BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Moravian College women's basketball team erased a 15-point deficit and led by as many as five in the second half against The University of Scranton on Wednesday night, but the Landmark Conference-leading Royals fought back and held on for a 70-69 victory in a raucous Johnston Hall.
The Greyhounds (19-5, 10-3 Landmark) used a 12-0 run stretching over halftime to get back into the game. During the final 16 minutes, the score was tied twice and changed hands six times before the Royals (21-3, 12-1 Landmark) found the right combination of shot making and defense to get the win.
"I thought we played hard," said head coach Mary Beth Spirk. "The disappointing this is that we didn't play well initially. We had to fight back. It was nice to see us get back in the game with some great defense and forcing turnovers. We had every opportunity; we just couldn't convert. We have to move forward."
Moravian and Scranton each picked up a one-point win this season on the other team's home court. With 14 more blocked shots on Wednesday, the Greyhounds continue to lead NCAA Division III in the category and need only six more to break the school record of 216 in a season.
Senior point guard Katie O'Rourke led all scorers with 23 points, matching her career-high, while adding six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Senior forward Laura Jordan added 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Sophomore guard/forward Alesha Marcks recorded a career-high six steals while tossing in 10 points and adding five rebounds and three assists.
Jordan became just the 20th player in Moravian women's basketball history to record 500 career rebounds.
Scranton clinched the No. 1 seed in the Landmark Conference tournament, which is set to begin with the semifinal round next Wednesday. The Royals will play the No. 4 seed, which will be clinched by the winner of Saturday's Drew University – Juniata College game.
Moravian and The Catholic University of America, which beat Goucher College on Wednesday night, have clinched the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, and will play each other on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Johnston Hall at 4 p.m. to decide the higher seed and host of the Landmark semifinal. The loser of Saturday's game will travel to the winner next Wednesday.
"Our focus now is beating Catholic," Spirk said. "I think it's very important to play at home. Look at the atmosphere here; it was awesome in here tonight."
Each team got on the scoreboard with a 4-0 run to start the game, but the Royals' ensuing 10-0 run gave the Landmark leaders a cushion that lasted the entirety of the first half.
Freshman guard Morgan Calabrese halted the streak with a three-pointer, but Scranton answered with an 8-1 run to take a 22-9 lead with 12:52 remaining in the half.
After O'Rourke's layup at the 13:56 mark, the Greyhounds went without a field goal for the next seven-plus minutes. Marcks, Jordan and O'Rourke all made free throws during that stretch. Sophomore guard Emily MacDonnell stopped that streak with a nice move driving to the hoop to cut the Scranton lead to 29-18 with 5:40 remaining.
O'Rourke was busy on the fast break as the Hounds attempted to erase Scranton's early advantage, forcing the Royals to foul the quick Moravian point guard. The senior co-captain netted 7-of-9 from the charity stripe in the opening 20 minutes, including one to complete a three-point play to inch closer toward the end of the first half.
Freshman guard Nellie Tanguay gave the comeback some steam with a trey from the corner, part of a 9-0 Moravian run to close the half.
Senior guard Danielle Brogan nearly erased the 15-point deficit with her first basket of the game, a three-pointer to set the score at 34-33.
Senior forward Ericka Blair also heated up after halftime, scoring six straight points for the Greyhounds to draw the contest even at 39-39, the first tie since four-all. Blair finished with eight points and a career-high four blocks.
Moravian notched its first lead of the evening after senior guard Alyssa Hann converted a layup, and O'Rourke pushed it further with a three-pointer for the 44-39 lead, prompting a Scranton timeout as the momentum forcibly shifted.
The Royals would tie it up again at 44-44 with a long baseline jumper with 12:30 to play, and eventually take the lead back with a three-point field goal.
Tanguay one-upped Scranton's long ball to tilt the scales back in Moravian's favor. The freshman sharpshooter nailed her second trey of the game for the 49-47 advantage.
Scranton built another lead with a 6-0 run and led 62-55 with five minutes remaining.
Jordan got three points the old-fashioned way with 1:50 left to cut the Scranton lead to 65-60. The Royals responded with a basket, and playing catchup again, the Greyhounds needed a big bucket.
That bucket came from Marcks, who hit her first three-point field goal of the season to slice the lead to 67-63.
"She's a player and gives us great energy," Spirk said. "She gets everything out of a lot of different tools. She actually has a sweet shot; she even hit a step-back three tonight with someone in her face. Unfortunately, we just needed one more play tonight."
Scranton hit 1-of-2 from the line, and Marcks continued her newfound barrage from three-point land, hitting her second trey to make it 68-66 Scranton with 39 ticks left.
With the Johnston Hall crowd on its feet and screaming, the Greyhounds forced a turnover on the next Scranton possession. However, Moravian responded with a turnover of its own, and with only seven seconds left, was forced to foul.
Scranton's Sarah Payonk, a freshman, hit both free throws to ice the game with a 70-66 lead, but not before O'Rourke hit a pull-up three at the buzzer to set the final score at 70-69.
The Greyhounds made up for a rough first-half shooting percentage by hitting 53.6 percent of their shots in the final half. Scranton won the battle in the paint, 32-26, and both benches scored 21 points on Wednesday.
Scranton was led by junior forward Meredith Mesaris' 18 points and five rebounds. Payonk finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.