|Meredith Mesaris||Sarah Payonk|
|Lia DiSciascio||Lindsay Fluehr|
Photo gallery (courtesy of Emma Black)
The University of Scranton women's basketball team had won 23 times games coming into Saturday on the strength of its inside game. With the Landmark Conference championship on the line, there was no reason to change that formula.
Junior forward Meredith Mesaris (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax) scored a game-high 26 points and the Lady Royals dominated the rebounding battle en route to a 74-61 victory over Moravian in the Landmark Conference championship in the Long Center.
Mesaris was named the championship most valuable player as Scranton (24-3) won its third Landmark Conference title and 22nd conference title overall in school history. The victory also secures an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, the third straight year Scranton has earned a berth and the 27th time in the program's 40 years.
Freshman forward Sarah Payonk (Schwenksville, Pa./Spring-Ford) added 13 points and nine rebounds, and junior guard Lia DiSciascio (Broomall, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara) had 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Junior point guard Lindsay Fluehr (Bensalem, Pa./Nazareth Academy) had another strong all-around game with six points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Scranton used a 16-2 run late in the first half to take control, 33-20, with 2:26 left before the break. Mesaris had nine of her 11 first-half points and DiSciascio added three points during the run.
Moravian (20-7) scored five of the final six points of the first half to pull within nine, 35-24, at the break. But Scranton kept control in the second half by scoring the first six points after halftime, four by Mesaris. The lead grew as large as 17 early in the second half, but Moravian kept chipping away and pulled within seven at 61-54 with just 2:22 left.
That's when Payonk got free inside for a layup and a foul, and when she converted the three-point play, the Lady Royals could sense victory. Moravian cut the lead to seven on two more occasions with a little over a minute to play, but Scranton finished the game by scoring eight of the final 10 points, including the final two on free throws by senior guard Katie Cunningham (Garden City, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial).
Scranton made 21 of 60 (35 percent) from the field, including five of 19 (26.3 percent) from beyond the arc. They made 27 of 39 free throws (69.2 percent) while pulling down 52 rebounds to just 33 for Moravian. The Lady Royals also committed just 13 turnovers while handing out seven assists, including four from sophomore guard Jaclyn Gantz (Havertown, Pa./Haverford).
The Lady Royals had 28 points in the paint, 13 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds, and as it has all season, the bench was a big factor, scoring 26 points.
Moravian was led by senior forward Ericka Blair (Easton, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic), who had 16 points and five rebounds. The Greyhounds were 23-for-58 (39.7 percent) from the field, including 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) from 3-point range. They made nine of 14 (64.3 percent) from the free throw line and committed 12 turnovers.
Scranton will find out its NCAA Tournament first-round opponent and site on Monday, March 3, when the field is announced at 2:30 p.m. First- and second-round games are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, March 7 and 8.