88Lehigh women’s basketball defeated Bucknell 63-55 in the Patriot League quarterfinal game in Stabler Arena on March 6.
Lehigh (18-13, 13-6 PL) won both prior matchups this season against the Bison (13-18, 9-10 PL) by double digits. Bucknell won all three games against the Mountain Hawks last season, including a quarterfinal game they won 56-53 at home.
The Mountain Hawks had the top two leading scorers in the conference during the regular season, who both received prestigious awards prior to the game. Senior forward Frannie Hottinger was honored for winning the Patriot League Player of the Year award, and junior guard Mackenzie Kramer was named Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
On a night when the duo was recognized, head coach Addie Micir said they did not disappoint.
“I thought our two stars stepped up.” Micir said. “When Kenz (Kramer) and Fran (Hottinger) can get it going like that.”
Combining to score as many points as Bucknell, Kramer led the Mountain Hawks in scoring with 30 points, and Hottinger was not far behind with 25 points.
Despite the duo’s strong offensive output, Lehigh’s offense could not get into gear in the first quarter. Lehigh trailed 9-2 and amassed two offensive fouls less than five minutes in.
Lehigh shot 3-13 from the field during the first quarter, and after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks were down 14-8.
“Early on we came up a little tight, a little nervous, which is to be expected when you have win or go home games,” Hottinger siad. “Our coaches have told us to continue to shoot the open shot and continue to take the looks we were taking. It’s going to fall eventually.”
Lehigh’s offense focused on feeding Hottinger in the post, and she routinely was rewarded with free throws. Hottinger, who entered the game second in the conference with a .802 free throw percentage, finished 87.5% from the line.
The Mountain Hawks brought the score within one at 16-15, but Bucknell responded with a layup through contact plus the subsequent free throw at the 5:12 mark of the second quarter.
With just over two minutes left in the second quarter, first-year forward Lily Fandre hit Lehigh’s first 3-pointer of the game to push her team ahead 22-19. Kramer later added a 3-point-play to take a four-point lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, Lehigh found their offensive rhythm that led them to be the highest scoring Patriot League team in the regular season. Hottinger drilled her first 3-pointer and later scored while being fouled to push the Mountain Hawks ahead 30-25.
Thanks to a 30-point performance from Kramer, Lehigh kept Bucknell at arms length for the rest of the night. Kramer acknowledged how challenging the matchup was despite Bucknell entering the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
“Bucknell’s a really tough team.” Kramer said. “I honestly think they’re better than the six seed. I’m proud of our team being able to pull it out at the end. We’ve been battle tested all season, so I’m glad we pulled through.”
Lehigh finally built separation on the scoreboard with 4:41 left in the game. With the Mountain Hawks up 51-47, Kramer was fouled attempting a 3-pointer with the shot clock approaching zero. She stepped up to the line and sank all three shots to propel the lead to seven.
Bucknell stayed within seven points, but again it was Kramer making a 3-pointer with 2:06 left from a smooth assist by Fandre. Lehigh led 59-49 and never looked back.
Micir said Hottinger and Kramer provided a special performance, but the supporting cast’s effort was commendable, as well.
“It’s not just the scoring that matters, it’s all the other little things that both lead to scores and that lead to stops,” Micir said. “Everybody else played their role perfectly.”
With one playoff win under their belt, Lehigh’s focus now shifts to their Patriot League semifinal match against Holy Cross on March 9.
“We gotta play Lehigh basketball,” Micir said. “We gotta get stops, rebound, and then we get to run, share it and shoot it.”