March 15, 2021 

Patriot League notebook: Lehigh wins the championship, awaits NCAA seeding

What are the top takeaways from Lehigh’s title win?

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The Lehigh Mountain Hawks celebrate the post-game trophy presentation after winning the Patriot League Championship. Photo credit: Boston University Athletics

Lehigh punches its NCAA tournament ticket with win over Boston University

Lehigh denied Boston University its first Patriot League title with a 64-54 win in the tournament championship game. The fourth-seeded Mountain Hawks controlled play throughout, using a combination of defensive wrinkles to overcome the second-seeded Terriers on their home court. The victory secured the program’s fourth conference crown and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Sophomore wing Frannie Hottinger had all the answers on the offensive end, showing the Terriers her shooting range on the perimeter and toughness in the high post on face-up jumpers. Hottinger was unstoppable and poured in a team-high 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Junior forward Emma Grothaus added 12 points and 8 rebounds, successfully attacking the middle of the Boston University zone for finishes at the rim. She earned a place on the All-Tournament team, and was named tournament MVP.

Terrier sophomores Sydney Johnson (16 points) and Maren Durant (14 rebounds) led the BU attack. They overcame an early 12-point deficit to lead by two in the third quarter on a Johnson jumper, but Lehigh reclaimed the lead and held off a late charge. Johnson was also named to the All-Tournament team.

The Mountain Hawks head to the big dance for the first time since 2010 and await their seeding announcement on the NCAA Selection Show, airing on ESPN on Monday at 7:00p.m. ET.

Russell Steinberg, our Bracketologist at The Next, offers his view for Lehigh’s placement in the NCAA tournament:

I have Lehigh as the last 13-seed, which may be a little higher than others have them. The Mountain Hawks are 80th in the NET and have the advantage of beating two top-100 NET teams in the Patriot League Tournament (Bucknell and BU).

Steinberg also addresses the Mountain Hawks’ record (10-5), specifically those five losses:

Four of their five losses are against Bucknell (40th) as well, which is going to mean a lot. There’s not a lot of substance to PL resumes because of the lack of non-conference play, but the information available suggests it’s a good league.

The top takeaways from the Patriot League Championship

Boston University was flustered by the switching. Lehigh’s wrinkle on defense to disrupt the flow of the disciplined Terrier offensive sets was to give multiple looks that allowed switching screens, and they switched nearly everything most of the game.  As a result, guards couldn’t step into jumpers coming off screens or identify clear driving lanes.

Coming out of the locker room at the half, BU forced a switch on a ball screen on its first possession and immediately capitalized by going right into the post-up mismatch it created. It was the countermove to Lehigh’s switching in their man-to-man defense, but the Terriers rarely went back to exploiting it and had difficulty differentiating between the zone and man-to-man looks.

Lehigh experimented briefly by going over the top of the ball screens, but abandoned that after getting burned on a few open jumpers. They went back to their plan to switch and offer multiple looks and never looked back. BU shot 32.9% from the floor and just 20.0% (5-for-25) from three-point range. It was the team’s second-worst shooting performance of the season.

Sophomore Frannie Hottinger scored a team-high 21 points in the championship game and earned a place on the All-Tournament Team. Photo credit: Hannahally Photography

Frannie Hottinger is a tough match-up. The sophomore wing is a very talented offensive player. Her inside-outside scoring ability shredded the BU defense, and her high post face-up jumper was the difference in the game. She couldn’t be stopped.

Hottinger played under control for her 29 minutes on the floor and her poise with the ball in the middle of the BU zone was key. She had zero turnovers, grabbed four rebounds, and went 9-for-14 from the floor, mostly staring down the 6’3 defensive presence of BU post Maren Durant inside the zone.

The Terrier posts needed to be more involved. Forwards Riley Childs and Durant combined for just 11 shots and 11 points in a game that presented them with mismatches against smaller players in the low and high post areas all game long. They also missed gaps in Lehigh’s shifting defenses in which they failed to show and face. The Terriers simply did not take advantage. By comparison, the three starting guards took a combined 44 shots and shot 27.2% from the floor.

Durant came into the game shooting 67.8% (59-for-87) from the field, mostly in and around the low-post area. Childs entered shooting 50.7% (35-for-69). The Mountain Hawks’ defense challenged the Terriers to go into the post, they just never did it consistently. The duo did its part on the boards, combining to grab 22 rebounds, and exceeding combined season averages (Durant with 7.2 rpg and Childs with 8.0 rpg.).

Lehigh forward Emma Grothaus was named Patriot League Women’s Basketball Championship MVP. Photo credit: Boston University Athletics

Emma Grothaus is amazing. The junior forward consistently attacked the middle of the Terrier 2-3 zone and was a key facilitator through the high post. She scored 12 points, hauled in eight rebounds, had zero turnovers and logged 36 minutes. That performance followed a semifinal against Bucknell in which she had 12 points and 14 rebounds on an efficient 4-for-5 shooting from the field.

Whom did she battle in those games? Bucknell’s Tessa Brugler and BU’s Maren Durant—two of the most physical posts in the league. She got the better of both, and that’s no easy task. For her efforts, she was deservedly named tournament MVP.

Grothaus lost her mother unexpectedly in early January and took a short break from the team. When she returned to action, she broke her nose against Bucknell in her first weekend of game competition. The resiliency and grace under pressure exhibited by Grothaus on and off the court is amazing.

The three-point line can be fool’s gold. It’s tempting to fall into a perimeter-oriented game when you face a team that likes to take a lot of three-point shots—like the Mountain Hawks, who took the most threes in the league this season. But Lehigh knew exactly where it needed to attack the BU defense the most—and it wasn’t from the three-line. Did the Terriers get caught up in the flow of three-pointers in the game and lose sight of their plan? Did taking more threes than Lehigh hurt their chances to win?

Boston University was 5-for-25 from behind the arc and the amount of threes attempted was tied for their second-most from distance in a game this season, eclipsed only by the 26 attempts taken against Colgate back on January 9th. They reached the 25-shot mark from the three-point line four times this year and their record in those games is 2-2. For a team with a 12-3 record, those numbers tell a story: how and when to utilize the three is something to re-consider.

The title game wasn’t about three-point shooting; it was about who could dominate the middle of the floor. That’s a category won by Lehigh, 26-14. And it’s the Mountain Hawks who walked away with the gold—and the net.

Lehigh head coach Sue Troyan celebrates cutting the net and claiming her program’s fourth Patriot League title. Photo credit: Boston University Athletics.

Written by Todd Goclowski

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