Hazleton, Pa. - The Lady Lions faced a tough task when they suited up against the top ranked squad in the Penn State University Athletic Conference on Saturday afternoon in the form of Penn State Lehigh Valley. Hazleton was forced to give chase after falling behind in the first quarter amidst a furious pace from the visitors, but ultimately the Lehigh Valley defensive effort proved too much for Hazleton as they attempted to make the comeback and the Lady Lions fell 74-63.
Despite winning the turnover battle and fouling out a pair of Lehigh Valley starters, Hazleton was contested in the paint all afternoon and shot just 25.9 percent from the field. Conversely, Lehigh Valley shot 42.9 percent from the floor and out-rebounded Hazleton by a margin of 11 to help secure their 12th straight victory in the PSUAC.
Hannah Bankes led all scorers on the afternoon with 26 points. Bankes hit five triples, several at crucial points in the game and was a perfect six for six from the charity stripe in the winning effort.
Anchoring the Lehigh Valley defense in the paint was Ebony Sanders who pulled in a game high 19 rebounds, adding 12 points for the double-double.
Andrea Watkins added 10 points while Ashley Gordon notched 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Hazleton was led by sophomores Ijonana Laster (Niagara Falls, Ny.) and McKenzie Prutsman (jasper, Ny.) who both totaled 18 points for the Lions. Laster was three of seven from long range and swiped four steals while Prutsman picked up a team high six steals and three assists.
Sophomore Haley Nalls (York, Pa.) added 15 points for Hazleton, going five for six from the free throw line, adding nine rebounds respectively.
Lehigh Valley started off the game with a flurry of offense, taking the opening tip for a quick score from Andrea Watkins. In just over a minute's time, the visitors stacked up three field goals and a free throw to leave Hazleton trailing 7-1. Hazleton would start the game 0-10 from the field against the stout defense from Lehigh Valley but regain their composure midway through the period. Lay ups from Laster, Nalls and Prutsman would cut the Lehigh advantage to 14-7 at the four minute mark but both squads would hunker down defensively to close out the quarter with Lehigh Valley holding a 16-8 cushion.
Prutsman would start off the second frame with a triple to get Hazleton within five points and after trading lay ups, both squads would go cold for nearly three minutes. With 5:18 remaining in the half, Hannah Bankes notched her first triple of the game sparking an eight point run that left Hazleton trailing 26-13 with under three minutes to go. Prutsman and Laster would respond once more as Hazleton got right back in the game with a 9-0 run, but Bankes would connect again from long range, deflating the Hazleton comeback, aiding a 31-24 advantage for the visitors at halftime.
Just as the first half began, Lehigh Valley would set the pace in the third quarter, reeling off nine straight points to start the period. Hazleton would go 0-5 shooting over that stretch as Lehigh increased its lead back to double figures. Back to back triples from Bankes at the four minute mark would give Lehigh a 52-29 advantage, ending a 15-3 start to the quarter and giving them their largest lead of game. But the visitors would go cold to end the period as Prutsman and Nalls would power the Lady Lion offense for 13 points over a five minute stretch. Hazleton closed out the quarter on a 10-0 run to get back within striking distance at 54-41 in favor of Lehigh Valley.
Both teams would battle down the stretch but each time Hazleton would connect, Lehigh Valley would answer on their end. Laster would go for 12 points in the period including a pair of long range makes, but Ebony Sanders came up big with eight points and five rebounds of her own to help Lehigh maintain its double figure cushion. Lehigh Valley got off just 13 attempts in the quarter, but made good on seven field goals and went five for seven from the stripe down the stretch to pull off the 74-63 win.
The Lady Lions look to rest up and regroup after a four game stretch of tough contests this past week. Hazleton will enter the final week of the regular season, starting off with a road game on Tuesday, February 7 at Penn State Wilkes-Barre before ending the season at home on Friday, February 10 against Penn State Schuylkill.