The American University women's basketball team put together a 19-3 first-half run and never looked back en route to a 72-44 victory over visiting Holy Cross in the Patriot League Tournament Quarterfinals on Saturday afternoon in Bender Arena. Lisa Strack led the Eagles with a game-high 15 points and Ashley Yencho added 13 off the bench as third-seeded American advances to the semifinals on Wednesday at No. 2 Lehigh.
Things did not look so bright for American (21-8, 10-4 PL) in the early going as sixth-seeded Holy Cross (10-20, 6-8 PL) held a 17-8 advantage midway through the first half. But the Eagles began to find their offensive rhythm from that point forward, beginning with a three from Nicole Ryan and a steal and coast-to-coast layup by Ebony Edwards. Strack followed with a transition layup and then Liz Leer added a bucket, and all of the sudden the game was tied at 17 at the 8:17 mark. Tori Halvorsen then registered a layup, capping an 11-0 AU run and giving the Eagles a 19-17 advantage with 7:20 remaining in the half.
After three Holy Cross points to take the 20-19 lead, Sarah Kiely got into the offensive act for AU to regain the lead. Strack and Yencho followed with back-to-back threes and the Eagles opened up a 27-20 lead, forcing the Crusaders into calling a timeout. Yencho's trey ended American 19-3 run over a 6:02 span.
Yencho added a pair of free throws with one second remaining in the half to give AU an eight-point advantage, 36-28, at intermission. Yencho had a team-high eight points at halftime for the Eagles off-the-bench in only six minutes of action.
The Eagles shut the door quickly on Holy Cross in the early stages of the second half as they opened a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond-the-arc. Strack began with a three on AU's opening possession and Ryan followed on the next opportunity to push the lead to 12, 42-30. Alexis Dobbs then got in the act was a three of her own and another Strack trifecta opened up a 48-32 advantage for AU with 16:10 remaining.
Holy Cross tried to fight its way back in the game over the next several minutes, but was only able to cut its deficit to 11 on two different occasions. The Crusaders had the game at 52-41 before a Yencho three pushed AU's lead back to 14. Yencho followed with a pair of free throws and another Ryan three afterwards pushed American's margin to 19, 60-41, with 9:25 left. The Eagles took their first 20-point lead on an Edwards layup with under six minutes to go and pulled away for the 28-point victory. In the second half, the Crusaders finished with only five made field goals as they shot 19.2 percent over the final 20 minutes.
In total, the Eagles shot 45 percent from the field compared to 29.6 percent for Holy Cross, and recorded a perfect 8-for-8 clip from the free throw line. AU's bench registered a 35-10 scoring advantage.
"We talked this week coming into the game about how important bench play is to winning in the tournament," Head Coach Matt Corkery said. "Everyone is going to have five starters who can contribute but lots of times its the bench that provides the difference. It was a lot of fun to see those guys come off the bench today, play well and give us a big boost."
In addition to the strong bench play, AU held a 43-25 advantage on the glass, which included 17 offensive rebounds.
"Rebounding was huge," added Corkery. We didn't off to the best start as a flow offensively but the offensive rebounds really helped us stay in the game and create some extra possessions."
Strack's 15 points came on 5-of-9 shooting, and she added five boards and four assists. Yencho, meanwhile, scored 13 on only four total field goal attempts (3-of-4), all of which were threes. She also matched her career-high with five rebounds.
The Patriot League's second-leading scorer, Holy Cross' Whitney Fremeau, scored a team-high 13 points in a losing effort, although her output came on 5-of-17 shooting. Brisje Malone added 10 as well for the Crusaders.
The win is AU's 21st of the season, which marks the third-most single-season victories in program history. The program record is 23, which was set in the 1997-98 campaign. Additionally, the Eagles are now 17-0 this season when scoring at least 60 points. Going back to last season, AU has won 29 in a row when reaching the magic 60 number.
The Eagles advance to the Patriot League Tournament Semifinals against second-seeded Lehigh, which will be played on Wednesday, March 9. Tip from Lehigh's Stabler Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m.