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Falcons Survive Elizabethtown Despite Cold Second-Half Shooting
Junior Ashley Brooks scored 11 points and grabbed five boards, but it was Messiah's team defense that may have made the difference.

Elizabethtown, PA — It may not have been pretty, but Messiah College head women’s basketball coach Mike Miller will take it.

The Falcons — ranked 12th in the Jan. 22 USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll and 11th in the Jan. 21 D3hoops.com Top 25 Poll — overcame a season-low eight made field goals in the second half of a MAC Commonwealth match-up with Elizabethtown College Saturday afternoon, earning a 73-64 win over the host Blue Jays in the process.

Messiah (15-2, 2-0) made just eight of 29 shots from the floor in the second period (27.6 percent) en route to an overall 42.6 percent shooting clip on the day (23 of 54), but somehow willed itself to its second league win in as many tries.

“Any league road game is a good win,” Miller said afterward. “We’re not looking for any style points. It’s late January. Any road win, we’ll take.”

Miller’s team hung on for the road victory thanks in large part to a much more productive first half, where Messiah connected on 15 of 25 shots overall to earn a 41-31 lead at the intermission. After trading baskets with Elizabethtown (9-7, 0-2) over the game’s first three and a half minutes, the Falcons eventually pushed ahead to a 19-11 advantage with 14:49 to play.

After E’Town cut the lead to four points on two occasions before halftime, Messiah rattled off 10 straight points, turning a 31-27 lead with 5:20 on the clock into a 41-27 advantage with 1:54 to play. The Blue Jays would bury a three pointer and make one of two free throws to pull within 10 at the break, but the damage had been done.

And that was fortunate, given Messiah’s second-half struggles.

“I think if we would have put the ball in the basket (in the second half) things would have taken care of themselves,” Miller said. “Instead, we struggled and (Elizabethtown) got in the flow offensively. It ended up being a tough league game on the road for us.”

Incredibly, the second half began in the manner the first half ended for Messiah, as junior Ashley Brooks buried back-to-back post baskets to push the advantage to 45-31 just moments in. A pair of made free throws from senior Nikki Lobach made the score 47-31, Falcons, with 18:32 to play, and it looked like Miller’s team would run away with things.

It was then that the drought slowly began, however, as a made layup from Lobach at the game’s 16:09 mark would be the Falcons’ only field goal over the contest’s next five minutes.

With Messiah struggling offensively, Elizabethtown began to make its push. A layup from the Blue Jays’ Ashley Toczylowski pulled the home team to a 49-43 deficit with 13:50 to play, but a three pointer from freshman Angie Rapchinski pushed Messiah’s lead back to nine points just 10 seconds later.

Nearly the same situation occurred two minutes later, as E’Town pulled within a 52-46 difference only for senior Amy Reed to bury a three, giving Messiah a 55-46 lead with 11:18 remaining. Brooks scored an interior basket on the Falcons’ next possession, and Messiah led 57-46 with 10:39 to play.

The Falcons would make just two more baskets from that point, however, somehow getting them precisely when they needed them.

E’Town pulled within a 57-52 difference at the 8:21 mark, only for Lobach to bury a three on Messiah’s next possession.

With just 56 seconds to play, the Blue Jays again got within five points — 69-64 — only for Lobach to score a driving layup moments later.

Between those baskets, Messiah stayed afloat thanks to the free throw line, where the team made 13 of 15 in the second half (86.7 percent) after knocking in just seven of 13 in the first period (53.8 percent).

Miller’s team made its final eight charity tosses — a good stat considering all eight came in the game’s final 3:32 with the contest very much in doubt.

“We didn’t shoot well in the second half, but the shots we did make were big,” Miller said. “ Nikki had a couple big shots, as did Amy Reed, and Amy made two big free throws when we only led by four points (with 2:56 to play).”

Those foul shots from Reed — Messiah led by just a 67-63 score before them — began what Miller called “the most focused defensive effort” by his team during the game, as the Falcons got a defensive stop and forced a turnover on Elizabethtown’s ensuing two offensive possessions.

“We were able to finish strong without things going particularly well on the offensive end of the floor,” Miller said. “(Conference schools) know each other extremely well. You’ve got (game) tapes flying around (and being exchanged), and you know you’re going to be in for a fight, especially on the road. We’re happy with the win.”

Lobach led all scorers with 24 points on a seven of 14 effort from both the floor and the free throw line. Reed and Brooks each scored 11, while senior Lauren Schurr added six. Brooks and senior Gwen Avery each grabbed five rebounds, with Avery dishing out a career-high four assists.

Messiah will return home to face its next league foe Wednesday night, although it is an exception to Miller’s rule: The Falcons will host Lycoming College for the first time since Jan. 5, 2001, as Lycoming made the jump from the MAC Freedom Conference to the Commonwealth side at the start of the school year. Messiah handed the Warriors an 82-53 defeat in the teams’ last meeting.

Game time is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in Brubaker Auditorium.