Alexis Dobbs made two clutch free throws with one second remaining in regulation and Liz Leer hit two key three-pointers in overtime to push the American University women's basketball team to a gutsy 69-64 victory over Lehigh in the Patriot League Tournament Semifinals in Bethlehem, Pa. The Eagles overcame a 16-point first-half deficit to force the overtime session and earn their second straight trip to the Patriot League Championship Game.
Two-time defending Patriot League champion Lehigh (21-10, 10-4 PL) began the game on a tear, scoring the first 13 points of the contest and taking a 20-4 lead over American (22-8, 10-4 PL) with 7:35 to play in the first half. But the Eagles began chipping away at the deficit, scoring the next five points on a Dobbs three and a jumper by Stephanie Anya to get back with 11, 20-9. AU played Lehigh even over the remainder of the half until a Emily Gratch layup at the buzzer pushed the Mountain Hawks' advantage to 34-22 at intermission.
Facing a double-digit deficit for nearly the entire first half, the first few minutes of the second period would obviously be crucial to American's comeback chances. The Eagles were up to the challenge, beginning the half on a remarkable 14-0 run to take the lead just over six minutes into the half. Strack began the run with a pair of free throws and Leer followed with a jumper for her first bucket of the game, forcing Lehigh into calling a timeout. Leer and Strack then followed with back-to-back treys and the Eagles were within two, 34-32, as the Mountain Hawks burned another timeout to slow down AU's momentum.
The Eagles, however, continued to push forward with a Dobbs steal and layup to tie the game. Leer then followed with a jumper to give AU a 36-34 advantage, its first lead of the game, with 13:52 to play.
Lehigh was finally able to get on the board in the half with a Courtney Dentler layup and ended up running off an 8-1 run to regain the lead, 42-37, midway through the half. AU fired right back with an 8-2 spurt of its own, beginning with a key three-point play by Anya and concluding with a Nicole Ryan three at the under-eight media timeout to make the score 45-44 in favor of the Eagles.
Over the next four minutes, the lead changed hands three times before Lehigh scored four straight points to take a 53-49 advantage with three minutes left. On a crucial possession for AU, Leer responded with a driving layup to cut the deficit in half and a minute later, she was fouled on a three-point shot. She made all three foul shots to give AU the lead once again, 54-53, with 56 seconds remaining.
Lehigh raced back down and Erica Prosser made one of two free throws to tie the score at 54. AU had the basketball with 36 seconds left, but a miss three by Leer led to a long rebound and a two-on-one situation for the Mountain Hawks. Alexa Williams converted the layup, giving the Mountain Hawks a two-point lead with seven seconds remaining. Out of timeouts, the Eagles inbounded the ball to Dobbs, who raced up the floor and drew a foul with one-second remaining.
AU was in the two-shot double bonus, and after a Lehigh timeout, the freshman calmly stepped up to the line and knocked down the first free throw. The Mountain Hawks then called another timeout but Dobbs was up to the challenge again, converting the second free throw and sending the game to overtime, 56-56.
The Eagles got off to a quick start in overtime as back-to-back Anya rebounds and putback layups pushed AU's lead to 60-56 with 3:46 left. But Lehigh came right back with the next six points over a three-minute stretch to take the 62-60 advantage with 1:32 to play.
With all the momentum once again in Lehigh's favor, the Eagles came back to their senior leader, Leer, who knocked down a three from the left-wing to take the 63-62 advantage with 1:18 left. Lehigh's Prosser was fouled on the other end, however, and made both free throws to regain the lead, 64-63. Facing another key possession, American went back to Leer, who hit another three from almost the identical spot to put the Eagles back on top, 66-64, with 33 seconds left.
Lehigh came back down and a Prosser miss led to the Eagles earning possession. Dobbs was fouled and made both free throws to push AU's advantage to four, 68-64, with 14 seconds to go. Lehigh missed again on its next opportunity and one more Dobbs foul shot set the final margin at 69-64 in favor of the Eagles.
Leer led the way for AU with 18 points -- 12 of which came in the second half and the other six in overtime -- on 6-of-12 shooting and 3-of-5 from beyond-the-arc. She added seven rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Strack registered 12 points for the Eagles along with five boards. She was 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. Anya, meanwhile, had 11 points and a team-best eight rebounds, while Dobbs was AU's fourth double-digit scorer with 10. Her output included a key 5-of-6 from the foul line, while also adding four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
For the game, the Eagles held a slight 37.3 to 36.5 percent shooting advantage over Lehigh, although AU's 4-for-8 output in the overtime session proved to be the difference. Lehigh, on the other hand, was 2-of-8 shooting in overtime, including 0-4 from three-point range. Rebounding was also a big key for the Eagles as they held a 46-33 advantage on the glass.
American moves onto the Patriot League Championship Game on Saturday, March 12, where the Eagles will face top-seeded Navy, which defeated Bucknell in Wednesday's other semifinal. Game time from Annapolis is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationwide on CBS College Sports Network. The Eagles will be shooting for their first-ever conference championship, which would earn AU its first berth in the NCAA Tournament.
AU fans and alumni planning to attend the championship game are encouraged to purchase tickets through the AU ticket office by calling (202) 885-TIXX beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday morning or by emailing email@example.com. Tickets are priced at $8 for adults and $4 for students, youth and seniors.
A student bus to the championship is also being organized. For $10, AU students can get a ticket to the game and round trip bus transportation via DC Trails luxury motor coach with Domino's pizza and Coca-Cola served on board. For more information, call the AU Ticket Office at (202) 885-TIXX on Thursday.