By Todd Stanford
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Playing in its penultimate game of the season, Susquehanna was gunning for an upset of Juniata on Wednesday night at O.W. Houts Gym. And though the Crusaders kept it close for most of the game, they couldn't overcome a poor shooting night or the Eagles' deep bench.
Susquehanna shot just 28 percent from the floor and committed 27 turnovers as Juniata pulled away for a 61-47 victory in Landmark Conference play.
"There's one glaring stat on the stat sheet," Crusaders coach Jim Reed said. "They had 78 shots, and we had 64. And it was because we had 27 turnovers."
With the victory, the Eagles (17-7, 8-5 Landmark) clinched a playoff berth in next week's conference playoffs. The Crusaders (7-17, 2-11) will close out the year at home Saturday against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
Juniata -- which shot just 29.5 percent from the field for the night -- got a team-high 18 points from reserve guard Jordan Speck, who helped the Eagles bench outscore its SU counterparts 28-8.
"She shoots it from deep," Reed said of Speck. "It's a tough matchup. We don't really have anybody with size that can stay with her. ... She's a spot-up kid, so she finds the open spot and her teammates look for her."
Gina Palazzi had a game-high 20 points and 15 rebounds. Mariah Monahan added nine points and Shannon Grunwald had eight.
The Crusaders did a good job limiting the chances of Eagles forward Kate McDonald, who grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds but tallied just eight points. She entered the game as the fourth-leading scorer in the league.
"In both games, we did a good job against her," said Reed, who was also referring to last month's 70-60 loss at Juniata. "Palazzi is guarding her man-to-man out there. ... She's going to be first-team all-conference, so we did a really good job on her."
With Palazzi posting up inside and Monahan and Grunwald doing enough offensively to keep the Juniata defense honest, the Crusaders were able to scrape out a 28-27 halftime lead.
But the Eagles reclaimed the lead early in the second half and never relinquished it. The key moments came during a two-minute span midway through the second half when Juniata made three three-point plays during a four-possession span. When Speck made her free throw to finish the spurt with 8:38 to go, the Eagles had their biggest lead of the game to that point (48-41).
"Physically, they're stronger than we are," Reed said. "They were able to get some shots in situations where you wonder how they were able to get that to the rim."