ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- After first digging a 13-point deficit for itself in the opening minutes of the game and then taking a nine-point second-half advantage, the Navy women's basketball team hung on down the stretch for a 69-64 victory over William & Mary Tuesday night at Alumni Hall in Annapolis.
The game could not have started off poorer for the Mids (6-4). The Tribe (2-5) scored on each of their opening four possessions to quickly take a 9-0 lead over Navy. The William & Mary advantage soon grew to as many as 13 points at both 15-2 and 17-4, with the latter score coming at the 13:33 mark of the first half.
"I think we faced a lot of adversity, when you think of our last game (a 63-47 loss to High Point Saturday in the championship game of the Navy Classic), played on this court, in such a disappointing loss, and then to get down so big to a team we are very familiar with in William & Mary, unlike High Point," said Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper. "They were really hot to start the game.
"I thought we just really wanted it. Tonight we battled back. I wasn't going to call timeout at the start. Tonight was maybe the first or second time this season we have been down pretty big, but I wanted to wait for the first media timeout and just show some confidence in the team and it worked, thank goodness."
It would be a 12-point game at 20-8 when M.L. Morrison (Jr., Southlake, Texas) scored on a layup to make it a 10-point margin. One minute later, Chloe Stapleton (So., Cary, N.C.) made her presence felt. Appearing in her first game of the season, Stapleton drilled a three-point field goal to make the score 20-13. Taylor Hilton followed with a trey of her own to take the William & Mary lead back to 10 points, but then Stapleton answered immediately with a three-point field goal, recorded a steal, hit another triple, stole the ball again and scored on a layup. Her latter bucket that gave her 11 points in a total of four possessions in a span of 1:46 -- which was more than her previous career high for a full game of 10 points -- pulled Navy to within two points of the Tribe at 23-21 with 8:48 left to play in the half.
William & Mary soon took a five-point lead at 28-23, but an 8-1 run by Navy -- with Jade Geif (Jr., Lakeville, Minn.) scoring the last five and seven points in all -- gave the Mids a 31-29 lead with just over four minutes left to play before halftime. The lead would change hands three more times as the Tribe built a 37-34 lead with 93 seconds left on the clock. A jumper by Sam Himlin (So., Forty Fort, Pa.) pulled Navy to within one point, then a pair of free throws by Kara Pollinger (Jr., Fort Gay, W.Va.) with 2.2 seconds left before the break gave Navy a 38-37 advantage.
Navy started the half by misfiring on 10 of its first 12 (16.7%) shots of the evening, but converted 11 of its remaining 25 (44.0%) attempts from the floor before halftime. Conversely, William & Mary began the game by sinking 8 of its opening 13 (61.5%) field goal attempts only to convert on just 43.8% (7-16) of its remaining shots over the rest of the frame.
"I really think Kara's running layup against their zone to break the ice for our first points, and us then just hitting a couple of three pointers got us going," said Pemper. "Three pointers are such emotional shots. They can be emotional for the team that hits them and emotional for the team that gets them scored on. I just think Kara's layup, everyone exhaling, I think there also was a timeout in there, then Chloe hitting some threes and that got everyone really excited. Plus there was so much of the game left. Their biggest lead was 13, and that's something we can come back from."
Doing most of the damage to the Mids for William & Mary was Emily Correal, who was 7 of 8 from the field and scored 16 first-half points.
Stapleton would end the half with four three-point field goals and 14 points.
"We were getting good looks in the first half," said Stapleton, "but we just weren't hitting. In the first timeout we got together and said we needed to pick it up, start hitting our shots, be confident in our shots and know it was going in when we shot it."
The Navy offense was anything but sluggish at the start of the second half as the Mids scored on five of the first-seven times they had the ball, but that only allowed them to build a 50-45 advantage as the Tribe also had their offense clicking. Navy would take its largest lead of the game when Stapleton connected on another three-point field goal to give the Mids a 55-46 lead with 13:55 left to play.
Both offense slowed down considerably over the ensuing minutes. The Navy lead was cut down to four points (55-51, 10:34) and grew to seven points (58-51, 8:28) on Stapleton's sixth triple of the game before Pollinger grabbed a defensive rebound on one end of the court and proceeded to go coast-to-coast with the ball and score on a layup that again gave Navy a seven-point lead at 60-53 with 6:43 left to play.
William & Mary used the long ball to quickly climb back into the game. Consecutive three pointers by Brooke Stewart and Correal made it a one-point game with just under five minutes left to play. Geif would be fouled on Navy's ensuing possession and her two free throws gave Navy a 62-59 lead. That advantage lasted exactly one minute as Janine Aldridge made another triple for the Tribe to tie the score at 62-62 with 3:31 showing on the clock.
The Mids regained the lead on their next possession when Alix Membreno (Jr., Loxahatchee, Fla.) connected on a three-point field goal. A missed attempt by the Tribe was gathered in by Pollinger, then Membreno darted through the William & Mary halfcourt defense to score on a layup that gave the Mids a 67-62 lead with 2:38 left to play.
William & Mary settled into its offense on its next trip down the floor only to see Erin Meador (So., Clifton, Va.) get her hands onto a pass that had just been received by Taylor Hinton and force a jump ball. The possession arrow was pointing in Navy's direction to end the possession for the Tribe with 2:16 left to play. Membreno would miss a three-point attempt for the Mids, but she then stole the ball seven seconds later to give it back to Navy with just over 100 seconds remaining in the game.
Missed shots by Navy, then William & Mary and Navy again brought the clock down to under 40 seconds left to play when the Tribe brought the ball over halfcourt. Correal would miss a shot for William & Mary, but teammate Jaclyn McKenna grabbed the errant carom and scored on a putback to make it a three-point Navy lead (67-64) with 18.1 seconds left to play.
Forced to foul, the Tribe sent Membreno to the charity stripe for a one-and-one situation. She would miss the front end of the bonus and Taylor Hilton grabbed the ball for the Tribe. Membreno made up for her errant shot seven seconds later by again stealing the ball. She flipped it to Pollinger who was fouled with 3.3 seconds showing on the clock. Also facing a one-and-one, Pollinger made both attempts to seal the Navy victory.
After the Tribe tied the score at 62-62 with 3:31 left to play, William & Mary was 1 of 5 from the floor, totaled just one offensive rebound and turned the ball over three times, while Navy was 2 of 5 from the field, 3 of 4 from the free throw line and did not commit a turnover.
"Some really big free throws were made at the end," said Pemper. "It was nice to see the confidence the players had together. Even when we gave up that lead they never looked like we were going to lose the game. I liked our confidence in a game that could have gone either way against a team that has some weapons. I thought we were really tested tonight and to have so many contributions from so many people is what we were going for."
Both teams would shoot roughly 40 percent from the field, and each made nine three-point field goals in the game. Navy also was 12 of 17 from the foul line while William & Mary was 5 of 10 from the charity stripe.
After turning the ball over three times in the opening five minutes of the game, Navy committed just eight more turnovers over the remainder of the game. This includes just five in the second half while forcing the Tribe into nine second-half turnovers and 19 for the game. That helped the Mids to offset their 44-34 deficit in rebounding.
Four players scored in double figures for Navy, with Stapleton's 20 points leading the way. Geif produced her fifth double-double in a span of seven games with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Membreno ended the night with 14 points, five rebounds, four steals and two assists. Meanwhile, Pollinger contributed 10 points, four rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal.
"Jade is such a workhorse," said Pemper. "And Alix had a big part in the win tonight. Having Chloe back is great as it helps our bench, and Erin is still going to play a big role for us. Erin's defense was good in the second half."
Correal led all players on the night with 21 points, but she scored only five points over the last 25 minutes of the game.
Navy will next be in action Saturday when the Mids play at Mount St. Mary's in a 2 p.m. game.