The Lehigh women’s basketball team showed resilience in their season opener against rival Lafayette College on Jan. 2, winning 81-75 in overtime at Kirby Sports Center in Easton.
Down 66-60 with 2:27 left to play, Lehigh rallied to tie the game at 68 going into overtime before pulling away.
Sophomore guard and forward Frannie Hottinger scored the first basket of the 2020-2021 season and played a key role throughout the game, grabbing 10 rebounds and adding 13 points.
Senior guard Clougherty picked up where she left off a year ago, giving the Mountain Hawks a huge scoring spark off the bench, scoring a game-high 23 points. Junior guard Clair Steele and junior forward Emma Grothaus also each chipped in 15 points as four Lehigh players finished the game in double figures.
“I was really trying to make hard cuts,” Clougherty said. “Wanting to get my teammates open on a cut. If your teammates can get open then you did something right on your cut. So a lot of kudos to my teammates who set hard screens and drew my defender towards them because that is where my open shots came from.”
Lehigh started the game in a zone defense, trying to control the dribble penetration from the Leopards’ guards, but with the offense struggling to find a rhythm in the first quarter, head coach Sue Troyan decided to use a full-court press to increase the tempo of the game.
The press ignited the offense and led to open looks for shooters on the perimeter. Lehigh quickly called off the pressure, going back to their base two-three zone defense.
The game was tied at 14 after one quarter with Hottinger hitting a buzzer beating baseline jumper.
Lafayette opened the second quarter on a scoring run, but Steele responded with a cutting reverse layup to trim the lead to 19-16. Steele made crucial plays throughout the game to keep the Mountain Hawks within striking range.
Lafayette’s defense was swarming in the first half, forcing Lehigh to shoot just 25 percent from three point range and 32 percent overall.
Senior forward Grothaus scored five crucial points to close out the second quarter and cut the Lafayette lead to 36-31 at halftime.
After Lafayette extended their lead to 44-35 to open the second half, Grothaus responded, again scoring five straight points to cut the lead to 44-40.
Lehigh’s depth was a key factor in the game, constantly rotating nine players in order to keep their team fresh.
Lehigh switched up their offense in the second half, playing through Grothaus at the high post and not relying as much on their outside shooting.
After three critical free throws from freshman guard Mackenzie Kramer, Lafayette’s lead was 54-50 going into the fourth quarter.
Lehigh took their first lead of the second half, 57-56, after two inbounds plays led to Lehigh layups.
Lehigh and Lafayette traded buckets in the remainder of the fourth quarter. Hottinger hit a corner three to give Lehigh a brief lead, but Lafayette’s senior forward Natalie Kucowski responded with an and-one layup to tie the game back up.
After Lafayette went up 66-60, Lehigh responded again, punctuated with Steele getting a steal leading to an and-one layup to cut the lead back to one point with under two minutes to play.
Lafayette extended the lead to three with less than a minute to play and Troyan called a timeout to draw up the most important play of the game.
Coming out of the timeout, Clougherty hit a step-back three pointer to tie the game with 45 seconds left.
In overtime, Clougherty hit another important three pointer to tie the game again with under two minutes to play before hitting a mid-range jumper to take the lead with 1:30 left.
Lehigh closed out the game with three made free throws.
“To me it signified our whole fall season in a game.” Troyan said. “They have built a toughness through what they’ve been through and that was displayed on the court today and I was very proud of it.”
The Mountain Hawks will look to do it all again tomorrow at 2 p.m., as they play host to Lafayette at Stabler Arena.