February 9, 2022 

Patriot League notebook: Lehigh sweeps Boston

How did the Mountain Hawks slow down the Terriers?

The defending league champions returned to the court where they were crowned in Boston and grabbed a win in a nail-biter against first-place Boston University. It wasn’t the three-point shoot-out fans may have expected, but it was a gritty performance from Lehigh on the road and a key sweep in the standings.

The game was decided in the paint and, for all its pace and flashes of transition offense, it was more a street-fight in a battle for the middle of the floor. Lehigh got the best of it, but this show is likely to have a third act. So let’s break down the action with the takeaways you need from a clash between the league’s best teams. Here we go:

Five takeaways from Lehigh’s win over Boston University

Sydney Johnson’s three-point attempt was off the mark at the buzzer as Lehigh escaped Boston with a 68-65 win. The Mountain Hawks scored just eight points in the fourth quarter but made key defensive stops down the stretch to earn a season sweep of the Terriers.

The game was a re-match of last season’s championship game in Boston and had a playoff intensity throughout. The loss dropped Boston University into a tie atop the league standings with Holy Cross at 9-2. Lehigh sits alone in third place with a 7-3 mark. The top takeaways from the showdown of league favorites:

Megan Walker is a closer. In last year’s championship in Boston, the Terriers cut an 11-point deficit to three with four minutes remaining. Then Walker closed the deal with two key attacking drives, including a floater off glass over a closing defender to extend the lead and give the Mountain Hawks the breathing room they needed to win the final. On Saturday, she did it again but with a little less room for error.

The senior converted two free throws with five seconds remaining to give the Mountain Hawks a three-point lead—the final margin in the 68-65 thriller. It was the capper on a team-high 19-point effort on an 8-for-13 performance from the field.

Walker was 7-for-9 from the floor inside the arc. She attacked the rim fearlessly despite the presence of Terrier post players Maren Durant and Caitlin Weimar, who are ranked fourth and fifth in the league in blocked shots, respectively.

Alex Giannaros is a star in the making. The freshman guard has settled in, sharing point guard duties for the Terriers and adding a confident spark for the league leaders.

The Brockton native scored a team-high 22 points against Lehigh on 9-for-17 shooting, including 4-for-6 from three-point distance. In league play, Giannaros is the fourth-leading scorer with 14.2 points per game and is shooting 43.8% from the floor—good for third behind teammate Sydney Johnson at 44.1%.

Live by the three, die by the three? Lehigh survived by the three against the Terriers because the Mountain Hawks took what the defense gave them throughout the game–the opportunity to attack the paint.

The Mountain Hawks are nationally ranked in the top ten for both three-pointers attempted and made. They take 29.6 threes per game. The Terriers made it a point to challenge their perimeter shooting.

It almost worked.

Lehigh shot a season-worst 5-for-22 from the three-point distance as the Boston defense pressed up on the perimeter and challenged the Mountain Hawks to score off the dribble and in the paint.

Ultimately, the game was decided by the points in the paint—a 44-30 edge for Lehigh as they consistently attacked and finished at the rim. However, the area inside the three-line was the sweet spot for the Mountain Hawks, who shot an impressive 58.5% inside the arc on a 24-for-41 effort. For comparison, Boston shot 38.7% from the same area on 19-for-49 shooting.

The second quarter was a prize fight. It was a whirlwind of excellent offensive play, both in team execution and one-on-one play. The second quarter was a bonfire in a season of offenses slow to catch to fire.

The back and forth attack never relented and both teams gave a glimpse of what a playoff showdown might produce when the lights are a bit brighter. It was the kind of energy the court just hasn’t seen much in the COVID era.

The quarter by itself produced a 30-23 result with Boston on top in the frame. The explosion of points broke out like this: Lehigh shot 66.7% on 10-for-15 shooting. Boston shot 12-for-22 for 54.5% and also converted 6-for-7 from three-point range. The Terriers made 14 field goals in the other three quarters combined.

The battle in the paint was the deciding factor. The physical work in the paint isn’t flashy and it doesn’t draw the same attention as deep threes or and-one finishes at the rim. But physical play in the lane and post play is where games are won—or lost.

Lehigh forwards Emma Grothaus and Meghan O’Brien led the battle inside against Boston posts Maren Durant (8.9 rpg) and Caitlin Weimar (8.1 rpg)—both ranked in the top ten in the league for rebounding.

While the Terrier duo doubled up the two Mountain Hawk posts on the boards 26-13, Boston didn’t dominate the overall rebounding game or attack through its posts often enough to exploit its advantage in the paint. The Terriers won the rebounding battle 44-36 but the two posts combined to go 5-for-16 from the floor for 14 points. Grothaus and O’Brien combined to shoot 6-for-15 for 13 points.

Current Standings:

(League record, overall record)

  1. Holy Cross (9-2, 15-7)
  2. Boston University (9-2, 13-9)
  3. Lehigh (7-3, 15-6)
  4. Bucknell (7-4, 16-6)
  5. American (6-4, 12-7)
  6. Army (6-5, 11-9)
  7. Navy (4-7, 7-14)
  8. Lafayette (3-7, 7-12)
  9. Colgate (2-9, 4-18)
  10. Loyola (MD) (1-10, 4-17)

What’s the can’t-miss match-up of the week?

Oluchi Ezemma leads an interior attack for Holy Cross that has the Crusaders tied for first place.
Photo credit: Mark Seliger Photography

Bucknell at Holy Cross

Saturday, February 12th @12:00p.m.

Round one was an overtime thriller, with the Crusaders grabbing their first road win in the match-up since 2015. Three weeks later, key playoff positioning is at stake for both teams. Holy Cross takes aim as the top overall seed and a key sweep of the Bison will go a long way to reaching that goal.

In Lewisburg, Bucknell is looking to hold onto its top-four status and increase its chances of hosting a playoff quarterfinal. Army and American sit right behind the Bison in the standings and a win over the Crusaders could be a key difference-maker in any tie-breaking scenarios down the road.

Holy Cross post players Janelle Allen and Oluchi Ezemma anchor the Crusaders’ interior defense and bring a one-two punch of post scoring that has helped provide balance on offense and push the program into a first-place tie. But, can Bucknell forwards Carly Krsul and Emma Shaffer find ways to win the battle of the paint in round two?

There’s no slowing down, Avery LaBarbera. The senior guard continues to make her case as the best player in the league. The backcourt combination of LaBarbera and Cara McCormack proved too much for the Bison in the first game, as the duo produced eight threes and 43 points. Watch for a different approach to defending the dynamic pair this time around.

Bucknell and Holy Cross bring the league’s top-rated defenses to the game and finding an offensive flow will be key. The Bison will need to find a way to get Taylor O’Brien untracked. The senior guard has been in a slump going back to the first meeting with the Crusaders.

O’Brien has averaged 11.0 points per game in her last five games and shot just 27.1% from the floor on a 22-for-81 effort. She plays 33.4 minutes per game and will again be a focal point. She was 5-for-17 in the overtime loss to the Crusaders. Expect O’Brien’s output to be a key piece for Bucknell.

Scoring will be at a premium in this one. Look for a slugfest in the paint and a game with a slow pace and deliberate tempo.

The last meeting: January 22, 2022. The Crusaders won an overtime thriller 63-62 in Lewisburg. LaBarbera converted 5-for-8 from three-point distance and nailed a jumper in the final minute of overtime for the win. The senior totaled 30 points and led a spirited defensive effort that limited the Bison attack and forced a 6-for-21 effort from behind the arc. Marly Walls led Bucknell with 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

(Note: All games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are EST.)

February 9th

Navy at Lafayette @6:00p.m.

Bucknell at American @6:00p.m.

Boston University at Army @6:00p.m.

Holy Cross at Loyola (MD) @7:00p.m.

Colgate at Lehigh @7:00p.m.

February 12th

Bucknell at Holy Cross @12:00p.m.

Lehigh at Lafayette @2:00p.m.

Navy at Army @TBA.

Boston University at American @2:00p.m.

Loyola (MD) at Colgate @2:00p.m.

Patriot League Player of the Week

Avery LaBarbera, Holy Cross, Senior Guard

  • Averaged a double-double for a 2-0 week for the Crusaders. Scored 22.5 points per game and pulled in 10.0 rebounds in wins over Lafayette and Army to help Holy Cross into a first-place tie with Boston University.
  • LaBarbera now has 14 double-doubles on the season and earned Player of the Week honors three times.
  • The senior leads the team in free throw shooting at 53-for-60 for 88.3%.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week

Lex Therien, Loyola (MD), Freshman Forward

  • Averaged a double-double this week, scoring 13.5 points and grabbing 10.0 rebounds per game.
  • Therien has started 18 games and is averaging a double-double for the season with 12.2 points and 10.5 rebound per outing. She’s shooting 43.0% from the floor.
  • The New Jersey native has claimed rookie honors five times this season.

League news and notes

  • American University head coach Megan Gebbia’s next win will make her the winningest coach in program history. Her 150 wins ties her with Jeff Thatcher who led the program from 1989 to 2000. Thatcher posted a mark of 150-156 when the Eagles were a part of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
  • Lafayette forward Naomi Ganpo leads the league in blocks with 2.2 per game. She has 47 rejections on the season.
  • Bucknell is leading the league in fewest points allowed this season at 53.8 per game. The stingy Bison defense ranks 13th nationally.
  • Navy’s Jennifer Coleman continues to make her case for Player of the Year. The senior guard leads the league in scoring (22.8 ppg), rebounding (10.6 rpg) and steals (2.8 spg). She’s second in assists (4.6 apg)—trailing only Lehigh’s Clair Steele who tallies 5.5 per game.
  • Army is 4-0 at home in Christl Arena in league play this season. The Black Knights’ streak will be tested this week with visits from first-place Boston University and rival, Navy. Although Army has lost three straight to the Terriers, they did win the last time the two teams met at West Point. Army’s zone defense held Boston to a 27.1% shooting mark from the field in a 54-43 victory back on Jan. 17, 2021.
  • Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan is tops in Patriot League play for wins (214) and overall wins (426) among active coaches. She trails only former Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons (511) for first place all-time in league history for overall wins.
  • Taleah Dixon of Loyola (MD) is playing her best basketball of the season. Over the last four games, the senior guard is scoring 14.5 points per game and shooting 39.2% (20-for-51) from the field, including 10 three-pointers.
  • Holy Cross forward Janelle Allen posted career highs in both scoring (18) and rebounding (8) in last week’s 74-54 win over Army. It was the eighth time Allen has reached double-figures in scoring this season.

Written by Todd Goclowski

Leave a Comment