Posted: March 21, 2009
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Lehigh’s historic season came to an end on Saturday at the Louis Brown Athletic Center when the Mountain Hawks dropped a 85-49 game to the No. 2 seeded Auburn Tigers in their first round NCAA Tournament game. The mostly pro-Lehigh crowd saw the Brown and White hang in with the Tigers for the majority of the game, before the No. 6 team in the country pulled away for the 36-point win.
“Their athleticism and their talent just kind of took over down the stretch,” Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan said of Auburn. “I’m very proud of how our kids competed and represented Lehigh throughout the entire game.”
Sophomore point guard Erica Prosser led the Mountain Hawks with 14 points in the final game of the season. The Patriot League Player of the Year added five rebounds and three assists. Senior forward Haly Crites chipped in with six points and a team-leading six rebounds in the final game of her career.
Junior guard Alex Ross scored 10 points to eclipse the 1,000 point mark in her three-year Lehigh career, sinking two 3-pointers to finish the year with a school-record 93 triples.
Lehigh wraps up the year with a 26-7 record, setting a new school record for wins in a season. The Mountain Hawks already set a school record for Patriot League wins in the regular season (12-2) and won their second Patriot League Championship on March 11.
SEC Player of the Year DeWanna Bonner led the Tigers to victory with 26 points and seven rebounds on Saturday. Bonner went a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line as her 6-foot-4 size and pure athleticism caused matchup problems for the Mountain Hawks. Trevesha Jackson (11) Reneisha Hobbs (10) and 6-foot-7 KeKe Carrier (11) all scored in double figures in the game for the Tigers.
The Auburn defense limited Lehigh’s offense to just 18-for-60 from the field (30 percent) and just 4-for-22 from 3-point land (18.2 percent), keeping the Mountain Hawks from being able to mount a comeback.
“We said going in that we were going to have to make shots,” Troyan said. “We struggled from the perimeter and we’re a perimeter-shooting team. I don’t want to say we live and die by (the three) but we kind of did this year.”
The Tigers took control of the game with a 21-3 run in the first half to open up an 18-point lead. In the run, Bonner scored her first 10 points of the game, and Auburn shot 8-for-11 from the field.
Lehigh pulled even with the Tigers, 4-4, when Ross sank a 15-foot jumper off a pump fake. The Tigers answered with an 11-0 run to take an early 11-point lead. Kristen Dalton momentarily halted the run with a 3-pointer in her first minute off the bench that energized the Lehigh crowd and cut the lead to 15-7, but Auburn scored the next 10 points to make it 25-7 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
“We wanted to take some opportunities to push the ball in transition,” Crites said. “But they did a good job of getting rebounds and getting out there to run.”
The Mountain Hawks found some stability on defense after the run was over, holding the Tigers to just nine points over the next eight minutes. Lehigh’s offense kept it from getting back into the game, however, as the lead stayed at 18 points, 34-16, with more than four minutes left in the half.
The Lehigh bench stepped up in crunch time in the first half. Courtney Molinaro came off the bench and sank a tough left-handed hook shot, followed by baskets by Claire Sullivan and Emily Gratch to help pull the Brown and White back within 15 points. The Lehigh bench accounted for 14 of the Mountain Hawks’ 30 points in the first half, as Troyan looked for people to match up with the athletic Tigers.
The Tigers answered with two easy buckets as they tried to regain command of the game, but Alex Ross came back with a three of her own to make the score 45-29 with 49 seconds left. On the final possession, Alexa Williams took the ball to the hole where she was fouled as time expired in the first. The freshman center steadied herself after missing the first free throw and buried the second as Lehigh went into the half down just 45-30.
Erica Prosser scored an easy layup to open up the second half, cutting the lead to just 13 points. Again, Auburn mounted a run, scoring the next seven points to go up, 52-32.
“I thought where it got away from us was when we were struggling to make shots,” Troyan said. “When you do that it allows their transition game to get going and it doesn’t allow our defense to get set.”
The Mountain Hawks refused to give up trailing by 20 points for the first time all season. Emily Gratch cut the lead to 19 with a free throw, and when Tricia Smith found Alex Ross in the corner for a three, the lead was just 16 points with 14:46 left in the game.
The Lehigh effort shined brightest with just more than 11 minutes in the game. When Kristen Dalton missed a jumper, Prosser stripped the ball away on a loose ball rebound. The ball bounded out towards Sullivan, who dove on the floor to knock it back to Prosser. The sophomore guard drove into the lane and absorbed the contact from 6-foot-7 Carrier and got to the free throw line, energizing the Lehigh crowd.
The Tigers put the game away for good with a 19-0 run to close out the game. Lehigh’s offense went ice cold in that stretch, failing to score for the final 9:10.
“It was an up and down game that took its toll on us,” Prosser said. “They played a great game, and towards the end it really wore us down a little.”
With the game out of reach, Troyan looked to her bench once more, giving some much-earned NCAA Tournament minutes to every player on the team as the clock ticked away. Lehigh’s bench, valuable throughout the season, accounted for 18 points in the final game of the year.
“We don’t want this to be a once every 12 years experience,” Troyan said after making the tournament for the first time in 12 years. “We want it to be an every year thing. We fully expect to be back here.”
Buzzer beaters: Saturday’s game was the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Lehigh since playing Connecticut in the first round in 1997…Crites scored the first points for Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament in 12 years with a layup with 18:30 left in the first half…Freshman forward Emily Gratch started the second half after scoring seven points in the first period…Crites started her 64th-consecutive game for the Mountain Hawks on Saturday, starting every game of her final two years in the Brown and White…The No. 15 seed was the highest in Lehigh history for a women’s basketball tournament game.
Watch the Lehigh - Auburn Post-Game Extra