Hodges leads Saint Francis to NEC title

Mar 14, 2010 - 9:52 PM By DOUG FEINBERG AP Basketball Writer

NEW YORK(AP) -- Britney Hodges and her Saint Francis teammates watched film of last season's loss in the NEC championship game, and were determined not to let it happen again.

Hodges scored 23 points and Samantha Leach added 20 to help Saint Francis, Pa., beat Long Island 77-68 on Sunday in the Northeast Conference title game.

"It motivated us a lot," Hodges said. "Before we got here on the way up we watched it on the bus. We weren't going to let that happen."

The Red Flash (17-14) won the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid for the first time since 2005. Saint Francis had won nine conference titles from 1995-2005 and, as the No. 5 seed, became the lowest to win the championship.

Saint Francis has won 32 of its last 33 games in the NEC tournament. The lone loss came last season in the title game against Sacred Heart.

Ashley Palmer scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds while Chelsi Johnson added 17 points for LIU (22-10), which was making its fourth appearance in the NEC title game. The Blackbirds, who last played in the championship game two years ago, have only won once back in 2001.

LIU completed a remarkable turnaround after winning nine games last season. The Blackbirds only lose two players to graduation.

"It means a lot for the turnaround we had from last year to this year," Johnson said. "Last year no one thought we would have gotten here. Today's game doesn't define the season we had."

Leading 31-29 at the half, Saint Francis scored 10 of the first 13 points to take a 41-32 advantage 4 minutes in. The Blackbird closed to six on Kiara Evans' three-point play, but the Red Flash scored the next 10 points - including five by Hodges - to make it 55-39.

Saint Francis led 58-43 before LIU made one last run.

Heidi Mothershead, who missed her first 10 shots, hit a layup to start the spurt. Evans followed with a three-point play and Palmer added a jumper that made it 58-50 with 7:29 left.

That's as close as the Blackbirds would get.

Brittany Lilley hit a layup and Leach followed with a jumper to restore the double digit lead. Lilley finished with 15 points.

"Brittney Lilley coming off the bench was a big thing for us," Susan Robinson-Fruchtl said. "'B' can be a game changer for us and she had a great mentality for today."

The first half was a back-and-forth contest with neither team gaining more than a six-point lead. Hodges had 16 points in the first half, scoring at will.

The Red Flash led 25-19 on Leach's pull-up with 7:10 left in the half before the Blackbirds scored eight straight to take a 27-25 lead. Saint Francis led 31-29 at the half.

"Holding them under 30 points was a key to us on the road," Robinson-Fruchtl said. "I knew we could wear them down by the end of the game."

Leach became the 18th Saint Francis player to reach 1,000 points when she hit a layup early in the game. The team presented her with a ball at an early media timeout.

Saint Francis swept both regular season meetings between the teams.

LIU advanced to the title game with victories over Quinnipiac and Central Connecticut. Saint Francis beat Monmouth and top-seeded Robert Morris to get to the championship.

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