In terms of standings and seedings, Wednesday night’s women’s basketball game between Navy and American had no meaning.
American had secured the regular season Patriot League championship and top seed for the upcoming tournament. Meanwhile, Navy was locked into the No. 3 seed regardless of Wednesday night’s result.
In terms of mental psysche, the final regular season game for both teams did have meaning.
Navy was trying to avoid closing the campaign on a three-game losing streak while also showing it could beat the best team in the conference.
American, which had its hopes of an undefeated run through the league spoiled by a loss to Bucknell on Saturday, also wanted to regain some positive momentum and reestablish itself as the team to beat going into the postseason.
Score one for the Midshipmen from a mental psyche standpoint.
Senior guard Taylor Dunham sunk seven 3-pointers in scoring 23 points as Navy routed American, 76-49, before an announced crowd of 608 at Alumni Hall. Senior guard Hannah Fenske narrowly missed notching just the second triple-double in program history, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
“This was definitely super huge for our team going into playoffs. This was a win we really needed,” Dunham said. “We feel good going into the tournament. This is what we’ve been looking forward to all season. It’s now or never so we have to come out and play our best basketball.”
Junior guard Bianca Roach scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds for Navy (23-6, 13-5), which will host sixth-seeded Loyola Maryland (9-20, 7-11) in the Patriot League Tournament quarterfinals on Monday night. Sophomore forward Kaila Clark contributed eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots for the Mids, who had scored a total of 80 points in their previous two games.
“It was good to get our mojo back on offense and see the ball go through the net,” said Dunham, who also dished off six assists.
Sophomore guard Morgan Taylor totaled 11 points and five rebounds for Navy, which is one shy of tying the school record for victories in a season.
Dunham has hit 88 3-pointers through 29 games, breaking the single-season school record set of 87 that was set by Kara Pollinger in 2013-2014. The 5-foot-4 senior had tied a single-game school record by making nine threes earlier this season at New Mexico.
“That’s crazy. I had no idea I was at all close to that record so it’s super cool,” said Dunham, who laughed when asked if Pollinger, now a Navy pilot, would call to congratulate her. “Maybe, if she’s not out somewhere flying around.”
Senior guard Maria Liddane scored 11 points to lead American (23-6, 16-2), which will host the winner of the game between No. 8 Lafayette and No. 9 Boston in a quarterfinal on Monday.
It didn’t matter that Eagles head coach Megan Gebbia sat out leading scorer and Patriot League Player of the Year candidate Emily Kinneston. What was important is the Mids played with serious passion and purpose.
“This was really important. Just to get back to playing with good pace and camaraderie was really key,” Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper said. “I thought we had good leadership from Taylor and Hannah. Our team was definitely locked in and it started in the locker room before the game. People were really engaged and speaking up, then they went out and did what they talked about. This was nice.”
Navy now owns an impressive 15-1 record in contests that follow a two-game losing streak during Pemper’s 10-year tenure. American also did not play second-leading scorer Cecily Carl in the contest, but Pemper did not care.
“The way we came out, I would have loved to see how we would have stacked up against them with their two best players, for sure,” Pemper said. “Any time we come out like we did tonight, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, I’m going to feel good about it. This is who we are and should be. We were in a funk for two games in a row and we don’t like losing streaks. It’s great to get back on a winning track.”
Dunham drained four 3-pointers in scoring 14 points as Navy took a commanding 40-19 halftime lead. Taylor came off the bench to provide a big lift, cramming seven points into just five minutes of action.
Roach scored off a pair of breakaway layups created by steals as the Mids closed the first half on an 8-0 run to take their largest lead of 21 points. Navy had scored just 40 points total in each of its previous two games (49-40 loss to Bucknell, 58-40 loss to Loyola) before breaking out offensively to net 40 in just 20 minutes on sizzling 53 percent shooting (17-for-32).
“Probably Taylor’s shooting in the first quarter,” Pemper said when asked what snapped Navy out of its offensive funk. “We did need to see some shots fall. We did not score on Saturday even though we had a lot of good looks. Taylor got into the gym and did some extra work in order to get a good rhythm back and it showed tonight.”
Fenske, Dunham and Roach all made 3-pointers as Navy started the second half with a 16-5 run to take its largest lead of the game at 56-24 with five minutes remaining in the third period. The Mids would take a 32-point lead again midway through the fourth quarter after Dunham swished her sixth trey.
Dunham ranks second in career 3-pointers at Navy with 231, 14 shy of all-time record holder Courtney Davidson (245 from 2001-2004).
“For Taylor to finish her career with this many 3-pointers is impressive because she is such a versatile player. She’s not strictly a 3-point shooter,” Pemper said.