A slow start and staunch defense by Messiah were too much for The University of Scranton women's basketball team to overcome in a 55-49 loss at the Long Center on Wednesday evening.
With the loss, Lady Royals head coach Mike Strong remains tied for the NCAA Division III women's basketball record for career victories with 757. He'll have his next chance at the record on Saturday, Dec. 17, when the Lady Royals travel to Radnor, Pa. to face Cabrini in a 4 p.m. game.
Messiah (5-2) jumped out to a 9-0 lead and held Scranton to 19.4 percent shooting (6-for-31) in the first half to take a 28-18 lead into halftime. The Lady Royals (3-4, 1-0 Landmark Conference) cut the lead to single digits midway through the second half and whittled the deficit to four with 1:38 to play on a pair of free throws by junior guard Katherine Torto (Binghamton, N.Y./Seton Catholic Central).
But Scranton got no closer as Messiah converted seven of 10 free throw attempts in the final 90 seconds to secure the victory.
What the game lacked in precision it made up for in defensive intensity. The teams combined to shoot just 33.7 percent (35-for-104) and few of those made buckets were uncontested. After Messiah shot 45.8 percent (11-for-24) in the opening half, the Lady Royals turned up their pressure in the second half, holding the Falcons to just 7-for-25 (28.0 percent) in the second half.
The Lady Royals received 12 points from sophomore guard Alison Sweeney (Wall, N.J./St. Rose), nine from junior guard Christina Hiltunen (Brooklyn, N.Y./Bishop Kearney) and eight points and a career-high 10 rebounds from Torto.
Messiah placed three players in double figures, led by junior forward Dori Gyori (Biatorbagy, Hungary/Mechanicsburg), who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Nicky Hess (Marietta, Pa./Donegal) added 13 points and six assists and sophomore guard Taylor Miller (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg) added 10 points.
Scranton won the rebounding battle for the seventh time in seven games, edging the Falcons, 35-34, on the glass. The Lady Royals turned the ball over 15 times while forcing 14 Messiah miscues.
The Lady Royals will break for final exams and return to action on Saturday, Dec. 17, at 4 p.m. when they travel to Radnor, Pa. to face Cabrini. Scranton's next home game will be Friday, Jan. 6, at 7:30 p.m. against Goucher College.