On the strength of 25-of-28 from the free throw line and strong defensive play, the American University women's basketball team earned a 54-43 victory over Buffalo on Monday afternoon in the Hatter Classic in DeLand, Fla. The Eagles will face St. Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the championship game.
American (6-5) got off to a slow start, trailing the entire way in the first half and managing to score only 19 points in the first 20 minutes. Sophomores Raven Harris and Ebony Edwards were two early bright spots on the offensive end, scoring six and five points, respectively, on a combined three-of-five shooting from the floor. Despite shooting 21.4 percent from the field (6-28), the Eagles' defensive effort kept them in the game, as they only trailed by four, 23-19, at intermission.
The Eagles began to find their rhythm at the start of the second half, scoring the opening eight points in first four-plus minutes to take a 27-23 lead. The run began on a pair of Lisa Strack free throws, followed by a runner in the lane by Harris, a Liz Leer free throw and a Michelle Kirk straightaway three-pointer. After a Buffalo three-point field goal, Kirk knocked down four consecutive free throws to give the Eagles a five-point advantage, 31-26, with 12:45 to play.
Buffalo (2-9) responded with back-to-back buckets to trim the Eagles lead to one before an Ashley Yencho three-pointer extended the American advantage back to four, 34-30, at the 10:35 mark. AU and Buffalo traded baskets for the next few minutes until consecutive three-pointers Leer and Kirk gave American an eight-point lead, 44-36, at the under four-minute media timeout.
The Bulls fought hard down the stretch to claw their way back into the game, but AU proved to be too much, especially from the free throw line. The Eagles finished the game 25-28 (89.3 percent) from the charity stripe, including an impressive 19-22 mark in the second half.
Kirk struggled from the floor, but still notched a game-high 18 points, all of which came in the second half. She was 12-of-12 from the free throw line, becoming only the ninth Eagle in program history to be perfect from the charity stripe on at least 10 attempts in a single-game. Additionally, the All-Patriot League performer recorded eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Leer scored 12 points for AU, while Harris chipped in 10, setting a new career-high. The duo finished a combined nine-of-12 from the free throw line. Strack put together a solid all-around game for AU with six points, three rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
In the game, American shot only 28.6 percent from the floor, but was five-of-13 (38.5 percent) from three-point range. The Eagles' defense held Buffalo to 31.4 shooting in the contest and forced 25 turnovers, although AU was outrebounded by a 42-30 margin.
"We came out in the second half with a much more aggressive mentality," remarked American University Head Coach Matt Corkery. "That helped us get to the foul line and that was the difference in the game. We need to be much better on the glass in the future if we want to have success. Buffalo controlled the boards today for sure."
AU will be back in action tomorrow, Tuesday, December 29 in the championship game of the Hatter Classic. The Eagles will take on St. Francis (Pa.), which defeated tournament host Stetson, 63-61, in Monday's other game. Tip time from DeLand, Fla., will be at 1 p.m.
The Red Flash is 3-6 this season, picking up victories against Mt. St. Mary's and Youngstown State in addition to Monday's win over Stetson. AU and St. Francis have met two previous times with each team winning on its home floor. Both matchups took place in 1993.