American and Navy are not the same women’s basketball teams that met in the Patriot League Tournament championship game last March. Both programs lost three starters along with several supporting players.
Based off Wednesday’s night’s meeting, the Midshipmen are a little further away from returning to the finals than the Eagles.
Freshman guard Jade Edwards scored 15 points to lead a balanced attack as American pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Navy, 58-45, in a rematch of last year’s championship. Senior forward Elina Koskimies and senior guard Kaitlyn Lewis netted 13 points apiece for the Eagles (6-8, 2-1), who outscored the Mids 15-8 in the final frame.
Freshman point guard Jennifer Coleman scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds for Navy, which shot 35 percent (20-for-57) from the field and committed 15 turnovers. Senior guard Bianca Roach scored eight points and swiped five steals for the Mids (6-7, 1-2), who have lost two straight at home after starting Patriot League play with a road win.
American captured its second Patriot League championship by beating Navy, 58-49, at Bender Arena on March 11, 2018. Junior guard Morgan Taylor acknowledged the Mids were remembering that result while getting pumped up in the locker room prior to the rematch.
“Obviously, that was in the back of our mind. We went into this game trying to get our revenge,” said Taylor, who led Navy with 10 rebounds. “It was kind of something hanging over our heads so we put a pretty good emphasis on it.”
Despite the turnover, defending champion American was picked to place second behind Bucknell in the Patriot League preseason poll. Meanwhile, Navy was tabbed to finish in a tie for fourth with Lehigh.
Navy trailed for all but 3 ½ minutes of the game, but stayed within striking distance until things fell apart on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter.
“We have to get past that point where American’s skill takes the wind out of our sails,” Pemper said. “So much of that game was a two- or three-possession difference. We can’t lose our poise then lose that fight and confidence.”
American executed its half-court offense better and Pemper felt Navy needed to score in other ways in order to keep pace. The Midshipmen grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, but had just four second-chance points to show for it. Despite 11 steals, the home team managed only eight points off turnovers.
“We definitely needed to get more than 12 points off turnovers and offensive rebounds in order to beat this team,” Pemper admitted.
Navy did a good job of defending powerful 6-foot-3 forward Cecily Carl, who scored just six points on 3-for-12 field goal shooting. Carl, a second team All-Patriot League pick last season, did grab seven rebounds and dish off four assists after routinely being double-teamed in the post.
“Give credit to American. Their leading scorer had six points and three other women really stepped up and scored above their averages,” Pemper said. “We know (Koskimies) is a great, great shooter and we lost her a few times in the zone.”
Koskimies scored eight points to help American take a 28-21 halftime lead. Freshman guard Maddie Doring drained a 3-pointer from the corner as the Eagles closed the second period with a 7-1 run.
Coleman had seven points and five rebounds by intermission to lead Navy, which shot 34 percent (9-26) and committed nine turnovers in the opening 20 minutes. The Midshipmen out-rebounded the visitors 20-11, but managed just two second-chance points off seven offensive caroms.
“We missed too many easy shots in the first half and kind of dug ourselves a hole. I think that’s really what killed us,” Taylor said.
Coleman banked in a 3-pointer then scored off a pull-up jumper to start the second half and wound up scoring seven points as Navy reduced the deficit to 43-37 after three quarters.
Navy could not maintain the momentum, going 1-for-9 from the field and committing two turnovers to start the final stanza. The Mids went six straight possessions without a point and the Eagles took advantage.
“We came out with confidence in the third quarter and made a bit of a comeback,” Taylor said. “I thought we had some momentum, but it kind of died out early in the fourth quarter. Really, they just out-played us. All night, they were making tough shots.”
Lewis made a 3-pointer and Carl scored off a low post to spark a 10-2 run that gave American a 53-41 with three minutes remaining. Navy, which made just 4 of 17 field goals in the fourth quarter, was unable to cut the advantage back to single digits the rest of the way.
“We didn’t shoot it very well in the fourth quarter,” Pemper said. “I like the shots we got in that quarter. I thought our women started understanding where the openings were and finding them. We just couldn’t make a basket. American just defends us really tough and requires us to be really sharp.”
Navy now plays three of its next four conference contests on the road.