January 8, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: Lehigh sweeps rival Lafayette; what we learned from opening weekend

Favorites Bucknell and Boston University impress in 2-0 starts, face tougher tests ahead

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The Patriot League tipped off the season under its newly-formatted pandemic plan, with teams playing one opponent per week, competing on consecutive days. Coronavirus-related issues derailed openers for both American and Navy and brought new last-minute opponents to both Bucknell and Loyola (MD), who learned they would face each other with less than 24 hours’ notice to tip-off after their original match-ups were scratched.

There was drama on the court too. The opening contests nearly produced sweeps in all four series, prevented only by a dramatic swing by Army who trailed at home in game two by 18 points before flipping the switch into a 19-point win over Colgate to cap a weekend split.

Lehigh senior Mary Clougherty led the Mountain Hawks with 23 points in a season-opening 81-75 OT win versus Lafayette. Photo credit: Hannahally Photography

Lehigh sweeps rival Lafayette; what does it mean for the Leopards?

In a battle of local rivals, Lehigh swept past the favored Lafayette Leopards on opening weekend. Head coach Sue Troyan’s group won 81-75 in overtime on the road and 73-65 at home.

How did they do it? They neutralized their opponent’s height advantage—with a little help from Lafayette. The Mountain Hawks employed a 2-3 zone for most of their defensive possessions to help deal with 6’3 forward and Preseason Player of the Year, Natalie Kucowski and her teammates, 6’3 Naomi Ganpo, 6’2 Reilly Campbell, and 6’0 Makaila Wilson.

Lafayette’s plan to play fast and push tempo limited the opportunity to use their size advantage in the high- and low-post areas in the half-court. Picked to finish third in the league, the Leopards have size, playmaking guards, and a shooter in Drew Freeland who can keep defenses honest from the perimeter. But their tempo, and tendency to favor one-on-one moves very early in their offense, played into Lehigh’s hands.

There was plenty of first-game rust (teams combined for 42 turnovers) and a period of adjustment for players and coaches to the fan-free environment. But Lehigh worked through their nerves by sharing the ball on offense with discipline. Lafayette’s push for early offense favored the quick shot over the quality shot and it led to uneven performance.

Lafayette controlled the first game of the weekend, holding a nine-point lead in the second half before faltering down the stretch. Lehigh dictated much of the action and pace for game two, leading by as much as 17 points in the second half and cruising to the win. Senior guard Mary Clougherty led her team with back-to-back 20-point games in a breakout weekend.

How did Lehigh do it? Sticking to the basics. The Mountain Hawks have approached the season with a more simplified five-out motion offense, staying away from a lot of set plays. The approach put a lot of pressure on Lafayette to defend for long stretches and wore them down.

Are the Leopards feeling the pressure of being a favorite? The team seemed to tighten up when things got close in the first game at home—a clash they were expected to win. Lehigh knows a thing or two about the burden of preseason expectations. Last year’s pick as the favorite to finish first in the league, they struggled to a sixth-place spot before re-grouping for the playoffs.

It’s early, but Lafayette will have to find a balance between the up-tempo transition attack and playing to the strengths of their individual match-ups in a more disciplined manner. It’s a talented group and they are capable of reaching expectations.

Head Coach Kia Damon-Olson has done an outstanding job guiding a resurgence for the program. But they have to find the confidence to win the close ones and convert that expectation into belief. There’s a challenge in dealing with the pressure to be favored to win in most games, and the lesson to be learned here may just come from their rival down the road.

Who’s next for the Leopards? It’s good news, bad news sort of thing. The bad news? It’s a home-and-home with two-time defending champion Bucknell. The good news? Lafayette won’t be the favorite.

Junior Alisa Fallon leads Army with 15.7 ppg. The Knights overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat Colgate 72-53. Photo: Army Athletic Communications

Army splits with Colgate. Are the Knights a playoff team?

Army completed a stunning turnaround behind the play of substitute forwards Jessica Rawls and Taylor Sullivan. Trailing 28-14 after one quarter, the Knights would go on to outscore the Raiders 58-25 the rest of the way to earn a split of their weekend games.

Army dominated the paint on both ends of the floor, outscoring Colgate 38-12 inside and winning the battle of the boards, 48-28. Sullivan posted a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds off the bench. Rawls also subbed in with impact, grabbing 12 boards and adding seven points.

The West Point defense made a statement. After surrendering a 10-for-14 (71.4%) shooting performance to the Raiders in the first quarter, Army turned up their aggressive play and limited Colgate to an 8-for-50 (16.0%) effort from the field over the final three quarters.

Colgate won the first game of the weekend behind a career-high performance from senior guard, Keelah Dixon. The Boston native poured in 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting to lead the Raiders to an 87-76 win. It was Dixon’s first game since November 2019 after missing time due to injury.

Are the Knights a playoff team? The Army was picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll of coaches and sports information directors, just a single point ahead of ninth-place Holy Cross. Last season, Army was last in points allowed (71.0) and in turnovers (18.5) per game. So what’s different so far?

There’s clearly more of an effort to execute at the defensive end for head coach Dave Magarity’s squad. And while the turnovers were still high (14 and 17 miscues, respectively) on opening weekend, the offense was effective. The Knights shot 26-for-56 (46.4%) in the first game and 26-for-53 (49.1%) in the second. With sophomore forward, Sabria Hunter returning from injury (5-for-11 from the floor, 10 rebounds, and 13 points on the weekend) look for Army to be a factor for playoff positioning.

Bucknell and Loyola adjust to a newly scheduled opponent in less than 24 hours

Bucknell head coach Trevor Woodruff had his plan for Navy ready. Scout prep done, game plan in the books, and a team eager to play its first game of the season. In Baltimore, head coach Joe Logan had his Loyola group ready for American. The tip-off was less than 24 hours away. Then things took a turn.

Late Friday afternoon, the league revealed that coronavirus concerns would leave each team without an opponent for opening weekend. But by 8 p.m., a plan to play was put in motion by both teams and the league: Bucknell and Loyola would play the following day at 2 p.m. and again on Sunday. The two programs were originally scheduled to play on Feb. 6 and 7.

Loyola was one of two league teams to defeat Bucknell last season but the last-minute match-up turned into a Bison sweep over the weekend. They led wire-to-wire in a 72-44 opening win and grabbed a 59-44 road win to move to 2-0.

In a released statement following the opener, Woodruff expressed his view on the team’s performance:

I would say under the circumstances and the buildup, all of the hectic stuff through 8 o’clock last night, all of that considered I would say I’m pleased. I expected our veterans to be fine and they were. I expected some of the younger folks to be spinning a little bit and they were, but for the most part good things moving forward.

Senior point guard Katie Nelson led Boston University to two wins over Holy Cross with 18.5 ppg and 5.5 apg. Photo credit: Rich Gannon

Boston University shows why they are a championship threat in a sweep of Holy Cross

The Terriers have all the ingredients: playmaking guards, three-point shooting threats, and a rim-protecting post. Boston University’s talents were all on display as they posted back-to-back wins over Holy Cross. They cruised through the season-opener 76-54 and capped the weekend with a 72-56 road win.

Sophomore Sydney Johnson (18 points on 8-for-13 in the home opener) and senior Katie Nelson (20 points on 7-for-10 shooting on the road) led the attack. BU handled the Crusaders with ease, grabbing two North division wins and demonstrating why they were picked as the second-best team in the league in the preseason poll.

Holy Cross played with a renewed energy in their debut under new head coach, Maureen Magarity, but the Crusaders were overmatched from the start. Magarity directed the defense in a mix of zone and man-to-man defense but was unable to effectively cope with her squad’s significant size disadvantage. They were outrebounded in the opener, 40 to 20. The Terriers held double-digit leads in each game.

BU (2-0) looks ahead to a stronger challenge this weekend from divisional foe Colgate (1-1). The teams split last season, each team winning on the road. A re-building Holy Cross squad will face Army, contests that will feature a father-daughter match-up as Knights head coach Dave Magarity faces off against his daughter’s team.

American and Navy schedule update

American and Navy did not play on opening weekend due to coronavirus-related issues. According to a release from the league office, American did not fulfill league rules for testing: “The American University Department of Athletics is awaiting the required test results to satisfy university and Patriot League testing protocols.” The program’s games versus Loyola are to be rescheduled.

The Mids revealed a positive COVID-19 test in their Tier-1 group and were forced to postpone their contests with Bucknell.

This weekend’s Navy-Loyola (MD) match-ups are also postponed as the Navy’s program remains in quarantine protocol due to its positive COVID-19 test. American is scheduled to play Lehigh.

Current standings:

North division

Boston University (2-0)

Army (1-1)

Colgate (1-1)

Holy Cross (0-2)

Central division

Bucknell (2-0)

Lehigh (2-0)

Lafayette (0-2)

South division

American (0-0)

Navy (0-0)

Loyola (0-2)

Senior guard Keelah Dixon (22.5 ppg) leads Colgate in a key divisional showdown versus the Terriers this weekend. Photo: Colgate Athletic Communications

What’s the can’t-miss match-up of the week? Boston University at Colgate

A key early divisional showdown whose two-game slate could launch Colgate into contention or separate the Terriers from the rest of the pack. The point guard battle is one to watch. Boston University’s Katie Nelson expertly leads her team and is posting 18.5 points per game while shooting a blistering 68.4% (13-for-19) from the field. Colgate’s Alexa Brodie leads the Raiders in assists (3.5 per game) and is scoring 15.5 points per game.

Each squad features zone defense and has capable shooters from deep. Expect three-point shooting to be the determinative factor—both in terms of conversion behind the arc and how each team exploits the high post areas of the zone as the defenses extend out. This weekend BU shot 13-for-32 and the Raiders converted 17-for-42 from deep.

The difference may come down to interior scoring and defense and the Terriers have the edge here. BU outscored Holy Cross 84-48 in the paint this weekend while Colgate was outpaced by Army 66-54. The Terriers are anchored inside by Maren Durant (9.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 7 blocks) while the Raiders start talented 6’0 freshman, Tiasia McMillan (6.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG).

The last meeting: February 12, 2020. Boston University’s Maren Durant converted two free throws with 1.5 seconds left to give the Terriers a 60-58 road win at Cotterell Court. Sophomore Maggie Pina hit all six of her team’s three-pointers for the win. The Raider defense forced 28 BU turnovers.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

(Note: The Patriot League is no longer streaming games for free on the Stadium platform. All games are now streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition.)

January 9

Boston University at Colgate @ 1 p.m.

*Loyola at Navy @ 12 p.m.

Bucknell at Lafayette @ 2 p.m.

American at Lehigh @ 6:30 p.m.

Holy Cross at Army @ 3 p.m.

January 10

Boston University at Colgate @ 1 p.m.

Army at Holy Cross @ 3 p.m.

Lafayette at Bucknell @ 4 p.m.

*Navy at Loyola @ 6 p.m.

January 11

American at Lehigh @ 2 p.m.

*Postponed as Navy remains in quarantine protocol due to a positive COVID-19 test within their Tier 1 group. 

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Mary Clougherty, Lehigh, Senior Guard

  • Clougherty converted nine three-pointers in two key divisional wins over Lafayette this past Saturday (81-75) and Sunday (73-65).

  • The senior led her team in assists (7) and added four steals.

  • Clougherty is averaging 21.5 ppg, second-best in the Patriot League and first in 3-pointers made per game (4.5).

Patriot League Rookie of the Week

Lauren Lithgow, Army, Freshman Guard

  • Lithgow shot 11-for-22 from the floor, including a 6-for-11 performance from behind the arc for the weekend.

  • Scored 19 points on Saturday and 16 points on Sunday as Army earned a split with North division opponent, Colgate.

  • Lithgow led all freshmen in scoring in league action, posting 17.5 points per game.

League news and notes:

  • Lafayette senior forward Natalie Kucowski posted her 45th career double-double with a 15-point, 13-rebound performance in a 73-65 loss to Lehigh.

  • Colgate’s Alexa Brodie had a career-high 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting in a season-opening 87-76 win over Army.

  • Lehigh starters combined for just four turnovers in a 73-65 win over Lafayette.

  • Army Head Coach Dave Magarity will coach against his daughter, Maureen, in a home-and-home series this weekend against Holy Cross.

  • In a 59-44 victory, Bucknell held Loyola to 1-for-14 (7.1%) from the floor in the decisive fourth quarter.

  • Loyola guard Devyne Newman made her debut count against Bucknell in her team’s season-opener. The junior transfer from St. Joseph’s University scored a team-high 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting in 26 minutes.

  • Freshman Mackenzie Kramer shot 5-for-11 from the field and converted three three-pointers as Lehigh capped a sweep of Lafayette.

  • Boston University is off to a 2-0 start for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

  • Junior guard Taylor O’Brien led all scorers for Bucknell in a 59-44 win over Loyola.

  • Freshman Cara McCormack scored 18 points in her first career start for Holy Cross. The guard from Smithtown, NY, posted 29 points in two games.

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Written by Todd Goclowski

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