Defense Leads to Offense to Spark Navy Victory
ANNAPOLIS, Md. –– Navy, the highest scoring team in the Patriot League (67.5 ppg), turned up its defense at the start of the fourth quarter to spark the Mids to a 53-37 victory over Lafayette Monday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis, Md., in the quarterfinal round of the league tournament.
Navy, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, improved its record to 22-8 on the season with the win and advanced to the semifinal round of the event Friday at Bucknell. Lafayette, the tournament’s No. 10 seed which lost to Navy by the score of 68-65 just a few weeks ago, saw its season come to a close with a 4-28 record.
The Mids will face No. 3 seed Army West Point Friday at Sojka Pavilion on the Bucknell campus in Lewisburg, Pa., in one of the two semifinal round games. The other game will feature tournament-host and No. 1 seed Bucknell against fourth-seeded American. The two winners will then meet Sunday at 11 a.m. in the championship game, with the winner receiving the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Neither team shot the ball well in the first half as the Mids and the Leopards were a combined 6-33 (18.2%) from the field including a 1-10 (10%) effort from three-point range. The opening frame ended with Navy in front, 9-7. The second quarter was slightly better for the Mids as they were 5-21 (23.85) from the field and limited the Leopards to 3-13 (23.1%) shooting. Navy went into halftime holding a 20-14 lead.
The 20 points scored by the Mids tied the mark for their fewest in the first half this season, but the 14 points allowed to Lafayette was the fewest Navy had surrendered in the first half this year.
“Credit to Lafayette,” said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. “They obviously defended us really well and kind of sped us up. They were formidable as we thought they would be.
“We prepared so hard for Lafayette. We respect them and how they have continued to get better, especially since they have settled on a lineup. I can’t tell you (enough) that we had the right mindset coming into this game. But there was just a lid on the rim for us.”
Lafayette opened the third quarter on runs of 8-3 and 14-5 to take a 28-25 lead with three minutes remaining in the stanza before taking a 28-27 lead into the final 10 minutes of the game.
The Leopards opened the scoring in the final frame with a jumper by Harriett Ottewill-Soulsby just 10 seconds in. It took 90 seconds for Navy to score the next points, which it did when Justice Swett (Sr., Nashville, Tenn.) connected on a jumper to make the score 30-29 in favor of the visitors. Those would be the first points of an 8-3 spurt by the Mids in a span of 90 seconds that gave them a 35-33 lead with seven minutes left on the clock.
After the basket by Swett.Taylor Dunham (Jr., Fort Belvoir, Va.) promptly stole the ball on a mid-court trap and though she missed the layup Molly Sanders (So., Ames, Iowa), who teamed with Dunham for the trap, was there for the offensive carom and putback (31-30). Lafayette answered with a triple by Ashley Lutz (33-31), but 15 seconds later Dunham tied the game after weaving her way through the lane for a layup.
Swett and Sanders teamed up for another trap and steal, and this time Swett fed Sanders for a short jumper to give Navy the 35-33 advantage. Lafayette missed a shot on its next offensive possession, with Sarita Condie (Sr., Lovelock, Nev.) scoring on a layup on the other end to make the score 37-33 and lead to a Lafayette timeout. The Leopards gave the ball back to the Mids after the break when Olivia Gumbs committed an offensive foul. That was followed by Ashanti Kennedy (Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) sinking a jumper for the Mids to give them a 39-33 lead with 5:41 remaining and baskets on six-straight possessions.
Neither team scored again until another steal by Condie led to Kennedy scoring on a layup with 4:37 left (41-33), then Kennedy hit a jumper with 3:26 showing on the clock that pushed Navy’s lead out to 43-33 and capped a 12-0 and 16-3 run.
The Mids would lead by at least eight points over the remainder of the game.
Navy was 11-50 (22%) from the field and scored 27 points through three quarters before connecting on 10-18 (55.6%) shots to score 26 points in the fourth quarter. Defensively, Lafayette was held to just 3-12 (25%) shooting from the floor and forced into seven turnovers in the fourth quarter. Navy turned those seven turnovers into 11 of their 26 points.
“Going into the fourth quarter we just talked about the will to win,” said Kennedy.
“I can’t explain how we scored 27 points through three quarters and 26 in the fourth,” said Pemper. “Taylor was involved, Molly was involved, Ashanti was involved (in Navy’s defensive effort in the final quarter). I know (we had) a couple of steals. And our six-point lead felt like a 10-point lead.”
The Mids, who time after time throughout the night generated open shots and other good looks at the basket, ended the game shooting just 30.9 percent from the field. This included season lows for both three-point field goals made (3) and three-point field goal percentage (14.3%). Navy entered the game ranked 21st nationally in three-point field goals made a game (8.2) and 32nd in three-point field goal percentage (35.7%).
Navy limited the Leopards to 24.6 percent shooting from the floor in the game. The 37 points scored by Lafayette is the second-lowest point total allowed by the Mids in a league tournament game in school history (36, Colgate, 2011).
“We had a very specific plan to defender their bigs, and I think we did it pretty well,” said Swett of Navy’s defensive effort.
Navy’s bench had a huge night as it accounted for 11 of the team’s 26 fourth quarter points and outscored the Lafayette reserves in the game, 22-7.
The Mids turned the ball over just six times on the night while forcing the Leopards into 19 turnovers. Navy led Lafayette 17-3 in points scored after turnovers.
Lafayette held a 49-45 advantage on the glass, but this included a miniscule 17-16 edge in offensive rebounds. However, the Mids were far more productive with their opportunities as they scored 17 second chance points and allowed just six such points to Lafayette.
Swett was the lone player on either team to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, and her 5-10 night placed her right at that mark. She tallied a Navy-best 11 points while snaring a team-high and career-best 14 rebounds.
“The first three quarters were a little tough,” said Swett, “but we picked it up in the fourth and had the mindset we would figure it out in the end.
“I think we just knew it was time to go. In our last huddle we said it is winning time right now, we can’t play around anymore, we have to go. Ashanti picked it up, Molly picked it up, Laurel Jaunich (Fr., Charlotte, N.H.) picked it up and the rest of us followed.”
Condie and Kennedy each scored nine points, while Dunham and Bianca Roach (So., Virginia Beach, Va.) each had seven. Additionally, Condie had six caroms, Sanders grabbed four boards and Kennedy ended the night with three rebounds.
“I think Molly was the difference in the game,” said Pemper. “She just came in and it was like the environment changed to where we like it to be more; keeping our heads up, moving the ball, finding the open person. Justice was a big difference in the game too.”
Lutz grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds for the Leopards, which left her one carom shy of tying both the Alumni Hall and Patriot League Tournament record of 20. Ottewill-Soulsby led Lafayette with 12 points.
Navy will be making its eighth appearance in the semifinal round of the event in the last nine years, which is the most by any team in the league during this time (American ranks second with six appearances). The Mids had reached the semifinal round just seven times in their first 17 years in the league prior to the arrival of Pemper.
Navy last faced Army West Point in the tournament in 2001.