Falcons Finish Strong, Miller Takes Manhattanville Downtown
With Bryn Swartz, GoMessiah.com reporter
On Saturday, the win came at the expense of Manhattanville College in the first game of the Cruzin Classic, 61-57.
"The Kean game was already forgotten in everybody's mind," said Messiah's head coach Miker Miller, reflecting on last Saturday's 20-point defeat at the hands of Kean. "We moved on from that and prepared for this game. It was great to be here in Florida for this tough game. They played us very physical until we started to match them in the last 10 or 12 minutes."
It was only fitting that the defense for Messiah won the game in the final minutes. After surrendering 87 points in that loss to Kean University last Saturday-- the most points allowed in almost five year-- the Falcons used a dominant team defensive performance to hold Manhattanville without a point in the final 4:26 of the game. In that stretch, the Falcons forced an incredible seven turnovers and held Manhattanville to just three shots (all misses, including a block by junior Kira Maier).
"It was definitely a defensive battle throughout this game," said Miller, whose team will remain in Fort Lauderdale, FL, for another game on Monday. "Rebounding was key. We did not rebound well in the first half but we did better on the boards in the second half. We also forced 29 turnovers in the game and our defense really stepped up in the last few minutes. They went the extra level and kept squeezing them and forcing turnovers at the end."
The Falcons also overcame a 57-53 deficit to score the game's final eight points. Junior Dori Gyori got things rolling with a pair of foul shots to pull the Falcons within two. Sophomore Chelsea Danel hit a free throw to cut the deficit to 57-56 and sophomore Taylor Miller hit arguably the biggest shot of the season-- a dramatic three-pointer to give the Falcons a 59-57 lead with just 23 seconds remaining.
Just a few moments later, Maier grabbed a last-second rebound after Manhattanville missed a layup. She then stepped to the foul line and calmly nailed a pair of free throws with just two ticks left on the clock, and the Falcons held on for a 61-57 victory, in what was easily one of their most impressive team performances of the season.
"We were really intentional about stopping their transitional offense," said Miller. "The offense did a very good job on us in the first half but we stopped them in the second half. It was a great win for us."
The game featured just two lead changes and the Falcons led for the majority of the game, usually by just a point or two. The Falcons went from 12:14 in the first half until 9:44 in the second half without trailing. The last ten minutes of the game featured a back and forth contest that saw the Falcons emerge victorious on the heels of their solid defensive efforts, and clutch shooting.
Miller led the Falcons with 14 points. She also grabbed five rebounds, dished out five assists, and collected four steals, in a game Coach Miller called "the best game of her career." Maier scored nine and grabbed six rebounds and four steals, with Gyori scoring eight points to go with six rebounds and five blocks. Danel also scored nine points and handed out four assists, with junior Nicky Hess adding seven points and three assists.
The game also marked the return of three members of the Falcons' team from various ailments: junior guard/forward Kate Vanderhoff, junior guard Jordan Seiz, and sophomore forward Emily Martz.
This game marked the first of the season for Vanderhoff, a transfer from the University of Maine. She played 10 minutes, contributing nine points, three rebounds, and a pair of steals.
"It was good to have them all back out there," said Miller. "(Kate) was definitely a little bit rusty from not having played yet this season, but she played well and she's really going to help pick up the team. It's good to get everyone healthy and contributing."
The victory improved the Falcons to 6-3 this season, and dropped Manhattanville College to 4-5. The Falcons will remain in Florida for the final game of the Cruzin Classic, which will be against Virginia Wesleyan College on Monday, December 19th at 9:00 a.m.