points, all coming on free throws, while chipping in eight rebounds of her own.
The Mountain Hawks will finish off the non-league portion of their slate with a tilt against Columbia at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, January 7. After Monday’s game, Lehigh will begin Patriot League play on Saturday, January 12 with a trip to Worcester, Mass. to face Holy Cross.
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