Eagles Hold Off Mids in League Title Game
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- American was 9-10 from the free throw line in the last minute of play to help the Eagles stave off a rally by the Navy women's basketball team and defeat the Mids, 58-49, Sunday at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C., in the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament.
American (26-6), which won the regular season in the Patriot League, receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament with the victory. Navy (25-7), which placed third in the league this year, will learn if it receives an at-large bid into the WNIT late Monday night. The Mids, who lost in the title game a year ago, won a 2017 WNIT first-round game.
"Not the way we wanted it to end, that's for sure," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper, who has guided the Mids to five title game appearances in the last eight seasons. "A lot of credit to American. They did a nice job defensively on us, bottling us up and clogging lanes. We just weren't able to get the kind of daylight we needed offensively. But having said all of that, it was a three-point game with a minute to go and we had a good look. I am impressed with our team in that situation we were right there."
Navy, and specifically Taylor Dunham (Sr., Fort Belvoir, Va.), had a great start to the game as the Mids jumped out to an early 9-2 lead. Dunham accounted for all nine of those points. The Mids would take nine-point cushions at both 12-3 and 14-5 before ending the first frame with a 14-8 lead.
The lead would become 16-8, but the Mids then went scoreless over the next four minutes. Navy's ensuing basket came with just over four minutes left in the half and allowed it to regain the lead at 18-17. The Mids soon built a 24-20 lead and went into the locker room with a 24-23 lead.
Navy entered the game with a 24-1 record this year when leading at the half.
Kaila Clark (So., Hughesville, Md.) hit back-to-back jumpers at the start of the third quarter to give Navy leads of 26-23 and 28-26. Her latter basket came one minute into the third stanza, but her bucket would account for the final points for the Mids for the next six-plus minutes. The Eagles ran off 11 points in between Navy hoops to take a 37-28 lead. American would go on to hold a 39-31 lead with 9:32 left in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't come out in the third quarter as strong as we wanted to," said Hannah Fenske (Sr., Albuquerque, N.M.). "They went on a little run and we weren't able to hit shots when we needed to."
Navy whittled the margin down to four points at 39-35 and 41-37 before cutting it down to three points at 45-42 on a free throw by Fenske with just under four minutes remaining.
The teams traded baskets (47-44), then a Fenske jumper winnowed the deficit down to one point at 47-46 with 1:28 still to play. American's Maria Liddane made two free throws on the other end of the floor (49-46, 1:12 left), then neither team scored ¬¬-- Navy had three missed shots on two possessions; American had a turnover in between on Fenske's eighth steal of the game -- until Cecily Carl made one of two free throw attempts for the Eagles to make the score 50-46 with 36 seconds remaining.
American was 8-8 from the foul line over the rest of the game, and Navy's lone remaining basket came on a three-point field goal on the last possession of the game.
"Credit to them (American)," said Fenske. "They made some big plays. We really wanted it but fell a little short."
"They made some plays and we didn't," said Dunham. "To win a championship you have to make big plays. It hurts that we came up a little short. Good luck to American. They are a really good team."
"We didn't have the same kind of freedom (to shoot) that we did in the quarterfinals and semifinals," said Pemper. "It became kind of a fistfight. We needed a little more transition in this game. We were hoping our zone would help with that. That hurt us.
"A lot of compliments to them (American) and we wish them well."
Navy made more field goals than American did, 19-17, but the Eagles were plus two in triples, 6-4, and were 18-21 from the foul line in contrast to the 7-11 effort from the charity stripe by the Mids. Navy, which led the Patriot League and was ranked among the nation's leaders with an average of nearly eight three-point field goals made a game, went over 33 minutes in between three-pointers made today.
American held a slim lead on the glass, 38-36, and Navy forced 19 turnovers -- 12 were steals by the Mids -- while committing 18 turnovers of its own.
Dunham scored a Navy-best 14 points and a team-high three assists, Clark had 11 rebounds and four blocks, and Bianca Roach (Jr., Virginia Beach, Va.) totaled nine points.
Dunham and Fenske were both named to the all-tournament team.
"I can't say enough about our two seniors (Dunham and Fenske), and even our third senior Maggie Phillips (Sr., Leesburg, Va.)," said Pemper. "These two, I don't think anyone wanted it more today. They tried everything. Just super proud of them. Sad we couldn't pull it out for them to get to go to the NCAA Tournament.