Women’s Basketball Edged in Overtime Title Tilt
LEWISBURG, Pa. –– In a game played by both teams to the level befitting what was at stake, 40 minutes was not enough to settle the championship game of the Patriot League Tournament Sunday at Sojka Pavilion in Lewisburg, Pa. After an additional five minutes of play, top-seeded Bucknell (27-5) had defeated the second-seeded Navy (23-9) women’s basketball team by the score of 79-71.
The result of just the second overtime championship game in Patriot League Tournament history (1997) advanced the Bison to the NCAA Tournament and the Mids to the WNIT. The field for the WNIT will be announced at around 9 p.m. EDT Monday night, with the brackets announced later that evening between 11:30 p.m. and midnight.
Navy will be competing in its second WNIT and first since 2014, as well as in the program’s fifth post-season tournament (NCAA Tournament in 2011, ’12 and ’13).
“We are definitely heartbroken,” said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. “Just really believed in ourselves, (were) so proud of the year we were having and what was possible today against a really good team that is well coached, and playing (the game) in a great environment.
Navy, which lost a pair of games to Bucknell during the regular season by a total of 12 points (three points in the game played at Bucknell), opened the game on a 10-0 run and soon built a 15-4 lead less than five minutes into the contest. Freshman Kaila Clark (Hughesville, Md.) epitomized the lack of nerves displayed by the Mids as she scored on a jumper just 25 seconds into the game and then drained a triple 40 seconds later on Navy’s second time down the floor.
“Kaila made some shots” said Pemper, “and we were off and running. We knew Bucknell would make their own run. We had a good game plan and came out fearless, sharing the ball and with confidence.”
The Bison soon settled down on offense and closed to within 19-16 at the end of the first quarter.
The opening 10 minutes set the stage for how the offenses for the respective teams would be run for the remainder of the game. Navy was 4-6 (66.7%) from three-point land in the stanza while the Bison scored 10 of their 16 point in the paint.
Bucknell took its first lead of the game at 22-19 and eventually held a 29-27 lead when Hannah Fenske (Jr., Albuquerque, N.M.) drilled a three-point field goal to give Navy a 30-29 lead. That trey ignited a 10-2 spurt by the Mids that was capped by a triple from Bianca Roach (So., Virginia Beach, Va.) and ended with them in front, 37-31. Navy would go into halftime with a 37-33 lead.
Navy had drained eight three-point shots on 11 attempts (72.7%) in the first half, with five different players sinking at least one attempt from beyond the arc.
After trailing by four points through 20 minutes of play, Bucknell would flip the scoreboard and hold a four-point lead –– 54-50 –– at the end of 10 more minutes of the contest. The score was tied twice and the lead changed hands three times in the stanza.
The Bison soon took their largest lead of the game to that point at 59-52, but back came the Mids with an 11-1 run to regain the advantage at 63-60 with 5:25 remaining on the clock. The Navy lead would be 64-63 with 2:35 left when Bucknell tied it with a free throw attempt. Neither team scored for over a minute until Claire DeBoer made one of two free throw attempts to give the Bison a 65-64 lead with 1:19 left.
A Navy missed shot was followed by a Bison turnover, then a missed triple by the Mids and a Bucknell block on a shot from inside of the paint after Navy grabbed the offensive board following the missed trey led to a Navy foul with 13.2 seconds left. Bucknell’s Kaitlyn Slagus walked to the other end of the court and calmly sank a pair of free throws to give the Bison a 67-64 advantage. Navy called timeout after the second conversion to advance the ball to the other end of the court.
Ashanti Kennedy (Sr., Virginia Beach, Va.) subbed into the game during the stoppage in play, and once the ball was inbounded it made its way into her hands on the left side of the court above the free throw line and outside of the three-point line. She calmly turned and fired and the ball went straight through the net for to tie the game with 7.5 seconds remaining.
“The original play was to run it to Taylor Dunham,” (Jr., Fort Belvoir, Va.) said Kennedy of her three-point shot. “My man and her man tried to double team her. I just put it up.”
“It was neat to have a different player do it,” said Pemper of Kennedy’s triple. “I adore and respect Ashanti so I was happy for her and really happy for our team. We just had life. It was really, really special.”
Bucknell now called timeout, but Navy played great defense once the Bison inbounded it and the Mids didn’t allow a shot to be attempted, thereby sending the game into an extra session.
Whereas Navy started the game hot and Bucknell was cold, the roles were reversed at the beginning of overtime. The Bison made two of their first three attempts from the field while the Mids were 0-4, which allowed Bucknell to take a 72-67 advantage at the midpoint of the bonus frame of basketball. Navy was able to winnow the margin down to 74-71 with 1:35 left on a Fenske triple, but a layup followed by 3-4 shooting from the foul line by Bucknell allowed them to secure the victory.
“We just couldn’t get enough stops there at the end and it took a great effort by a good player in DeBoer to beat us,” said Pemper. “I’m just super proud of our team and their fight. I thought maybe we would have to play our best game of the year to win. I don’t know that we played better all year than we did today. It wasn’t good enough, but we played well. We played like a team, we competed, we defended, we made smart plays; feel like a really great effort.”
Navy ended the game connecting on 14-28 three-point attempts, was 11-41 (26.8%) in two-point attempts and converted 7-11 (63.6%) of its free throw attempts. Bucknell on the other hand was 8-20 (40%) from the three-point line, 18-32 (56.3%) on two-point attempts and 19-26 (73.1%) from the charity stripe.
The Bison also held a 40-32 advantage on the glass, but the Mids held a 14-10 edge in offensive boards and a 12-8 lead in second-chance points scored. Navy forced 14 turnovers and committed nine of its own, which gave the Mids a 14-8 advantage in points scored off turnovers.
Navy advanced to Sunday’s title game by virtue of its 54-53 victory over Army West Point Friday evening in the semifinal round. Scoring the final points of the game was Sarita Condie (Sr., Lovelock, Nev.) on a three-point shot with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. That triple gave her a 5-5 night from three-point land against the Black Knights.
Condie continued that torrid shooting in today’s game as she was 4-5 in three-point attempts in scoring a team-best 16 points. That effort earned her placement onto the all-tournament team, as well as boosted her to the Navy record for the most career three-point field goals in league tournament games (20).
“Most of the season is all positives,” said Condie on her reflections on the season. “We didn’t get the outcome today we wanted. But the effort we had all season on and off the court was incomparable to any other team I have been on. And we’re really excited that we get to keep playing together in the WNIT.
“It was definitely not from a lack of effort (the outcome today). They (Bucknell) had quite a few different players step up at big moments and made a couple of bigger plays that we did.”
Joining her in double figures was Dunham with 14 points, while Clark, Roach and Fenske each chipped in nine points. The 5-4 Dunham added six rebounds, four assists and three steals. Clark also had six caroms, as did Justice Swett (Sr., Nashville, Tenn.) who additionally contributed six assists and three steals. “We said it in the circle a minute ago,” said Pemper. “They (the senior trio of Condie, Kennedy and Swett) brought a standard, they got a bar back. At the start of the year they came up with an expression, ‘all the way up,’ and they just really personified that. It came from them. It is a really special group, for sure. They put so much into it. On the court, off the court, relationships … these kids are really close and they really do play for each other. It’s a reflection of them. I wish Justice was here with us (in the press conference) as well, because she is a terrific young woman and a helluva competitor. It has been a really special year, a special class.”
DeBoer tallied 30 points and 10 rebounds for Bucknell.