WASHINGTON, D.C. – A feeling of despair descended on the Field House Saturday afternoon as the No. 18 Gallaudet University's women's basketball team fell to North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) foe Penn State-Harrisburg, 64-53. With more than 280 people in attendance, the Gallaudet faithful passionately cheered their team on with thunderous feet stomping and loud cheers until the waning moments of the game when it became apparent there would be no Bison comeback.
Gallaudet (20-1, 17-1 NEAC) suffers its first loss of the season as the Bison saw their program best 20-game win streak end along with a 13-game unbeaten home mark. The Bison last lost at home on February 15, 2010, when York (Pa.) College won 70-54. The Bison fall to second-place in the conference behind Keuka College (20-1, 18-1). The 20-0 start to the season is the best in program history.
"Today was a tough game. You have to give a lot of credit to Penn St.-Harrisburg as they made plays and had a nice win," said Gallaudet coach Kevin Cook, now in his fourth season at the helm. "I am proud of our team for winning 20 straight and now we just need to bounce back. We have four games this week and we will be ready. We can and will play better!"
The contest was a fierce back-and-forth battle to start, as the lead changed nine times in the first half, and only one point separated the two teams at halftime, 30-29. This was the first time the Bison have trailed at halftime this season.
GU regained the lead early in the second half as the Bison led 34-30 with 18 minutes left in regulation. The lead was the largest since a five-point advantage when they were up 23-18 with 5:33 left in the first half. Gallaudet relinquished the lead for good at the 15:15 mark when Penn St.-Harrisburg (16-6, 15-4) drained one of its four 3-pointers in the second half.
The Bison had an uncharacteristically difficult time making shots in the second half, as they made only 9-of-29 shots (31 percent) from the field and went 6-for-13 (46.2 percent) at the free-throw line. A difference in the game was the shooting from 3-point range by the Nittany Lions as they made 7-of-20 (35 percent) compared to Gallaudet's line of 1-for-10 (10 percent).
Senior forward/center Easter Faafiti (Pittsburg, Calif.) led the way for the Bison with 18 points and 13 rebounds in 40 minutes – all game-high totals. The double-double marked the 14th straight for the All-American and 16th overall this season. Faafiti surpassed 900 career points in a Bison uniform, in two seasons, with her fourth point in the game.
GU senior center Nukeitra Hayes (Anderson, Ind.) returned to action for the first time in three weeks and netted nine points and grabbed 12 rebounds to go with two emphatic blocks. Freshman forward Tandy Lewis (Frederick, Md.) came off the bench to net 11 points and brought down seven rebounds.
As a team, Gallaudet had nine assists and seven steals, well below their season averages of 16.2 and 14.3, respectively. The nine assists is a season low as the Nittany Lions held the Bison to their second lowest point total of the season. GU entered the game as the best scoring offense in the NEAC averaging 70.1 points per game. The free-throw percentage of 52.6 percent for the game was the lowest in a month for the Buff and Blue. GU did hold a slim advantage in rebounds, 41-38, and points in the paint 30-26.
Penn St.-Harrisburg forward Daril Foose had 15 points and six rebounds, before fouling out late in the second half, to lead the Nittany Lions. Guard Monet Cunningham had 12 points and four rebounds while Miranda Zeanchock tallied 11 points, nine on 3-point shots. Collectively the third-place Nittany Lions forced 20 turnovers in the game that led to 21 points. In the past two games the Bison have committed 48 turnovers.
The teams split the season series as the Bison won the road game 76-66 back on December 11.
Gallaudet has a busy week ahead as the Bison will play four conference games in six days to close out its regular-season schedule. The Bison start the stretch run with a 7 p.m. road game on Tuesday, February 15, at College of St. Elizabeth (8-12, 8-9).