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WORCESTER, Mass. -- Longtime Holy Cross women's basketball coach Bill Gibbons resumed his duties Wednesday night, almost three months after stepping aside while the college reviewed allegations of abuse brought against him by a former player.
The crowd, which included a number of Holy Cross basketball alumnae and family members and friends of Gibbons, stood and cheered for him as he entered the Hart Center and headed toward the home bench for the Crusaders' Patriot League game against Army.
"The ovation I received when I came in really touched me," Gibbons said. "I'm thrilled to be back and looking forward to moving forward with this team."
The Crusaders fell 70-57 to Army, which was led by Kelsey Minato's 23 points.
Gibbons had been on a paid administrative leave since Oct. 17, the day after former Holy Cross guard Ashley Cooper filed a civil suit against him, alleging that he physically and verbally abused her. Gibbons was reinstated to the position he's held for 29 years Tuesday.
"After a thorough review, the College has concluded that there is no reason for Coach Gibbons' continued absence from the team," Holy Cross spokesperson Ellen Ryder said. "The College believes the lawsuit's allegations have no legal merit."
Some fans wore buttons that said, "We Support Coach Gibbons," another waved a sign that said, "Welcome Back Coach Gibbons."
"I can't say enough about the support," Gibbons said. "Your family, your friends and your faith get you through, and that's what got me through."
During Gibbons' absence, associate head coach Ann McInerney guided the Crusaders to a record of 11-4. McInerney continued to handle most of the in-game coaching Wednesday night, with Gibbons offering input and encouragement and taking notes.
"It was very good to have him back," Holy Cross senior guard Alex Smith said. "It was great. We're taking it in stride and he's coming back seamlessly."
Gibbons will run Thursday's practice and return to his regular coaching role in Saturday's game at Lehigh. Gibbons watched all of Holy Cross' games online during his time away from the team.
In the last week, Holy Cross lost two starters to injuries -- senior guard Brisje Malone and junior center Emily Parker -- and the Crusaders missed them against Army. Holy Cross struggled from the floor, making just 35 percent of its attempts.
"Maybe the way to beat Army is to play them up and down, which we could do if we had the depth, if we had two more bodies," Gibbons said. "It's tough to play them in a halfcourt game because they're so disciplined. Hopefully the next time we play them we have all our bodies, but you have to give them credit."
Gibbons has the most victories in Holy Cross women's basketball program history, with a career record of 533-315. He has led the Crusaders to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Cooper's lawsuit, originally filed in New York State Supreme Court, was removed in November to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where it remains pending.
"While I feel confident that I will be fully vindicated, I cannot comment on the allegations in the lawsuit that has been filed against the College and me," Gibbons said in a statement on Tuesday.