WASHINGTON, D.C. — George Washington had the home-court edge, a decorated senior class and a distinct height advantage.
Navy had more grit and determination.
The Midshipmen were the aggressors from the outset and played with a warrior mentality the whole way in knocking off the favored Colonials in the opening round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.
Guards Sarita Condie and Taylor Dunham led the way as Navy rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime and defeat George Washington, 61-51, at the Charles E. Smith Center.
When it was over, the Midshipmen were hugging and jumping for joy on the court – wildly celebrating the first postseason national tournament victory in program history.
"It's so neat any time you can do something that is history-making. It's just so special and such a cool reflection on this team," ninth-year Navy head coach Stefanie Pemper said. "I thought we just fought really hard and never lost our confidence."
Condie scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds while Dunham added 15 points and nine boards as Navy (24-9) advanced to a second round matchup on Sunday (2 p.m.) at Virginia Tech.
"I'm just so happy for our team. It was a really fun game the whole time," Dunham said. "I thought we just fought really hard and we pulled it out at the end because we believed. That's been a theme for this team all season. We always fight to the end."
Junior guard Hannah Fenske totaled nine points, seven rebounds and four assists for Navy, which had appeared in the NCAA Tournament three times and the WNIT once prior without winning a game.
Navy was coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to Bucknell in the Patriot League Tournament championship on Sunday. The Mids regrouped and found a way to win another overtime affair just five days later.
"The loss on Sunday was obviously really hard, but I thought the team overall did an awesome job of reframing our situation," Condie said. "That mentality of everything happens for a reason and that reason was that we wanted to be the first Navy team to win a postseason game."
Senior forward Ashanti Kennedy came off the bench to hit some big shots late in the fourth quarter and overtime for the Mids, who played tenacious defense throughout. George Washington, regular season co-champions of the Atlantic 10 Conference, was off target all night and wound up making just 21 of 86 field goal attempts (24 percent).
Pemper highlighted the work of defensive ace Justice Swett, who limited George Washington leading scorer Lexi Martins to eight points on 4-for-13 field goal shooting. Freshman forward Kaila Clark also did a yeoman job of covering 6-foot-2 center Caira Washington, who led the Colonials with 13 points, but made just 6 of 19 field goals.
"Justice's defense on (Martins) was a big storyline in this game. Justice just does things to get into people's head a little bit," Pemper said. "We were trying to force them to beat us in a way they were not accustomed to playing and it wound up working."
It was a disappointing end to the season for George Washington (20-10) and its three seniors that comprise the fourth-winningest class in program history.
Navy forced the extra session with a gutsy fourth quarter rally, battling back from a 10-point deficit to tie the score. A 3-pointer by Camila Tapias had given GW a 44-34 lead with 6:34 remaining in regulation.
Dunham responded immediately for Navy by draining a 3-pointer of her own just 11 seconds later. That sparked a strong surge that saw the Midshipmen outscore the Colonials 14-4 over the final 6:23.
"I don't think I realized we were down that much. We've kind of done that all season. We're pretty good at finishing games, especially when it's really tight," Condie said of the late comeback.
Dunham made another trey at the 3:52 mark then broke down the defense and fed Clark for a layup that got the visitors within two. Kennedy then tied the score with a jumper from the corner with 1:41 to go.
It appeared the shot was a 3-pointer that would have given Navy the lead, but a replay review confirmed the on-court call that Kennedy had a foot on the line.
"Ashanti has hit some big shots all season," Dunham said. "I remember at one point tonight I was driving to the basket and I heard her screaming my name, and I knew she was going to be wide-open so I threw it out to her and she hit the shot."
Dunham was the sparkplug of the fourth quarter comeback as she had the ball in her hands most of the time and did a superb job of penetrating.
"I thought Taylor did a good job of recognizing matchups and getting to the basket," Pemper said. "We talked about sticking with motion and trying to get comfortable with it. It isn't just the plays, it's the people and I thought people made some really good decisions."
Dunham opened the overtime period with a determined drive to the basket for a bank shot that snapped the deadlock and gave Navy the lead for good. She swished a pair of free throws on the subsequent possession to make it 51-49.
Martins missed a jumper on the other end and Kennedy delivered the dagger by draining a 3-pointer from a few feet beyond the arc to increase the lead to five points with 2:19 left in overtime.
Dunham then made four free throws in the final minute as Navy steadily grew the advantage to 10 points by the final horn. The Midshipmen outscored the Colonials 13-3 in the extra session.
"We talked before the game about being bold, about being determined and confident. I think we got that from everyone who stepped on the court tonight," Condie said. "We brought a great mentality tonight. It was kind of a unique situation going into overtime again. I think that experience (against Bucknell on Sunday) helped us."
Navy equalled the program record by reaching 24 victories and became only the second Patriot League member to win a postseason national tournament contest.
Washington totaled nine points and seven rebounds as George Washington took a 21-20 halftime lead. Bautista contributed six points for the Colonials, who overcame 21 percent field goal shooting in the half.
Condie scored eight points for Navy, which led by six on two occasions in the first half. A stepback jumper by Clark had provided a 16-10 advantage, but the Midshipmen then went 13 straight possessions without a field goal. There were eight missed shots and four turnovers during that dismal stretch.
George Washington wasn't much better, going eight consecutive possessions without a field goal with nine missed shots and a turnover. If not for offensive rebounds (15), the Colonials would have been in big trouble with 17 of their 21 points coming on second-chance opportunities.
Cummings scored off a putback then grabbed an offensive rebound and fed Bautista for a 3-pointer from the top of the key as George Washington took its first lead of the game, 19-17, with 1:07 remaining.
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"We had to battle. Obviously, the rebounding was really challenging, but I didn't think it got us demoralized. I thought we were really mentally strong," Pemper said.