Eagles sweep weekend opener
The AU Women's Basketball team opened its season with a weekend sweep of UNC-Asheville and Howard at Bender Arena.
Picked by Patriot League officials to finish second in the league, the Eagles played like they had other ideas this year, as they followed up Friday's 52-48 season-opening win over UNC-Asheville with an 81-56 win over the Howard Bison.
The Eagles rebounded from Friday's sluggish play with a much more controlled game against Howard.
In Sunday's contest, the Bison hung tight for a while. They took their final lead of the game with seven minutes left in the first half on a Shari Johnson layup. AU senior Kaitlin Schuyler responded with two free throws and junior Kim Salem scored to put the Eagles ahead for good.
The Bison crept to within three with five minutes left in the first half, but the Eagles closed out the half with a 16-2 run, highlighted by junior Joanna Barnes' eight points and stellar defensive play from junior Jenyce Woodruff and Schuyler.
Senior Chanel Spriggs led the way with 21 points, while Barnes chipped in with 12 points. As usual, the Eagles played stellar defense, with junior Chanel Hunt (nine points, seven rebounds), Woodruff, Barnes and Spriggs all registering multiple steals.
Salem also played well as she continued to adjust to her new role as starting center. She scored eight points and played a great defensive game.
Woodruff played a key role for the Eagles, giving them valuable minutes off the bench and keying many of their defensive rallies. Schuyler ran a very smooth game, turning rebounds into fast breaks all day.
The Eagles, up 43-27 at halftime, didn't let up in the second half. The Bison closed the lead to 46-35 with 15 minutes left, but a Hunt steal and free throw keyed a 12-1 run over the next three minutes, led by Spriggs' eight points.
In Friday's game, Spriggs led the Eagles with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. She continued her offensive improvement this year, shooting 6-for-15 from the floor.
Salem scored nine points and Hunt grabbed seven rebounds. The point guard tandem of Schuyler and Barnes combined for 13 points and three assists, but turned the ball over eight times.
After leading by just four at the half, the Eagles led until the 11:15 mark of the second half, when Asheville took a 35-34 lead. The teams then went back and forth until a 6-1 Bulldogs run gave them a 45-44 lead with just over four minutes left.
Then, Hunt stepped up. After struggling on the offensive end (just five points on 1-of-5 shooting), she turned it up defensively, registering three of her six steals in the final three minutes to clinch the victory for the Eagles.
For the game, AU shot 42 percent from the floor and an abysmal 54 percent from the free throw line, converting only four of 10 free throws in the second half.
Meredith Grant, who scored 16 points and pulled down seven rebounds, and Tonisha Jackson, who scored 10 points and was a force on the glass, ripping down 16 boards, led Asheville.
AU head coach Shann Hart started both her point guards, Schuyler and Barnes, in a three-guard lineup that featured 6-foot-1 Kim Salem as the starting center. The smaller lineup gave the Eagles a distinct quickness advantage, however, the lack of size may hurt the Eagles come PL time.
The Eagles have a week off before they head to Baltimore next Sunday for a 2 p.m. showdown with the Loyola Greyhounds.
UNC-Asheville and Howard are not Holy Cross and Army, or any other Patriot League foe for that matter, but Hart had to like what she saw from her team as it begins its season.