On the strength of 24 points by junior Michelle Kirk and a career-game by sophomore Lisa Strack, the American University prevailed 65-57 over the New Jersey Institute of Technology in a hard-fought contest on Tuesday night at Bender Arena.
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The game was evenly-contested for the majority of the first half, as the margin was within four points until the 1:45 mark. NJIT (2-3) opened up a four-point lead, 12-8, with 10:17 to play in the first half on a Rayven Johnson jumper, although the Highlanders' advantage was short-lived. With American (3-2) trailing 18-15, senior Nicole Ryan's three-pointer sparked a 10-0 Eagles' run over a two-plus minute span to give AU a 25-18 lead with just over a minute to play in the opening stanza. American would take a 25-20 lead into intermission in a first half that saw eight different Eagles score at least two points.
The Eagles would continue the strong play in the second half, scoring the first five points on a Liz Leer jumper and Strack three-point play to take a 30-20 lead. American would eventually increase the margin to 12, 40-28, with 13:41 left on another bucket by Strack.
But the resilient Highlanders would not go away, as they ran off nine-unanswered points to cut the margin to three, 40-37, at the midway point of the second half before a key Ohemaa Nyanin basket pushed the AU lead back to five. The squads would play even until a 5-0 spurt by NJIT trimmed the American advantage to one, 50-49, with 4:19 to go.
Facing a strong second-half push by NJIT, the Eagles turned to their Preseason All-Patriot League player, Kirk, down the stretch. She proceeded to run off seven straight points, including a key three-pointer, to give AU a 59-51 advantage, breaking the hearts of the hard-charging Highlanders. The Eagles also turned up the defensive intensity during the stretch, forcing five NJIT turnovers in the final four minutes. The Eagles would visit the free throw line frequently in the final minute, and were able to hang on for a 65-57 victory.
For the fourth game this season, Kirk led American in scoring with 24 points on an efficient eight-of-14 shooting from the floor. She also recorded seven rebounds, which tied her for the game-high with teammates Strack and Leer. Strack's seven boards, as well as her 11 points, both set career-highs. Leer was in double-figures for the fourth game this season with 10 points, and recorded a season-high four blocked shots.
NJIT had four players in double figures, led by Kehinde Oyelola's 13 points and 12 from Ivana Seric. Jessica Gerald and Johnson contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The Eagles shot a season-high 52.2 percent from the floor, including a red-hot 60 percent (15-25) in the second half. AU was six-of-13 from three-point range (46.2 percent) in the contest. The Highlanders shot 40 percent from the floor and had a 33.3 percent mark from beyond-the-arc.
American will hit the road for its next two games, beginning at Wagner on Saturday, November 28. Tip time from Staten Island, N.Y., is set for 3 p.m.