Bonner scores 26 as Auburn beats Lehigh 85-49
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)—After an almost two-week layoff, Auburn needed about four minutes to get back in gear.
Once the second-seeded Tigers and Southeastern Conference player of the year DeWanna Bonner got going, Lehigh’s second trip to the NCAA tournament turned into another short one.
Bonner scored 26 points and led an early 21-3 spurt that carried Auburn to an 85-49 victory over 15th-seeded Lehigh in a first-round game in the Oklahoma City regional.
“We enjoy playing that way,” Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. “We’ve played that way all year long. We’re always looking to try that way. I thought after that first media timeout we really got our second wind and started playing better. That’s the pace we like to play.”
Auburn (30-3) had just taken a 6-4 lead on a basket by Whitney Boddie (eight points and nine assists) before the media timeout. They came back in high gear, outscoring Lehigh 19-3 over the next four minutes.
“I think we were just anxious,” Bonner said. “We haven’t played in a while, almost two weeks, so we were just anxious to get out there. So we had to calm down and think about what we wanted to do on offense and get open shots, and that’s what we did after.”
Trevesha Jackson added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers, who opened an 18-point lead in the first eight minutes and never looked back.
The Tigers will face seventh-seeded Rutgers (20-12) on Monday night for a trip to the regional semifinal. The Scarlet Knights beat Virginia Commonwealth 57-51 in the second game at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“We’re real comfortable,” Boddie said of playing at Rutgers. “I think that’s when your competitive juices start flowing, when you’re in a hostile environment, and it just brings the competitive nature out of you.”
Erica Prosser had 14 points and Alex Ross 10 for Lehigh (26-7), the regular-season and tournament champion of the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks were crushed by Connecticut 103-35 in their other NCAA tournament appearance in 1997.
Auburn, the regular-season SEC champions, had just too much talent for Lehigh, which came into the game riding a nine-game winning streak.
The Tigers also shot well this year. In dropping a 66-56 decision to George Washington in the opening round a year ago, they shot 35 percent from the field playing without Boddie, who was academically ineligible.
“When you lose in the first round, you don’t want that to happen again,” Bonner said. “So we just wanted to come out and have better focus. It all has to do with our seed. We had a great seed this year, and we just have more confidence. We have our point guard back, and everything is flowing right now.”
Auburn riddled Lehigh’s defense, hitting 10 of its first 17 shots from the field against a team that was holding opponents to 36 percent shooting. Bonner, a skinny 6-foot-4 forward, had 10 points in the run that Boddie ignited with a shot in the lane. Reserve Chantel Hilliard added four of her 10 points in the run, Alli Smalley had a 3-pointer and Sherell Hobbs had a layup.
“We told the kids it would be deceiving when you see her,” Lehigh coach Sue Troyan said of Bonner. “She is a 6-4 toothpick, and she didn’t show her 3-point shooting. She can take you off the dribble, get to the line unbelievably well, play in transition, do it all. By far, she is the best player our kids have seen.”
The Mountain Hawks rely on defense and shooting to succeed, and they struggled in both areas. The Tigers shot 53 percent from the field and limited Lehigh to a season-low 30 percent, including four of 22 from 3-point range.
“We all had confidence going into the game that we could play with them,” Prosser said. “We missed some shots and turned the ball over a little too much. It just didn’t go our way.”
The 85 points were the most surrendered by Lehigh this season, topping the 75 scored by Sacred Heart, another NCAA tournament team. The Mountain Hawks did not allow more than 56 points in three games in the recent Patriot League tournament.
Boddie, who led the nation with 8.1 assists per game this season, now has 600 for her career, breaking the old school mark of 593 set by Renae Halbrooks between 1978-82.
Auburn, which is making its 18th NCAA tournament appearance, led by 15 at the half and never allowed Lehigh to get closer than 13. It forced 19 turnovers and outscored Lehigh 42-18 in the paint.