AU women’s basketball drops key matchup ahead of tournament

Poor shooting performance befalls Eagles on Senior Day

AU women’s basketball drops key matchup ahead of tournament
Kaitlyn Marenyi (#22) in a game against Bucknell on Feb. 15.

After some optimism heading into senior day, AU women’s basketball (11-16, 7-10 PL) dropped a crucial game against Holy Cross (17-11, 10-7 PL), 73-58, inside Bender Arena on Saturday afternoon. The Eagles especially struggled on the defensive end, as they allowed a near-season-high 38 points in the paint.

AU wins when it slows down the pace of the game and plays cohesive defensive (0-12 when their opponents score at least 63 points). Unfortunately for AU, it did neither particularly well on Saturday. 

“I told them in the locker room ‘this is not the end, I don’t care what time of the season it is, we can still get better,’” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “And we’re going to look to do that for Navy on Wednesday.”

The Eagles fell into a hole early, thanks to the offensive prowess of Holy Cross senior forward Lauren Manis. From the get-go, Holy Cross used Manis as their safety valve, as the senior connected on all four of her heavily contested, late-in-the-shot-clock shots in the first quarter. Her electric performance helped the Crusaders get out to a 21-13 lead.

Manis, who leads the Patriot League in scoring, finished with almost as many points (24) as she had minutes (28).

“Manis hit some shots early that you don’t expect to go in and when she’s in the zone like that, it makes it really difficult for the rest of our defense,” Gebbia said.

On the other end of the court, the Eagles stuck with the Crusaders thanks to the phenomenal play of sophomore guard Emily Fisher. Fisher played out of her mind, scoring eight points in just 10 minutes of first-half play. With every layup she took, the degree of difficulty seemed to increase, with Fisher hitting the deck on a number of converted shots.

“We absolutely have always known she’s had it in her,” senior guard Kaitlyn Marenyi said of Fisher. “She needs the confidence and today she showed that … she’s obviously a great player and I love playing with her. She’s going to do really great in the next year or two.”

Cold shooting plagued the rest of the team though, as the team entered the half trailing 39-26.

The areas that typically plague AU — 3-point shooting and rebounding — are also two of Holy Cross’s biggest strengths, and on Saturday afternoon, the Eagles could only keep the latter in check. The Crusaders hit 47 percent of their treys, just a tad below the 48 percent mark they hit in their January match against the Eagles.

“We need to start shooting the ball better to compete with teams like a Holy Cross who can just light it up from everywhere on the floor, Gebbia said. “I just think they’re such a difficult team to guard.”

The Eagles’ two leading scorers, Marenyi and sophomore guard Jade Edwards, both had mixed performances. Marenyi, whose left hand was wrapped up during the game, had an uncharacteristically poor shooting performance as she missed five straight 3-pointers after hitting one to open the game. She turned things around in the final frames though, finishing with 9 second-half points and four assists. 

“I don’t like to put it to [the hand],” said Marenyi. “I didn’t shoot the ball well, and I haven’t shot the ball well, but I’ve got to stay with it.”

Edwards, on the other hand, finished with a solid 13 points on 3-4 from deep, but played less aggressively than usual on offense and didn’t hit a shot until the 3:36 mark in the second quarter. She made much more of an impact on defense, consistently holding her own against Manis and picking up four steals in the game.

AU’s offense remained stagnant in the second half, but they were able to slow down the Crusaders' interior offense in the fourth quarter. 

The defense anchored around senior forward Taekenya Cleveland, who played a season-high nine minutes in just her fifth game this year. Cleveland has had a smaller role this season, but was called upon to limit Manis and senior center Megan Swords.

“One of the reasons we put TK in is because she understands what we’re trying to do, and she did the best on [Megan Swords],” said Gebbia. “You need somebody that knows what to do and TK is that person.”

The Eagles must win Wednesday vs. Navy and hope for Lehigh to lose its two remaining games to earn a first-round bye in the Patriot League tournament. If the standings hold, the Eagles will have a first-round match against Navy.

“I told them in the locker room ‘this is not the end, I don’t care what time of the season it is, we can still get better,’,” head coach Megan Gebbia said. “And we’re going to look to do that for Navy on Wednesday.”

The team will look to bounce back in its final game against the last-place Navy on Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside Bender Arena. If the current standings hold, the two teams would also play in the Saturday’s #7 vs. #10 first-round game at Bender Arena. 

snusbaum@theeagleonline.com

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