HC 68, Lafayette 62 (Women)

Special to The Telegram&Gazette

EASTON, Pa. – Close but no cigar. That was the theme Friday night when the Patriot League leading Holy Cross women took on Lafayette, the team with the worst overall record in the league.

Holy Cross senior Maggie Fontana came within one of tying the league record for consecutive free throws and her classmate Lisa Andrews came within two points of reaching 1,000 for her career.

Fortunately for the Crusaders, though they only came close to blowing a 17-point lead, holding off Lafayette’s second-half charge for a 68-62 win.

“There is no such thing as a bad win,” said Holy Cross coach Bill Gibbons. “But if there were, this probably would have been it.”

Early in the game, it looked like a blowout in the making. With the score tied at 4-4, Holy Cross (15-8, 10-0) went on a 16-2 run, holding Lafayette (4-19, 2-8 Patriot League) without a field goal for nearly seven minutes. And after trading baskets most of the rest of the first half, the Crusaders pushed the margin to 17 on a pair of free throws by Fontana with less than a minute to go, before settling for a 36-21 lead at the intermission.

At that point, things were all going Holy Cross’ way. The Crusaders were shooting the ball well, hitting 14-of-30 in the half (46.7 percent), taking good care of the ball (just 6 turnovers) and playing a suffocating defense that held the Leopards to 7 first half field goals (on 22 shots, 31.8 percent) while forcing 13 turnovers.

When these same two teams met two weeks ago in Worcester, Holy Cross won by 22 points. That was the Crusaders 17th straight win over Lafayette, a streak that dates back to 1998. In those 17 games, Holy Cross has won by at least 10 points in 16. Thirteen of those wins have been by better than 20. Since Fontana and Andrews arrived on the hill, the Crusaders had beaten Lafayette nine times, with the average margin of victory just under 25 points.

With a big lead in hand, and a potential regular season title-clinching game on tap Sunday at second-place Lehigh, it is probably only natural that the Crusaders would suffer a little bit of a letdown in the second half. Which is exactly what happened.

“We got complacent. We just stayed how it was and they got more intense,” Fontana said.

“It’s human nature,” Gibbons added. “But there is still no excuse.”

Lafayette’s comeback started slowly, with the two teams trading baskets through the first seven minutes of the half. With 13:17 to play, Andrews, Holy Cross’ 6-3 center, who came into the game needing 17 points to reach 1,000 for her career, picked up her fourth personal and went to the bench. At that point, Andrews had 15 points and the Holy Cross lead was 12.

A Fontana layup made it 48-34 with 12:46 to play. Then Lafayette went on a 12-4 run, cutting the margin to 52-46 with 9:00 still on the clock. By then, 6-2 sophomore Brittany Keil, the Crusaders other starter in the frontcourt, was also on the bench with four fouls.

The Crusaders pushed the lead back to 15 with a 9-0 spurt keyed by freshman Ashley McLaughlin, who got it started with back to back buckets, the first of which she turned into an old-fashioned three-point play at the foul line. The last two points on that run came on a layup by Kiel, just after she and Andrews had returned to the floor with just under seven minutes left.

Andrews fouled out less than a minute after she returned. Kiel followed after she picked up her fifth personal with 2:54 left, sitting down with 12 points.

With the two frontcourt starters on the bench, the Crusaders struggled offensively down the stretch. After Kiel’s layup, HC managed only one more field goal the rest of the game, scoring only 7 points in the final 6:26 of the contest. Five of those seven came from Fontana, who finished with a team-high 18 points, but saw her free throw streak end at 33 when she missed the back end of a two shot opportunity with 5:28 left.

“Maggie kind of carried us on her back,” Gibbons said.

Those points, though, turned out to be enough. The Leopards made one last run, cutting the lead to 5 with 29 seconds left. But a pair of Fontana free throws and Philadelphia Eagles-style clock management by Lafayette, which ran a Princeton-style weave for over 10 second before getting off a shot, sealed the win for Holy Cross.

Fontana’s 33-straight free throws is a school record, but one shy of the League mark of 34 in a single season, set in 2003 by Bucknell’s Molly Creamer, who went on to be a No.1 pick in the WNBA. Navy’s Courtney Davidson holds the overall record with 37 in a row over the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

Lindsey Myers led Lafayette with 18 points. Kara Stetler added 14 and Vanessa VanDeVenter also was in double figures with 10.

The win was Holy Cross’ 10th in a row. The Crusaders can clinch the regular season title Sunday with a win at Lehigh.

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