AU has all the right moves in early tourney exit

Trekking up to Worcester, Mass., for her team's Patriot League tournament game against Holy Cross, AU coach Melissa McFerrin knew exactly what her seventh-seeded Eagles needed to do to have any hope of scoring an upset: Hustle, play defense and keep the game in the 50s.

They did all those things, but it wasn't enough as the second-seeded Crusaders knocked off AU in the first round of the PL tournament, 57-49, at the Hart Center.

AU played better defense than it had all year, holding the sharp-shooting Crusaders to just 57 points and allowing them to shoot just 16 percent from the 3-point line, well below their season average.

But the Eagles also struggled to score, shooting only 38 percent. Freshman Talicia Jackson led AU with 14 points and Nicole Ryan had 12 off the bench for AU, including a couple huge 3-pointers that tied the game late. Sahar Nusseibeh, who had been carrying the Eagles since the injury to leading scorer Tala Hadavi, scored just four points.

Brittany Keil led Holy Cross with 20 points and eight rebounds, and Kaitlin Foley, who scored 22 against AU just two weeks ago, scored 12.

While they struggled from the outside, the Crusader guards contributed in other ways. Laura Aloisi scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists, while Jessica Conte scored nine and swiped six steals.

AU started out strong and clung to a 29-24 halftime lead in front of a stunned Hart Center crowd. But, the veteran Holy Cross team, led by 20-year veteran coach Bill Gibbons, made adjustments in the locker room and answered the charge with a strong second half, outscoring the Eagles 33-20.

Pam Stanfield scored six points and handed out eight assists for the Eagles while freshman Tish Curry scored five points and pulled down nine rebounds in the loss.

AU finishes its season at 7-21 and 4-10 in the PL, but will look to build on its experience this year as it returns almost everyone from this year's squad. The only departing regular is senior Hadavi, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament three weeks ago and has been out.

Next year's team will be built around the returning sophomore class of Curry, Jackson, Nusseibeh, Ryan and Stanfield, who have a perfect mix of speed, size, athleticism and shooting. A healthy Abby Lipskis and rejuvenated Tara Williams, along with the eligibility of Delaware transfer Liz Hayes, could make the Eagles an early PL favorite.

In other tournament action over the weekend, Bucknell beat Lehigh, 64-54, Colgate beat Navy, 60-55, and top-seeded Army beat Lafayette, 74-55.

In the semifinals Saturday, Holy Cross beat Bucknell for the third time this season, 64-60, and Army destroyed Colgate, 73-55.

The Crusaders travel to West Point, N.Y., to take on Army in the PL championship Wednesday night with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line.

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