The Lehigh seniors didn’t disappoint in their final game at Stabler Arena as the Mountain Hawks defeated American 58-42 to claim its second straight Patriot League championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night. Alex Ross scored a game-high 13 points en route to claiming tournament MVP honors for the second consecutive year and Tricia Smith locked down the Patriot League’s Player of the Year, Michelle Kirk, to lead the Mountain Hawks to victory. Smith, Erica Prosser and Emily Gratch were all named to the All-Tournament team. Lehigh improves to 29-3 and has now won 33 straight games at Stabler Arena. American drops to 22-9 on the season and will move onto the WNIT.
“This one was just as special as last years,” head coach Sue Troyan said, about winning two straight titles. “I was confident coming into the game and the team really came out and played tremendous. I believe the experience of last year really helped the team in knowing what it takes to do it again.”
Smith commented about winning her second championship. “It was just as good as the first time. This was a whole new team and we said before the game you don’t defend a title you have to earn it and that’s what we did tonight.”
Prosser was the only other player in double-figures with 11 points and she also added three boards. Smith grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and had three steals. Alexa Williams was right behind her with nine rebounds and had a career-high four blocks. Lehigh finished the game shooting 40 percent and out-rebounded the Eagles 49-40.
Kirk finished with only eight points and was 2-for-16 from the field. Lisa Strack and Liz Leer also had eight points and were the final members of the All-Tournament team. American struggled from beyond the arc as it was 2-for-21 (nine percent) from deep and shot 22 percent from the field for the game.
“We really focused on our defense coming into this game,” Smith said. “We focused on putting pressure on them and contesting their shots. It helped that Leer was in foul trouble, but credit our entire team, they did a great job.”
Troyan talked about the defense. “I thought our defense was awesome. Coach Rigney did a tremendous job of calling the plays and the team did a great job of executing.”
“This was a whole new team and we said before the game you don’t defend a title you have to earn it and that’s what we did tonight.”
Raven Harris nailed a three to open the game, but Lehigh responded with 13 straight points. Courtney Dentler scored five of the Brown and White’s first seven points to lead the run. The Mountain Hawks turned up the defense as they held American without a field goal for 9:26. The Eagles were able to get two free throws and Harris finally ended their drought at the 9:56 mark with a layup.
Lehigh kept pouring it on both offensively and defensively as it built its biggest lead of the half, 22-7 with 7:55 left. The closest American would get the rest of the half was nine as the Mountain Hawks’ tough defense kept giving the Eagles trouble. A Prosser layup with 37 seconds left gave Lehigh a 32-20 lead at the break.
Prosser led all scorers with seven points in the half. Three other Mountain Hawks scored at least five points: Ross (six), Kristen Dalton (five) and Dentler with five. The Brown and White out-rebounded American 23-19 and shot 46 percent in the first half. Lehigh shot 4-for-9 on threes in the half, including two from Ross.
Kirk was held to four points in the half and her classmate Leer had zero. The Eagles struggled shooting the ball going 7-for-29 (24%), which included only hitting one from beyond the arc. Strack and Harris led American with five points apiece at the half.
American was able to cut Lehigh’s lead down to eight with 14 minutes left in the game, but consecutive threes by Smith and Dalton gave the Mountain Hawks a 42-26 advantage. The Brown and White’s swarming defense kept the Eagles’ offense at bay as they struggled to generate anything.
With 7:10 remaining in the game Lehigh held its largest lead of the game at 52-33 and the closest American would get was 13 as the Mountain Hawks killed the clock to earn their third NCAA appearance.
For the seniors it was their final game in Stabler Arena and they have clearly left a lasting mark on the program.
“It’s amazing to win another title in my final home game,” Ross said. “It’s hard to win one title and to turn around and win another is special. I will always remember all the support our fans gave us here at home.”
Troyan gave her thoughts on the seniors playing their final game at home. “To get them another championship and to be undefeated at home is just awesome. They’re all great people in terms of basketball and more importantly they’re tremendous women. I always say I want my daughter Kate to grow up just like them.”
Lehigh will have to wait until Monday night at 7 p.m. to find out who its next opponent will be. The NCAA women’s selection show will be shown live on ESPN.
Photography, 2010 (c) Specialty Photographic