Lady Eagles soar
The stretch run officially began for the AU Women's Basketball team this weekend with key victories over winless Lafayette and preseason Patriot League favorite Army.
With the wins, the Eagles moved into a first-place tie with Lehigh, Colgate and Holy Cross.
"This was a statement game for us, since they knocked us out of the PL Tournament last year and were favored this year," Eagles head coach Shann Hart said of the victory against Army.
The Eagles beat the Black Knights 74-52 on Sunday to cap off a key weekend.
Junior guard Joanna Barnes led four Eagles in double figures with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while senior guard Chanel Spriggs chipped in with 14 points. Junior center Kim Salem scored 13 and senior guard Kaitlin Schuyler scored 10 points, while dishing out five assists without committing a turnover.
"My scoring was down lately, so I tried to force the issue a little today," Spriggs said. "We know what we're capable of and we can play like that every night out."
Junior forward Chanel Hunt contributed nine points and five rebounds.
"I thought Schuyler played great and the point guard play has been big for us lately," Hart said. "Hunt didn't attack much today, but the offense was balanced, which you always like to see."
The Eagles held PL Preseason Player of the Year Katie Macfarlane to 14 points and 13 rebounds. Lindsay Brent scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds.
The Eagles started out strong, building a 14-6 lead six minutes in. The game never really got close after that. The Black Knights tried to chip into a 32-14 halftime lead, but couldn't get the lead under 12.
AU shot 54 percent for the game while holding Army to 39 percent. AU hit 77 percent of its free throws and 40 percent of its three-pointers.
"We came out on fire today, and shot better than we have all year," Hart said. "The intensity today was the highest it's been this season."
"We just have to be patient, poised and determined and we can win this league," Spriggs said, a senior who's playing her final games in an Eagles uniform.
The Eagles played an incredibly controlled game, handing out 22 assists while only committing 15 turnovers.
"I saw in shoot-around this morning how focused and intense we were," Hart said. "I'm not surprised at all that we played this well."
The Eagles started the weekend off right Friday night with a 72-54 victory over the winless Leopards.
The Eagles led throughout, finally putting the game away with a 14-0 run that extended a 51-44 lead with six minutes remaining to a 21-point lead with three minutes left. AU's two superstars, Hunt and Spriggs led the game-ending run by scoring nine points.
"I've said all season that we have to rely on the two Chanels and tonight they came through in a big way," Hart said.
Hunt scored 14 in the game and grabbed six rebounds to continue her recent scoring streak. Spriggs scored 10 and had three steals.
"We kept running the same play and they couldn't stop it," Hunt said. "I feel like I'm out of the slump and playing better."
The Eagles were led by Schuyler, who hit four threes and scored 16 points.
Joanna Barnes complemented her with eight points, as the point guard tandem combined for 24 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals.
"Having Barnes in the lineup takes the pressure off me, so I can look for my shot more," Schuyler said, who played in front of the children she teaches.
AU got contributions from freshmen Tara Williams, who scored a career-high eight points, and center Kimeshia Junkins, who played 10 minutes.
The Eagles started the game off hot and an 11-0 run early in the game put them up 17-4 with 12:37 remaining. However, they cooled off and shot 4-of-19 over the finally 12 minutes. Lafayette was within seven at the half.
"We played well early, which was big," Hart said. "Lately, we've been coming out flat, but the bench stepped up and we came out strong."
The Leopards hung around, until the AU defense got too strong late in the second half. AU forced 30 turnovers and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds.
Salem chipped in with 13 points and four rebounds, continuing her consistent play at center.
The Eagles start a tough stretch as they visit the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore Wednesday before resuming their league schedule Saturday at Bucknell.
"We thought last year might be the year to break through and make the tournament and we certainly it can be this year," Hart said. "But let's just say that our goal is to do better than we did last year."
And if they keep playing like they did this weekend, they will do better. In fact, they may land in the field of 64.