ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy women's basketball team was held without a field goal for the last six minutes of the game, but an 8 of 14 effort from the foul line along with a stifling defense down the stretch allowed the Midshipmen to hang on and post a 57-48 victory over East Carolina Friday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
The win, Navy's fifth in its last six games, moved the Mids into the championship game of the Navy Classic. The Mids will play host to High Point Saturday at 6 p.m. in the title tilt. The Panthers moved into the final with an 81-74 victory over Monmouth in Friday's first game of the day. The Pirates and the Hawks will meet Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the consolation game of the two-day event.
"It was tough out there," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "It was really good team defense. I think the players knew the scouting report real well. I thought we had really good help side defense. I think we just really wanted this game. We have displayed a lot of pride this year on our home court, and I think we showed that tonight. Beating East Carolina is a real good win for us."
The first half between the Mids (5-3) and the Pirates (5-2) was slow going offensively for both teams. The score was tied four times and the lead changed hands on seven occasions. The largest lead by either team was four points before Navy went into halftime clinging to a 20-18 lead.
Navy held the two-point advantage thanks to connecting on 38.1 percent of its field goal attempts, which included just a 1 of 5 effort from three-point range, and limiting East Carolina to a shooting mark of 27.6 percent from the floor. The Pirates were not much better than the Mids were from three-point range as they connected on just 2 of 12 shots from outside of the arc. What did help Navy was its 3 of 6 shooting from the foul line, while East Carolina did not attempt a foul shot in the first 20 minutes of play.
Individually, Jade Geif (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.) scored nine points for the Mids and Alix Membreno (Jr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) contributed seven points. The duo was a combined 6 of 13 from the floor in the half, while the remaining Mids were a combined 2 of 8.
Membreno first missed, then drilled a three-point field goal on Navy's opening possession of the second half to give the Mids a 23-18 lead. That lead quickly evaporated, as the Pirates were able to tie the score at 23-23. Membreno would next score on a layup, Geif would tally a steal and then Membreno assisted on a Geif jumper. Geif recorded another steal and that led to a layup by Erin Meador (So., Clifton, Va.) that pushed the Navy lead out to 29-23 and resulted in East Carolina calling timeout.
After the break in the action, Meador snared a defensive rebound to end the ensuing ECU trip down the floor, which was followed by Membreno assisting on a three-point field goal by Audrey Bauer (Jr., Lake Zurich, Ill.) to cap a 9-0 Navy run that expanded the advantage for the Mids out to 32-23 with 16:03 showing on the clock.
The Navy cushion would rise to as many as 10 points at both 36-26 and 43-33 before the Pirates sliced it down to four points at 43-39 with just over eight minutes left on the clock. The Mids immediately turned to Membreno and she scored off of a pass from Meador to make it a six-point game. Nearly 20 seconds later, it was back to a four-point game after a basket by ECU's Brittny Edwards.
Neither team scored on their next respective possession, then Geif was sent to the foul line on Navy's next trip down the floor. She converted both attempts from the charity stripe to give Navy a 47-41 lead with 6:14 left to play. After a turnover by the Pirates, Membreno scored on a layup -- for what would prove to be Navy's last basket of the game -- to make the score 49-41 in favor of the Mids with 5:52 remaining in the game.
Navy would struggle slightly from the field and the foul line over the next several minutes (0-3 from the floor, 2 of 6 from the foul line, 3 turnovers), but so too did ECU. The Navy defense allowed the Pirates to make just one of their next seven field goal attempts (plus one turnover), with Navy grabbing caroms on all six of the errant attempts. That allowed Navy to maintain a 51-45 lead with 49.6 seconds left to play.
The Pirates tallied a field goal on their next possession to make it a 51-47 game with 42.7 seconds remaining. ECU quickly fouled Geif, who walked to the other end of the court and made both free throw attempts to extend the Navy lead out to six points. Membreno notched her fifth steal of the game to end ECU's next opportunity with the ball, then Geif was sent back to the foul line with 31.6 seconds remaining. A 1-of-2 effort from the charity stripe made it a three possession game. Membreno again tallied a steal on the ensuing trip down the floor by the Pirates, and it again led to Geif being fouled. She would again make 1 of her 2 attempts to make the score 55-47 with just 16.5 seconds left in the game. ECU's Kyani White made 1 of 2 free throw attempts, then Rebecca Richmond (Fr., Superior, Colo.) closed out the scoring by making a pair of free throw attempts with eight seconds left in the game.
"What we learned from our UC Davis game (a 66-63 overtime loss by the Mids after Navy held a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left in regulation) was closing games," said Membreno. "Teams are always going to want to make a late run. We had really good focus tonight and were hungry for a win. We were tired, but we wanted the win."
"Our kids were really focused and wanted to represent well here at home," said Pemper.
Navy would end the game making just 3 of 15 three-point attempts. This is after the Mids had been averaging 21 attempts from outside of the arc a game this season and had made at least seven triples in each of the last five games. Navy compensated for the outside struggles by making 53.3 percent of its two-point attempts on the night, which led to an overall shooting mark of 42.2 percent.
East Carolina shot 46.2 percent from the floor in the second half, but the Pirates missed six of their last eight shots of the game to end the contest with an overall shooting percentage of 36.4 percent. That included just a 3 of 18 effort from the three-point line. The Pirates entered the game averaging 70.2 points per game and sinking 39.1 percent of their shots from the field.
With Geif and Membreno getting into the lane -- Navy outscored East Carolina 28-16 in points in the paint -- the Mids enjoyed a big advantage at the foul line. Navy was 16 of 27 from the charity stripe while the Pirates were 5 of 8.
Additionally, Navy turned the ball over fewer times than East Carolina did in the game, 17-18. The Pirates had been turning the ball over an average of 17 times a game and forcing their foes into 27 turnovers a game. Equally important, Navy tallied 11 points after the turnovers it forced and allowed the Pirates to tally just 11 points of the miscues with the ball by the Mids.
Geif posted a double-double for the fourth time in the last five games -- with a 15-point, 9-carom performance in the lone other game - and she led the Mids with 19 points and 11 rebounds. She was 5 of 9 from the floor, made 9 of 14 free throw attempts, blocked two shots and tallied three steals in 40 minutes of playing time. Membreno also had a strong night as she tallied 19 points, three rebounds, two assists and six steals.
"I thought Jade, Audrey and Kara Pollinger (Jr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) were our inspiration in the first half," said Pemper, "and then Alix really got going in the second half. That gave us four people playing real well. Alix had a lot of loose balls there at the end, a lot of deflections and steals. We beat a team without making a lot of three-point shots, or even taking a lot. We went inside to Jade a lot and down the stretch she hit some free throws."
"It is really nice to get the ball inside to Jade," said Membreno. "She works so hard inside and it is nice to have her as an option."
Pollinger made just two field goals and was did not made three-point field goal to end a stretch where she had made at least three triples in five consecutive games. However, she was the key ball-handler against the East Carolina full court press. Despite constantly being under duress, she committed just one turnover while dishing out six assists and scoring seven points.
"We've had games this year where we have turned the ball over a lot, and Kara herself has done that," said Pemper. "East Carolina wants that to happen, so that was a big storyline coming into the game. We attacked tonight. Once you get past that initial line of defense, if you will, we were able to get it into the paint quite a bit. We didn't always finish, but we were able to turn corners on ball screens and get behind their defense in ways we haven't done this year."
"We worked hard in practice, knowing East Carolina is so athletic," said Membreno. "We worked on getting the ball up the floor, making the quick passes. Kara has done a great job running the point for us all year, and that was a big key tonight."
East Carolina's Britny Edwards also posted a double-double in the game. She would lead the Pirates with both 14 points and 11 rebounds.
A video stream of both games of the Navy Classic on Saturday will be available to Navy All-Access subscribers. Additionally, free live statistics of both games can be found at NavySports.com.