For a brief second at the Liacouras Center Wednesday night, there was a sinking feeling. The feeling of conceding an 11-point halftime lead to a nemesis Big 5 team poised to pounce. The feeling of watching a career’s worth of 16-straight Big 5 victories vanish in one fatal blow.
But that second of trauma was quickly surpassed as the women’s basketball team managed to eek out a 70-67 victory over the Saint Joseph’s Hawks. The win extended the Owls monumental Big 5 win streak to 17 games, and relieved Coach Dawn Staley of a heavy burden after she picked up a technical foul with the game tied, 64-64, with less than a minute to go.
“I thought our team did a tremendous job of erasing a mistake that I made in getting a technical foul, which I’m very proud of. It’s a good moment for us, for me and our team. Good and bad,” Staley said.
The Owls (12-10, 5-1 Atlantic Ten Conference) continued a few other streaks, most notably winning five straight games, including four straight against the Hawks (10-10, 2-3).
“Anytime we get together we always make it a barnburner,” Staley added. “I didn’t think it was going to be any differently no matter how big of a lead we had. It’s a game in which either team could have won.”
The Owls came out scorching, with six straight baskets. Sophomore guard LaKeisha Eaddy took off with 10 first half points on 3-of-5 shooting.
However, the Hawks stayed close with some sharp shooting of their own. The Owls and Hawks shot an impressive 48.9 percent and 52 percent from the field, respectively.
A two minute, 46 second Owls scoring drought helped the Hawks trim a seven-point deficit to two with about five minutes left in the first stanza. However, a series of Hawks turnovers lead to a late 9-2 Owls run. Saint Joseph’s committed 15 turnovers in the first half.
The second half turned into a physical heavyweight bout, as both teams exchanged hard fouls, 26 total to be exact. The Owls turned to their senior leaders, Lady Comfort, and Morris, to light up the scoreboard.
Comfort played 40 minutes of consistent offense to net a season-high 24 points. Morris shot 4-of-6 in the second half for 12 of her 14 total points.
After a continued assault of three-pointers and pestering defense, the Hawks wore down the Owls and took the lead with 1:43 to play. With the game tied at 64-64, a foul by junior forward Shenita Landry combined with the painful Staley technical lead to four free throws. Fortunately, only one free throw went in and the Owls would capitalize with on Comfort’s go-ahead lay up.
On the following Hawks possession, a leaping Landry would grab her sixth steal – the Owls’ 16th of the contest.
“Our defense is pretty good. I think our defense can be pretty disruptive. We got a group of players who can really put a lot of pressure on [opponents] and make them turn it over,” Staley said.
The crucial play was followed by two more pressure filled free throws that came naturally to Landry, who made both.
“I shoot free throws everyday – just free throws, free throws, free throws, after practice by myself. I just prayed that they were going in because I work so hard at doing it,” said Landry.
The Owls, who have won three straight Big 5 titles, look to close out a fourth straight Saturday against LaSalle. If they win, it will be the first time in city series history that a team accomplishes such a feat.
The accomplishment would also mark a special occasion for seniors Comfort, Morris, Nicole Pittman, and Candace Burrows, who could potentially win every Big 5 game of their career.
“It just feels really good to be able to have an accomplishment like this and just to give the people coming behind us a taste of what its like – that Big 5 basketball is really big in the city and they can just keep it going,” senior guard Ashley Morris said.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.