The American University women's basketball team closed out the regular season in style on Saturday afternoon in Bender Arena with a convincing 82-47 victory over Lafayette to earn a share of its third Patriot League regular season championship in the last four years. The victory also gives the Eagles their 20th win on the season, marking the second straight year and fifth time in program history they have reached the plateau.
Liz Leer led the way for American (20-8, 10-4 PL) with 21 points and nine rebounds, both of which were game-highs. She was 9-of-14 from the field, including a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond-the-arc, and also added four assists and two blocked shots. The game marked her 123rd career appearance as an Eagle, setting a new program-record. Talicia Jackson '09 previously held the school mark with 122 appearances.
In addition to Leer, Stephanie Anya recorded 15 points for the Eagles on 7-of-12 shooting along with six boards. Sarah Kiely was in double figures with 12 points on 5-of-6 from the field, while Lisa Strack added eight points, a career-high nine assists, four rebounds, and three steals. Alexis Dobbs also chipped in nine points, six assists, four rebounds and three steals.
"I was really impressed with our perimeter players continuing to get the ball to our post players, remarked Head Coach Matt Corkery. "They're very unselfish and I think Liz [Leer], Sarah [Kiely], and Steph [Anya] really benefited from that today."
While the final score ended strongly in the Eagles' favor, the game did not begin that way for AU as Lafayette (11-18, 4-10 PL) held an 11-7 advantage midway through the first half. But with the score 13-9 in favor of the Leopards at the 9-minute mark of the half, the Eagles began to find their rhythm, starting with a Leer three from straightaway. Anya followed with a jumper to give AU a 14-13 advantage, and Leer then scored the Eagles' next two buckets to make the score 19-13.
With American holding a 26-20 lead with 2:32 to go in the half, the Eagles scored the final nine points of the half to distance themselves from Lafayette. Tori Halvorsen began the spurt with back-to-back baskets, and then a Dobbs three and Strack layup closed the half. AU took a 35-20 lead into intermission on the strength of a 23-14 advantage on the glass and 10 Leer first-half points.
The Eagles left little in doubt to open the second half, as they began with buckets by Anya and Leer to force Lafayette into calling a timeout less than a minute into the half. Anya knocked home another layup on AU's next possession and the Eagles had themselves their first 20-point lead of the game, 41-20, with 18:53 to go.
Holding a 47-26 margin, American rolled off a 14-2 run midway through the half to put the game out of reach. Kiely had six points during the spurt as the Eagles had taken a 61-28 advantage at the 10:50 mark. AU held a 30-plus point lead for the remainder of the game, eventually moving the margin to 40 on two occasions in the final few minutes before settling for the 82-47 victory.
For the game, the Eagles shot 54.8 percent from the field, matching their season-high percentage, which was also reached this year against Troy. AU was an even 50 percent (9-18) from three-point range. The Leopards, meanwhile, shot 34.0 percent from the floor, although they were plagued by a 42-26 rebounding deficit.
American also registered a season-best 27 assists while only committing 13 turnovers. The 27 helpers are tied for the second-most single-game assists, one shy of the program record of 28 set in against Mount St. Mary's in 1987.
Prior to Saturday's game, American's three senior student-athletes – Leer, Nicole Ryan and Ashley Yencho – were honored in a special "Senior Day" ceremony. The trio of seniors will go down as winningest class in program history, accumulating a 79-44 overall record thus far, including a 43-13 mark in Patriot League play. They have been part of three Patriot League regular season championships along with a program-record three straight postseason appearances.
"It's really a special day when you can honor your seniors and especially this group," added Corkery. "They've accomplished so much and they've really brought a winning tradition to our team."
The Eagles finish the regular season tied with both Lehigh and Navy at the top of the Patriot League standings with identical 10-4 records. Navy, however, wins the tiebreaker and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Patriot League Tournament as a result of its 3-1 record against Lehigh and AU this season. Lehigh is the No. 2 seed after posting a 2-2 record against the other two opponents while American gets the No. 3 spot because of its 1-3 record.
AU will host No. 6 Holy Cross on Saturday, March 5 at 2 p.m. in Bender Arena in the Patriot League Quarterfinals. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here.