Junior Amely Del Rosario scored 30 points as the Lehman College women’s basketball team triumphed over Brooklyn College in overtime, 73-67, to win the 2016 CUNYAC Championship on Friday, Feb. 26, at the Nat Holman Gymnasium in Manhattan. The Lightning Lehman (20-7), who had claimed the No. 1 seed in the tournament by winning this year’s regular season title, won their first tournament championship since 2007.
“I would give all those wins, and all those 1000 point scorers, for this moment right here. This is what its all about,” Said Lehman head coach Eric Harrison, the winningest women’s college coach in CUNYAC history.
The Lightning are now headed to the NCAA Championships where they will face the New York University Violets in the first round on Friday night at 5:00 PM. The NCAA shipped the Lightning to Brunswick, Maine along with the Violets and Westfield State who will face the hosts Bowdoin College in the nightcap on Friday. The winners will face each other on Saturday. “We’re excited to be back in the NCAA Championship Tournament,” said Coach Harrison. “NYU is a tough matchup. We look forward to competing against such a prestigious program on the national level.”
In the win over Brooklyn, Del Rosario, the 2015-16 CUNYAC Player of the Year, buried six three-pointers and finished with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. Senior Karrin Walker had 14 points—with most of those coming late in the game—and pulled down 12 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the season. Senior Amani Lightbourne finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Senior Yarmese Jones posted her fourth double-double of the season at the best possible time, contributing 10 points and 10 rebounds with three steals. Senior Jennifer Navarro added eight points. The Lehman defense forced Brooklyn into 24 turnovers.
Junior Justine Vento led the Brooklyn Bulldogs (19-8) with 15 points and five rebounds. Junior Maya Ajee-Thomas contributed 13 points, seven rebounds, and three first half blocks. Junior Olivia Colbert pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds to go along with nine points and three assists. Junior Twanda Holder finished with 12 points—including ten in the first half—while dishing out five assists while sophomore Karen Mak chipped in with ten points including a clutch basket to send the game into overtime.
The teams opened the game trading baskets back and forth, with Brooklyn bucking the trend first when they took a 12-8 lead off a jumper from Holder with 4:45 left in the first period. A basket by Jones, two free throws by Walker and a put-back by Lightbourne gave Lehman their first two-point lead of the game with 1:36 remaining. The Bulldogs closed out the opening frame on a 7-0 run with the score at 19-14.
The Lighting started the second period well, making three-pointers and crashing the offensive glass to power a 12-2 run to take the lead, capped off with a jumper from Lightbourne with 3:59 left in the half. The Bulldogs answered with a late surge, scoring 11 straight points to retake the lead, but Del Rosario buried a three at the buzzer to tighten things up going into the halftime break at 32-29, Brooklyn. Del Rosario was the leading scorer in the first half for Lehman, finishing with 14 points, while Holder led Brooklyn with ten.
In the second half, Lehman briefly pulled to with one off a layup from Lightbourne but Brooklyn responded with clutch shots to go back up by as much as eight with a 9-3 rally. The Lightning went into the fourth period down 48-44 with their season on the line.
With four seniors and a junior on the court, and a combined 349 games played in a Lehman uniform, the Lightning dug deep down as they had all year and burst forth with another rally. Down six, the Lightning put on a full-court press that pressured the Bulldogs into multiple turnovers, resulting in a 9-2 run as they took the lead for the first time since midway through the second period. Brooklyn would retake the lead, however, and it seemed like time was running out for Lehman. Down three with 2:13 remaining in regulation, Coach Harrison called timeout to settle his players down.
“It (the timeout) took away the jitters a little bit,” said Harrison after the game. “We were playing on edge, all the way into the fourth quarter. We worked too hard to give this game away.”
Del Rosario grabbed a rebound and went the distance of the court to pull Lehman to within one. Then after a defensive stop, Del Rosario buried the go-ahead three to put the Lightning up 63-61. With seven seconds left, Mak hit a game-tying layup for Brooklyn. A three-pointer at the buzzer by Del Rosario went in and out, and the teams headed for overtime.
But just 35 seconds into overtime, Walker hit a basket to give Lehman the lead. Then with 4:03 left in the extra period, Del Rosario went to the line and hit both free throws to give Lehman their largest lead since the first half. Time after time, the Lightning defense came up with stops on the defensive end. The Bulldogs pulled to within two on a free throw with 2:22 remaining, but Walker drew the foul off a put-back attempt at the other end, hitting the biggest free throws of her career as Lehman went up 69-65. As they had at the end of the fourth, Brooklyn turned to Karen Mak to save their season, and the sophomore answered with a layup with 1:03 left to pull her team to within two. After a missed shot by Lehman, Walker once again snagged the offensive rebound and finished with 34 seconds left. Brooklyn was forced to foul, and Navarro hit both free throws to put the game away. Seconds later, the players and cheerleaders poured onto the floor as they celebrated their first CUNYAC title since 2007.
Del Rosario was named Most Valuable Player of the championship tournament while Lightbourne took All-Tournament Team honors for her performance. Colbert and Mak represented Brooklyn, while Erika Richards of CCNY and Christina Pasaturo of Staten Island were also recognized.
The Lehman College women’s basketball will be participating in March Madness for the first time since 2007. They’ll go in as one of the hottest teams in the country, having won 11 of their last 12 games.