NEW YORK, N.Y. – Freshman forward Claire Melia poured in a game-high 23 points in her collegiate debut as the Saint Joseph's women's basketball team won its season opener over Columbia, 71-57, at Levien Gymnasium on Thursday evening. Junior point guard Lula Roig added 13 points while freshman forward Gabby Smalls pulled down a game-high nine rebounds off the bench. With the victory, the Hawks begin the season 1-0 while the Lions fall to 0-2.

How It Happened
• In a back-and-forth contest that featured 16 lead changes and 14 ties, Saint Joseph's shot a combined 60% (25-for-35) in the third and fourth quarters and tore off on an uncontested 13-0 run to open the fourth en route to outscoring the Lions 41-25 in the second half.
• Paced by Melia's first six points of the night, the Hawks held even with the Lions, 16-16, entering the final 1:33 of the first quarter; sophomore forward Katie Mayock then hit a lay-up with five ticks to go to give SJU a two-point edge, 18-16, after the opening 10:00.
• Columbia responded with its best shooting quarter of the night, as the Lions went 8-of-17 from the field compared to the Hawks' 6-of-15 (lowest quarter of the night), to take a 32-30 edge into the halftime break.
• Roig tied it up, 32-32, on a jumper at the 9:47 mark of the third quarter, and from that point, it was all about the Crimson and Gray; four consecutive lay-ups by Melia (8:46, 8:13), Roig (7:40), and Mayock (7:16) gave SJU a four-point lead, 40-36, and after a trio of scoring plays by Roig, Melia capped SJU's run with her first collegiate three-pointer (3:53) to put the Hawks up by seven, 49-42. Sophomore guard Katie Jekot added a three with 1:39 to go to send the Hawks into the fourth up 54-46.
• The Hawks opened the fourth quarter on a 13-0 run, with nine of those points coming from Melia, to jump out to a commanding 67-48 advantage with 4:24 to play. From that point, the Lions couldn't close in by more than 14 as SJU held Columbia to just nine points in the final 4:04. 

Behind the Boxscore
• Each team scored 38 points in the paint, but the Hawks took advantage of five fast-break plays while holding the Lions without a fast-break opportunity.
• For the game, the Hawks shot 51.9 percent from the field (27-of-52) and 66.7 percent from the stripe (14-of-21) and held the Lions to just one three-pointer in 12 total attempts (8.3 percent).
• Melia scored her game-high 23 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, a pair of three-pointers, and a near-perfect 7-of-8 shooting from the stripe. The rookie out of Ireland added a game-high four helpers, three rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 31 minutes of action.
• In addition to her game-high nine rebounds, Smalls added six points and two blocks in just 17 minutes in her collegiate debut.
• Sophomore guard Devyne Newman saw a career-high 25 minutes off the bench, going for a career-high four points in that span.
• Freshman forward Imogen Ayliffe was unavailable for the game.

Postgame Thoughts
"It feels fantastic," beamed head coach Cindy Griffin following the season-opening road victory. "Our kids were very calm, confident, and composed. I can't say enough about our three guards, the upperclassmen, Lula [Roig], KJ [Katie Jekot], and Mary [Sheehan]. What a calming presence. You could tell that they had experience in this type of game, and of course [Katie] Mayock, as well. And you can't say enough about Claire [Melia]. How efficient were she, Mayock, and Gabby [Smalls]? They were just pounding the ball inside. We knew we had an advantage that way, and we took advantage of that. We got them in a little bit of foul trouble and got them on their heels a little bit. It was nice to see. They're a very well-coached team, but we were able to keep putting the pedal on the acceleration.

"Lula played fantastic today. She had three really good practices leading up to this game, and she has been really composed at practice and understanding what we want and keeping things more simple. Her speed is tremendous, and she did a really good job of slowing down their transition offense. I'm really proud of her. She's worked really hard."

"We won as a team, and now we move on to the next game," added Melia following her impressive debut. "I don't care about the points. I just went out there and enjoyed myself. Moving into Monday's game, we just have to remember the feeling of winning today."

Up Next
Saint Joseph's hosts Temple (1-0) in the Hawks' 2019-20 home opener this Monday, November 11. Opening tip is set for 7:00 p.m. at Hagan Arena. The Owls are set to play Duquesne at home on Friday before heading over to Hawk Hill for Monday's Big 5 contest.