ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- An 8-of-10 effort from outside of the three-point line in the first half sparked the Navy women's basketball team to a 29-point halftime lead over NJIT and an eventual 67-51 victory over the Highlanders Tuesday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
Navy (7-7) quickly scored the opening eight points of the game against NJIT (5-9). Jade Geif (So., Lakeville, Minn.) scored 14 seconds into the game then grabbed an errant shot by the Highlanders on the other end of the floor. After both teams missed shots on their ensuing possessions, Kara Pollinger (So., Fort Gay, W.Va.) recorded her second assist on as many Navy field goals when she fed Erin Edwards (Sr., Hockessin, Del.) for an open three-pointer that made the score 5-0. A short while later, Audrey Bauer (So., Lake Zurich, Ill.) drained a three-point field goal of her own to give the Mids the 8-0 lead a little more than three minutes into the game.
NJIT would get on the scoreboard on a jumper by Melanie Griffin with 15:06 showing on the clock, but Navy ran off the next 10 points to take an 18-2 advantage and soon built a 26-4 lead with 7:09 left to play in the first half. After NJIT narrowed the margin back under 20 points at 28-11, the Mids closed the first half on a 15-3 run that was capped by a three-point field goal by Chloe Stapleton (Fr., Cary, N.C.) as the halftime buzzer sounded.
"We really came out hungry and focused tonight," said Alix Membreno (So., Loxahatchee, Fla.).
"Our zone looked really good," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "NJIT seemed to be trying a new zone offense, and they weren't really fluid against it at the start. I think our zone gave us a lot of energy."
The 43 points was the most points scored by a Navy team in the first half of a game in the four seasons under head coach Stefanie Pemper, and the 29-point cushion at intermission was the fifth-highest halftime lead by any Navy team.
Navy shot a sizzling 57.7 percent (15-26) from the field in the first half, thanks in no small measure to its 8-of-10 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. Meanwhile, its defense limited NJIT to 1-of-9 (11.1%) shooting from three-point land and a 5-of-28 (17.9%) effort in all from the field.
As hot as the Navy offense was in the first half, it started the second half equally cold. The Mids misfired on their opening seven shots from the field while sinking just 2-of-8 attempts from the free throw line over same seven-minute time span. Membreno finally tallied Navy's initial two-point field goal of the second half with 12:15 left to play in the game. That jumper boosted the Navy lead back to 20 points at 47-27.
NJIT kept chipping away at the deficit and it soon reached 13 points -- 50-37 -- on an old-fashioned three-point play from Kimberly Dweck with 7:40 remaining in the game. The Mids missed a pair of shots and committed a shot clock violation on their next two trips down the floor, then Pollinger got free for back-to-back layups out of Navy's half court offense. Another missed shot by NJIT was followed by Membreno sinking a pair of free throws that gave Navy a 56-37 lead with 4:17 remaining in the game.
Denisa Domiterova drained back-to-back triples to again make it a 13-point game at 56-43 with 2:44 left to play. The Mids promptly scored on each of their next four possessions -- three-pointer by Membreno, three-pointer by Pollinger, three-pointer by Membreno, jumper by Bauer -- to boost the margin back up to 20 points at 67-47 with just under one minute showing on the clock.
Navy shot 32.8 percent (8-25) from the field in the second half and was just 5-of-12 (41.7%) from the foul line over the final 20 minutes of play. Conversely, NJIT connected on 48.3 percent (14-29) of its field goal attempts and made 6-of-7 (85.7%) shots from the charity stripe during the second half.
"We really needed this win," said Pemper. "To have the start to the game that we did and then still win by a comfortable margin was great. We could have played better in the second half, but you have to give NJIT some of the credit for that."
Membreno, who had scored a total of 23 points over Navy's last four games, set a new career high tonight with a 24-point outburst. The guard drained 4-of-5 three-point attempts and was 7-of-13 in all from the field. She also added a Navy-best eight rebounds in 34 minutes of playing time.
"Alix was so inspirational," said Pemper. "She was feeling a little under the weather tonight, but to hit the three-pointers that she did, play with confidence, work hard on defense, communicate the way she did ... I am super happy with her as is the team."
Also having strong statistical games were Pollinger and Bauer. Pollinger put together an effective night of 12 points, 7 rebounds and a carerer-high 7 assists, while Bauer sank three of her four three-point field goal attempts on her way to posting 11 points, 4 caroms and 2 assists.
"Kara once again had a really solid game," said Pemper.
NJIT was led by Rayven Johnson, who scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. She totaled 11 of her points and 8 of her rebounds during the second half.
Navy will open its Patriot League season Saturday at Lafayette. The 3 p.m. game can be heard live locally on WNAV-AM 1430, while Navy All-Access subscribers can view a video stream of the game.