Northwestern's undefeated record was in serious jeopardy Tuesday night.
Southern Lehigh built its lead up to 18 points in the third quarter as time was running out for a Lady Tiger comeback.
Sparked by team leader Sara Jones, Northwestern scored 46 points in the game's final 10 minutes and 31 seconds to pull out a 72-65 win.
"As soon as we got a couple buckets we got our confidence going," said Jones, who scored a career high 30 points. "We switched up the defense and we were getting some steals. Then everything just started to go our way in the second half."
The Spartans, which took and early lead, built it up to 44-26 after a Brianna Prince basket with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
Northwestern (11-0 overall, 7-0 Colonial League) cut the lead with nine straight points and finished the third quarter with a 12-2 run in which Jones scored nine points. They trailed 46-40 heading into the fourth quarter and had wrested momentum back in front of their home crowd.
"Our goal was to get it down to six heading into the fourth quarter," said Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch. "Once we hit a couple shots it got louder and louder."
The Spartans (9-3, 5-2) fought off the comeback as long as they could, but when Jones hit a three-pointer with 3:40 left in the game, it gave her team its first lead, 57-56.
Southern Lehigh's Madelene McDonald scored her first basket since the second quarter to put her team back ahead. A Jones free throw tied the game and a pair from Sabrina Mertz put Northwestern ahead for good. The Tigers sealed the win with a 13-for-18 effort at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
"We played not to lose," said Southern Lehigh head coach Megan Dellegrotti. "When you do that you start making mistakes. They capitalized on every mistake that we made in the second half, which is why they're in the position they are. That's why they're undefeated."
McDonald led the Spartans to their early lead, scoring 18 of her team-high 24 points in the first half.
Northwestern turned up the defensive intensity after intermission, with guards Sarah Segan and Mertz pressuring the ball and Jones guarding McDonald when in man-to-man. It resulted in eight third-quarter turnovers, which helped fuel the comeback.
Jones had three steals in the third quarter and scored 21 of her points in the second half.
"She stepped up big," said Deutsch. "That's what leaders are all about. In a big type of game, that's as good as it gets."
"She put them on her back in the second half,' said Dellegrotti. "She did a great job and the other players followed her lead. When your best player is hitting shots and making the extra pass and playing defense, that type of play is contagious. When Sara Jones plays like that it gives the rest of her team confidence."
Northwestern, which clinched a district playoff berth with the win, got contributions from several players.
Mertz scored 16 points in the game, hitting a pair of three-pointers early in the fourth quarter to help finish off the comeback. Segan scored 11 of her 12 points in the second half.
Trista Cunningham scored 10 of her 11 points in the second half and pulled down nine of her team-high 13 rebounds after intermission to help her team score 52 second-half points.
Circiello 0-0-0-0, Moyer 0-0-0-0, Amory 1-0-0-3, Yext 3-0-1-7, Saraceno 0-2-2-2, Cyr 0-0-0-0, Campbell 3-1-5-7, McDonald 9-10-12-28, Prince 7-3-6-17. TOTALS: 23-16-26-65.
Mertz 3-7-8-16, Landrigan 0-0-0-0, Jones 11-6-7-30, Suter 1-0-0-2, Segan 3-6-10-12, Thomas 0-1-2-1, Cunningham 4-3-9-11, Anderson 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 22-23-36-72.
Southern Lehigh 14 19 13 19 – 65
Northwestern 10 10 20 32 – 72
Three-pointers: SL –Yext 2, Amory 1; NW – Mertz 3, Jones 2.