Villanova vs. Lehigh recap: Women's basketball holds off Hawks, improves to 3-0

Junior forward Emily Leer shot 6-10 from behind the arc and score 19 second-half points against Lehigh. - USA TODAY Sports

Villanova's second-half defensive adjustments aids late comeback, Emily Leer scores career-high 24

*whistle*

“I’ve got #55, with the block”

*whistle*

“Blue #1, hand check. Two shots.”

*whistle*

“Blue #21, block. One and one.”

Lehigh shot 16 free throws in the first half, converting 13. They shot a 3-point dagger at the first-half buzzer, giving them all the momentum to start the second half strong. But Harry Perretta knew what to do. The Wildcats just had to calm down. They were never out of it, but often played panicked as if each possession was their last.

“You cannot win the game in one minute! The game must be won over a long period of time!”

Excluding 52 seconds of play, the score was within four points from tip until there were just 6:56 remaining the second half. Amidst 17 Villanova turnovers, they still hung around. Lehigh had gone on an 8-0 run to pull ahead 55-50, and someone needed to step up to bring the game within reach. That someone was Emily Leer.

Leer nailed three triples within four minutes to claw the ’Cats back to an even score at 60-60. All while playing solid man defense with four fouls.

She then scored seven of ’Nova’s first nine points in overtime, contributing 16 points out of the Wildcats’ 21 in a span of 9:30. Her 24 points for the game helped Villanova overcome a packed gym of nearly 4,000 for a thrilling 79-73 overtime victory against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in Bethlehem, Pa.

Perretta’s teams live and die by two concepts: the 3-pointer, and defensive focus. When they’re in a rhythm, they excel, executing offensive game plans expertly and providing key passes, either from a few quick touch passes from freshman Samantha Wilkes or from alert skip passes cross-court that led to countless open 3-point attempts.

There were flashes of brilliance throughout, but it took a full team effort in the final five minutes of regulation to bring it all together.

Early on, the new foul rules led to some easy points for the Hawks. As a drive-first offense, they took the ball to the hoop and quickly set ’Nova back on their heels. Katie O’Reilly shot eight free throws in the first half. The entire team only made nine field goals in that time. But three early fouls from junior forward Lauren Burford, and two each from Leer, Wilkes, sophomore guard Kendall Burton, and junior forward Taylor Holeman gave Lehigh the confidence it needed to come out and continue playing strong.

At the start of the game, the Wildcats were led offensively by sophomore forward Kavunaa Edwards, who had nine points and four rebounds, most of which came from the low block against Lehigh’s top-heavy zone defense. Edwards finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, her third straight game with that many boards. Five different players hit 3-pointers in the first, including Burford, freshman forward Megan Quinn, and sophomore guard Caroline Coyer.

In the second half, senior guard Devon Kane hit three of five shots, including two from behind the arc, to keep ’Nova within striking distance.

Villanova opened the overtime period on a 7-0 run, forcing Lehigh to rush offensively and begin to foul. By this point, the Wildcats had calmed down defensively, and only committed seven fouls in the second half and overtime. Individually, Holeman had three blocks and Burton had three steals, each leading the team.

Caroline Coyer played 41 minutes. Kane came off the bench after the first media timeout, and played 36 of the next 40. Both guards played the entirety of the second half and overtime. Caroline Coyer finished with 15 points and Kane added 12 to complement Leer’s career-high 24 points.

The game was played on Education Day at Lehigh, with dozens of elementary and middle schools in attendance for the 11:00 game. During free throw attempts for Villanova, the kids were instructed to scream as loud as they could, and to be honest, the piercing sounds of thousands of 10-year olds gave me a headache within minutes. Early on, ’Nova seemed a little irked by the sounds, but down the stretch they made more than enough free throws.

Villanova had an assist on all 10 first-half field goals, and 20 of 23 for the game. They finished shooting 35.9 percent from the field, and are now averaging 13 made threes per game. Leer has 54 points on the season so far, and shot 6-10 from long range today.

Looking forward, the Wildcats will travel to Fairfield, Ct. to face Sacred Heart. They have not faced the Pioneers since 2009, a 50-49 win, and are 2-0 against them all-time.

But hey, 3-0 is 3-0. Both ’Nova squads are still undefeated through over a week of play, so let’s see how long this lasts.

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