Lehigh women’s basketball’s defense shined in a 58-57 comeback win over Drexel on Tuesday night at Stabler Arena to remain undefeated at home.
Despite Lehigh (6-1) averaging 77.4 points per game heading into the contest, the game was a departure from the high-scoring shootouts that have comprised most of Lehigh’s season.
The Mountain Hawks took only 43 shots, the least of any game all season and 20 less than Drexel (2-3) took during the game. While a shaky Mountain Hawks offense allowed 18 turnovers, the defense was able to hold the Dragons to shooting just under 35% from the field.
After leading throughout the first quarter, Lehigh entered halftime trailing 34-26 after being outscored 24-8 throughout the second. Drexel shot 9-for-16 in the second quarter and fifth-year guard Brooke Mullin had 13 points.
“I don’t think we necessarily played to our (scouting report) well,” Lehigh coach Addie Micir said. “(Drexel) came out and they executed.”
Once the second half rolled around, Drexel comfortably began piling up offensive rebounds and taking shots but struggled heavily from outside of the paint, where they went 1-for-12 in the second half.
Lehigh compensated for having fewer possessions due to the rebound battle in the second half by searching for high-percentage shots. Junior forward Meghan O’Brien and sophomore forward Lily Fandre both converted on two attempts from right under the basket in the third quarter to cut the Drexel lead to 44-40 heading into the fourth.
“We fixed some mistakes in the first half that were controllable,” Junior guard Ella Stemmer said. “We toughened up on the defensive end which allowed us to get some control on the offensive end.”
Despite only taking two free throws during the first three quarters combined, Lehigh found themselves at the foul line frequently in the fourth as Drexel sought to hold onto their lead while finding an answer to Lehigh’s interior scoring. Lehigh went 7-for-12 from the free throw line in the final quarter.
Lehigh was also helped in their comeback effort by a greater interior defense presence throughout the fourth. This involved Lehigh utilizing their size advantage amongst their forwards to produce three blocks in the fourth quarter alone.
Lehigh took the lead of the game for the first time since the second quarter after senior guard Maddie Albrecht scored on a driving layup from the left baseline to go ahead 48-48. After Stemmer hit a 3-pointer from the left corner, Lehigh took a 51-48 lead that they held onto heading into the game’s final minutes.
With 1:05 left, the Mountain Hawks led 56-50. Back-to-back turnovers by Stemmer and Fandre led to first-year guard Laine McGurk scoring on consecutive possessions to bring the lead down to two.
Stemmer headed to the line, was fouled, and missed both shots. After O’Brien corralled the second miss, she went to the line and made one to give Lehigh a 57-54.
With 7.9 seconds on the clock, McGurk made Drexel’s only 3-pointer and shot outside the paint of the second half to tie the game. Off of a Lehigh inbound, Fandre was fouled while looking for open space with just over a second remaining. She made her second shot to give Lehigh a 58-57 win.
Lehigh improved their rebound and turnover numbers that plagued them throughout the night in the fourth, matching Drexel in both categories.
Junior guard Colleen McQuillen had a game-high five turnovers but did not commit a single one in the last nine minutes of the game. Before transferring to Lehigh this season from Fordham, she had not played point guard consistently since high school.
“All of (the turnovers) are controllable things,” McQuillen said. “I just have to make sure that the ones I do turn over have to be the aggressive ones – the things I want to do, not what the defense wants me to do.”
Micir said after the game that basketball is a “game of runs” and that she was impressed with how her team matched Drexel every time they got an advantage.
The win also propelled Lehigh to a Patriot League-best 6-1 non-conference record to start the season.
Micir acknowledged that even in games like tonight where the offense was not scoring as much as usual, the team still is doing what they need to do.
“We’re finding a way to win games,” Micir said. “Finding a way to win big and finding a way to grind it out.”
Lehigh women’s basketball will play next against Hofstra on the road on Dec. 2.