"One thing about Messiah, they're not a team that allows you to make a run," Lions coach Dawn Henderson said. "We're used to making runs on teams when we get behind, but they are very composed, well-disciplined and well-coached."
The Lions had a chance to do some damage when Christina Vouriotis, Messiah's leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, sat the final 14 minutes of the first half with two fouls. But Messiah expanded a 7-6 lead to 30-19 after Vouriotis left, as Amy Hitz pounded the offensive boards and helped the Falcons to 16 second-chance points. Messiah had 15 offensive rebounds in the half and led 36-31 at intermission.
Laura Buckley kept CNJ in the game by scoring 13 of her 22 points in the half. Karen Geiger was the only other Lion in double figures, with 11 points.
"We just weren't boxing out," Lions forward Leigh Beierschmitt said. "Either we had position and we weren't pushing back, or we just weren't there to box out. We were out of the key and we weren't crashing. We weren't doing our job."
In the second half, reserve guard Melissa Ehst took over by hitting four straight three-pointers to hold off any Lions run. With Messiah leading 48-41, Ehst went on her binge and scored 12 points in a 14-10 Falcons run. Ehst, who had hit 5 of 7 three-pointers against Marymount the previous night, had 41 points in the two sectional tournament games after averaging 6.6 for the season.
The Lions got within 66-61 with 48.6 seconds left, but Messiah made 5 of 6 free throws to remain comfortably ahead.
"Part of the beauty of the game is that you worked hard and you were prepared and things went your way," Buckley said. "When you lose a game like this, you know you could have done more."
Rich Fisher's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.