The AU women’s basketball team was never able to recover from an early deficit, as the Lehigh Mountain Hawks defeated the Eagles 58-42 in the Patriot League Championship Game on Saturday.
Alex Ross, who was named the Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player, led Lehigh with 13 points, while Erica Prosser added 11. Michelle Kirk, Liz Leer and Lisa Strack scored eight points apiece for the Eagles.
A key to Lehigh’s success was their ability to contain Kirk and Leer. Kirk struggled all night, as she went just 2-16 from the field and misfired on seven of her eight three-point attempts. Leer had trouble finding her rhythm on offense and was in foul trouble late in the first half.
Another important factor in Lehigh’s win was their quick start. The Mountain Hawks jumped out to a 10-point lead in the game’s first five minutes and never looked back. Lehigh remained in control throughout the game, as they led by double digits for most of the contest.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Lehigh,” AU Head Coach Matt Corkery told AU Athletics. “They came out firing on all cylinders and really got off to a good start.”
Lehigh scored 13 of the game’s first 16 points, as the Eagles were plagued with turnovers and missed shots. The Mountain Hawks led 18-5 before a Raven Harris layup cut the deficit to 11 midway through the first half.
After the lead ballooned to 22-7, AU used an 8-2 spurt to inch closer. Kirk and Ohemaa Nyanin tallied four points apiece and the Lehigh lead was 24-15 with five minutes left in the opening half.
Following an official timeout, Ross responded with a triple to put the Mountain Hawks back up twelve. Each team netted five points over the final minutes and Lehigh held a 32-20 halftime advantage.
AU scored six of the first eight points in the second half, as they tried to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive. Two free throws by Strack, followed by two from Leer, cut the Lehigh lead to eight with 14:08 to play.
Holding a 34-26 lead, Lehigh pulled away from AU over the next two minutes. Ross nailed a jumper, Tricia Smith and Kristen Dalton hit three-pointers and Courtney Dentler made a jumper, as the Mountain Hawks rattled off 10 consecutive points to lead 44-26. From there, the Mountain Hawks coasted to the 58-42 victory.
For the game, Lehigh shot 39 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc. The Eagles struggled offensively, as they shot 22 percent from the field and were only 2-21 from three.
The win improves the Mountain Hawks to 29-3 and gives them an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, which is set to begin Saturday, March 20. The loss drops AU to 22-9. It does not necessarily mean their season is over however, as they still have a chance to make the women’s NIT tournament. The field for the WNIT will be announced Monday night.
UPDATE: AU will play the first round of the WNIT this Wednesday, March 17, at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.