Lehigh (women) 73, Holy Cross 63

(Originally posted Sunday, 6:05 p.m.)

Special to The Telegram & Gazette

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- In a perfect world, a Lisa Andrews milestone would have been the story from Sunday afternoon’s Holy Cross-Lehigh women’s basketball game.

But the world is far from perfect, and in the aftermath of the Crusaders’ 73-63 loss, Andrews’ 1,000th career point was reduced to a footnote by a second Holy Cross milestone, coach Bill Gibbons’ first career ejection.

Andrews reached her milestone with 14:37 to go in the first half, scoring on a putback off a Shannon Bush miss to become the 21st women in Holy Cross history to score 1,000. Andrews went on to have an outstanding afternoon, finishing with 21 points, 6 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

That should have been what everyone was talking about after the game; that, or the 20-point performance of Lehigh’s Jessica DePalo. Instead, though the hot topic in the postgame was not the performance of the ladies wearing purple or the ladies wearing white, but the three men wearing black and white.

Those three officials did more to determine the outcome than any of the players by calling 21 second-half fouls (29 overall) on Holy Cross (15-9, 10-1 Patriot League), including two technicals on Gibbons, who was ejected after the second with 4:40 to play and his team trailing 62-60.

“I don’t think me getting thrown out was the reason we lost the game,” said Gibbons. “I don’t want to take away from the way Lehigh (17-7, 9-2) played and use that as an excuse for why we lost the game.”

Gibbons might not want to blame the loss on the technicals, but then again, he didn’t witness what ensued after he was banished.

At the time of the second technical, Holy Cross trailed by just 2 with the ball. The whistle came when Gibbons argued what was, simply put, a blown backcourt violation call against Crusaders’ freshman point guard Laura Aloisi, who had retreated behind the midcourt stripe to chase down a loose ball that had been deflected by Lehigh’s Chantal St. Laurent.

Instead of it being Holy Cross ball, with a chance to tie the game, Lehigh shot two free throws, got the ball back and scored again to make it a 66-60 lead. The Crusaders never recovered from there.

The fact that Lehigh had a two-point lead at the time, or for that matter, that the game was even that close, also had much to do with the guys wearing stripes. After a first half in which Holy Cross was called for 8 personals while building a 36-26 halftime lead, the officials seemed to blow their whistles on nearly every Lehigh possession in the second half.

It started right after the break—Lehigh’s first four points of the second half came on free throws – and it went on throughout the half. By the time Gibbons picked up his first technical, with 11:25 to play, Lehigh was already shooting the one-and-one bonus while only having been whistled for two personals of their own.

Lehigh’s Sara Ellis hit both shots on the technical, which came after Gibbons merely remarked “That’s a disgrace” when the officials made the call that put Lehigh in the bonus. The free throws came in the middle of a stretch that saw Lehigh come from being down 45-43 to ahead 52-51 thanks to 10 straight free throws.

The Mountain Hawks reached the two-shot bonus 8:07 to play. In all, the Crusaders were called for 27 personals, 19 in the second half when Lehigh went to the foul line 34 times. Lest anyone think the disparity was the result of desperation fouling by Holy Cross in the final minute, only six of those free throw attempts came then.

Holy Cross only went to the line 16 times the entire afternoon in a game where most of the other statistics were fairly even. Often looking at where teams scored from the floor will offer a hint to such a disparity. Teams that take the ball to the hole will get to the line more than teams that settled for jumpers from the perimeter. But Holy Cross scored 28 points in the paint, Lehigh 32.

Andrews’ line was a perfect illustration of the difference in how the game was called at the two ends of the floor. The 6-3 center took 18 shots, most from close range, yet was fouled just once. Conversely, DePalo scored 10 of her 20 points from the charity stripe.

Making it more puzzling was the fact that aside from Holy Cross’ inability to get its transition game going in the second half, largely because of all the foul calls interrupting the flow, the defensive intensity on both sides seemed pretty much the same in each half.

“I thought it was the same game. It was just officiated much different in the second half,” said Gibbons, who had never before been ejected in the 488 previous games of his 20-year career. “They called it a lot tighter in the second half than they did in the first half. We didn’t adjust to that.”

Despite the loss, which snapped a 10-game win streak, Holy Cross remains in the Patriot League drivers seat with a one-game lead over Lehigh with three to play,

“We move forward. We have a three-game season,” Gibbons said. “No matter what Lehigh does, we win three games and we’re the number one seed and we get to host in the tournament.

“Then we get another three-game season, potentially all at the Hart Center. It’s not rocket science.”

That final three-game stretch of the regular season will begin Saturday when the Crusaders host Colgate. (Box Score)

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