Falcons Keep Early Lead To End, Hold Off University Of Scranton
With Bryn Swartz, GoMessiah.com reporter
The Falcons jumped out to an early lead that they never lost, leaning on their defense in the second half to pull out a 55-49 victory over Scranton. The victory improves the club to 5-2 on the season.
"It was a wonderful college basketball game," said Messiah's head coach Mike Miller, who is no stranger to winning himself as his 476 career victories place him in the Top 20 all-time for Division III women's basketball. "Two good teams going at it, competing hard. We (played) really 'special' for many moments of the game. We just executed really well and played really well."
Things couldn't have gone any better for the Falcons at the start, as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead and held Scranton without a basket for the first six-plus minutes. With 12:54 remaining in the first half, a three-pointer by Messiah sophomore Chelsea Danel increased their lead to 12-2.
"We scored the first nine points of the game which was really key," said Miller. "They were also doing a 'silent night,' so their fans weren't making any noise until their tenth point. Our defense was unbelievable and they couldn't score, so that kept their fans out of it."
With just 6:18 remaining in the first half, the Scranton crowd final erupted in cheers as their team collected it's 10th point- the signal for the fans to end their promotional gimmick- on a free throw by Sara Gage. By this time, the Falcons held a commanding 19-10 lead.
The two teams went into the half with Messiah leading 28-18. The Falcons' defense held Scranton to just 6-31 shooting (19.4%) through those first twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the Falcons shot 11-24 (45.4%) to grab the halftime advantage.
In the second half, the Falcons saw their lead dwindle down to just four points in the final two minutes. Though inching closer, Scranton's attempts to gain a tie or lead did not prove to be enough. Solid defense and a perfect 7-7 shooting from the free throw line in the final minute led Messiah to the six-point victory. The Scranton loss pauses coach Mike Strong's attempt to become the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division III women's basketball history. Strong's win total currently sits at 757.
Junior Dori Gyori led the Falcons' scoring with 17 points, including 13 in the second half. Her 11 rebounds gave her a double-double. Classmate Nicky Hess scored 13 points and dished out six assists, with sophomore Taylor Miller scoring 10 points. On the defensive side, Gyori and Kira Maier held Scranton's forwards to a combined eight points. Gyori (two) and Maier (three) also combined for five of Messiah's six blocks.
"Dori was really, really 'special' throughout the game," Miller said. "(Dori) took over offensively in the second half when we were getting tired. She had good stats (in the box score), but her post defense and Maier's post defense was especially good. That allowed our guards to stay at home (with their match-ups). That doesn't show up on the stat sheet."
With the Falcons at 5-2 and improving with each passing day, Miller says that his team is playing the best it has all season. That's a good sign for the team as they continue to battle through a tough non-conference schedule.
The Falcons will travel to New Jersey to take on Kean University (6-2) on Saturday, December 10th at 2:00 p.m. With winter break following, the Falcons will fly south to For Lauderdale, Florida, for the "Cruzin Classic." They will be opposed by Manhattanville College and Virginia Wesleyan College on December 17 and 19, respectively.