March 13, 2022
Patriot League notebook: American conquers Bucknell for the championship
Head coach Megan Gebbia pressed all the right buttons in the final
American defeated Bucknell 65-54 in the Patriot League championship game to advance to the NCAA tournament. Preseason Player of the Year Jade Edwards saved her best for last, leading the Eagles with 21 points and converting a key and-one opportunity in transition in the fourth quarter.
When the final buzzer sounded, the only person sitting on the American bench was head coach Megan Gebbia. Overcome by emotion, her staff pulled her up and into a celebratory embrace. On a day when the poise of American held up in its championship moment, it was an opportune and welcome release for the nine-year mentor.
The Eagles won their third Patriot League title—all under Gebbia. So how did American rise from the pack to cut down the nets? Let’s examine the top takeaways and championship details of how the Eagles came through on the league’s biggest stage:
Top takeaways from American’s championship
The first quarter was a lost opportunity for Bucknell
The Bison started the game with an attacking mindset and broke out to a 16-6 lead. All 16 points were scored in the paint as the visitors penetrated the heart of the American defense. But the Eagles responded with a 10-0 run in the last 3:04 to finish the quarter as Bucknell missed several point blank opportunities and a wide-open three-pointer from senior guard Taylor O’Brien.
A foul by freshman Cecelia Collins at the close of the frame allowed forward Taylor Brown two game-tying free throws as American evened the score at 16-16. Bucknell held a 16-0 edge in points in the paint through the first quarter and shot 50% (8-for-16) from the floor. The tie felt like a loss for the Bison.
Home sweet home was a factor
The Eagles are now 16-0 in Bender Arena in Patriot League playoffs under Gebbia. American did not lose a game versus league competition all season.
The good homecourt vibes against the Bison go back to the teams’ last meeting. In February, Gebbia became the program’s all-time wins leader with a 56-48 home win over Bucknell.
Overall, the Eagles are 97-28 (77.6%) in Bender under Gebbia and 76-16 against Patriot League opponents.
Bucknell had not played a league playoff game on the road since 2016.
Edwards’ Euro-step move in the fourth quarter was a dagger
As the fourth quarter unfolded, American held a small 46-45 lead after a Taylor O’Brien pull-up jumper for Bucknell with 8:58 remaining. The Eagles responded with a 9-0 run, capped by a transition push that ended in a Euro-step lay-up by Edwards, who scored through a foul by Cecelia Collins.
It was an emotionally-charged moment for the Eagles and Edwards. The senior’s aggressiveness throughout the game provided the needed scoring for the Eagles and her big play down the stretch kept her team’s confidence high for the finish.
Edwards rose to the occasion in her biggest moment. Throughout her career, the selfless play has allowed her to appear passive when she looks for others on the offensive end and defers when she should shoot. There were only a few possessions when Edwards turned down a shot to force a pass. She had the right blend of assertiveness and court leadership and made the most galvanizing play of the game with her favorite move.
The three-point line in the sand
American entered the game as the league leader in three-point field goal defense, allowing just 24.4% from behind the arc—good for fourth in the nation. Bucknell came into the contest as one of the best shooting teams in the conference.
Despite placing ninth out of ten league teams for three-point shooting, American won the battle from deep. The Eagles limited the Bison to 2-for-12 while converting 3-for-9 behind the line. Bucknell starter Isabella King entered the game, hitting 29-for-59 from deep for 49.2%. She was 1-for-3 from range. Taylor O’Brien led Bucknell with 20 points but went 1-for-6 from three and just 7-for-21 overall.
American won the battle of the forwards
Eagle forward Taylor Brown had her most efficient shooting day of the season, scoring 18 points on 6-for-8 from the floor. She was also a perfect 5-for-5 from the line, grabbed six rebounds and did not commit a turnover. Brown and forward Emily Johns combined for 23 points.
More importantly, the defense from the American forwards anchored the victory. The Eagle defense consistently switched the Bucknell ball-screen action to limit initial penetration and it left the Eagle forwards one-on-one with the Bison guards. The defense held up.
Down low, the strategy challenged Bucknell to take advantage of the little-on-big match-ups as the American guards worked to defend inside off the switches. Despite a career game from Emma Shaffer, who posted 12 points and 12 rebounds, the Bison were unable to capitalize often enough to win the game.
What’s next for American?
The Eagles are bound for the Wichita region in the NCAA tournament. American is a 14-seed and takes on 3-seed Michigan in the opening round. The game will be in Ann Arbor on March 19th.
Written by Todd Goclowski
Todd Goclowski currently covers the Patriot League for The Next. Goclowski brings 25 years of coaching experience to his role as an analyst and writer, including 19 years of coaching women's basketball in the NCAA at the D1 and D3 levels.