Hazleton, Pa. - The Nittany Lions came back from an eight point second half deficit to pick up the win over Cairn University by the final score of 50-45. For the second straight contest, Hazleton pulled away in the waning moments of the game, earning their seventh straight regular season victory and improving to 10-5 overall on the year.
Cairn stymied the Nittany Lion offense for much of Friday night's game but once again the Lions offense came alive late in the game with some timely shooting under pressure. After trailing Cairn 22-18 at halftime, the visitors took command early in the third period. Cairn tacked on three straight field goals midway through the period to open up a 31-23 advantage and threatened to blow the game open. Fresh off a timeout with six minutes to play in the third, freshman Azaria Johnson (Richmond Hill, Ga.) took over the game scoring seven straight points, part of a 9-0 run for the LIons that was capped by a mid-range jumper from sophomore Emily Titus (Tamaqua, Pa.).
Cairn would finish the third on a 5-0 run however both teams traded baskets and the lead for the bulk of the fourth quarter. With the game up for grabs and the score tied at 45 each with less than a minute to play, Hazleton took advantage of a costly turnover by the Highlanders. After regaining possession, Hazleton's junior Justine Bernazeau (Trelissac, FR) rotated the ball around the key, finding freshman Cassandra Rodriguez (League City, Tx.) on the right wing for game-changing triple to give Hazleton a three point cushion with 24 seconds remaining. Rodriguez had connected on just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc to that point in the game, but the freshman found her stroke when the Lions needed it most. Racing to the opposite end in search for an answer, Cairn committed an illegal screen, turning the ball over for the 16th time on the night. Forced to send Hazleton to free throw line on the in-bounds, Justine Bernazeau iced the game on the pair of free throws to send fans home with a five point Nittany Lion victory.
Azaria Johnson continued to set the tone for the Nittany Lion offense, scoring 10 of her team-high 17 points in the second half. Rodriguez also finished in double figures thanks to the clutch game-winning make from beyond the arc, totaling 12 points while Bernazeau added a game-high six assists and eight points in the win.
Next up: Hazleton's win over Cairn wraps up regular season non-conference play and the Lions return to action in the PSUAC on Tuesday, February 1 when Hazleton hosts top-ranked Lehigh Valley to the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium for a 6:00 p.m. conference slugfest.