March 10, 2022 

Patriot League notebook: March madness knocks out Holy Cross; semifinals on tap

Navy surprises, but is American’s streak the biggest story in the league?

Jennifer Coleman’s buzzer-beating three-pointer toppled one-seed Holy Cross to kick off March Madness and break hearts in Worcester at the Patriot League conference tournament. Navy had to go the length of the court with no time-outs and 1.6 seconds remaining. Can the Mids find the magic again on the road at Bucknell in the semifinals? The Bison rode a second-half surge to eclipse defending champion Lehigh. They’re leaning on some freshmen for a championship run. Can the young guns help bring another banner to Lewisburg?

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American looks balanced and ready. Emily Johns had another big game against Lafayette in the quarterfinals. But next up for the Eagles is their playoff nemesis, Boston University. Can Megan Gebbia’s team overcome the Terriers on its way to the title game? Boston had a shoot-out with Army but escaped with the win. Do they have the temperament to win on the road? Let’s break down the match-ups in this week’s notebook:

Bucknell and its freshmen take on the Navy miracle

Youth is being served in Lewisburg. The Bison earned a season sweep of Lehigh with a 56-53 home win behind the play of freshmen Cecelia Collins and Isabella King.

Trailing by 10 late in the third quarter, both Collins and King drilled three-pointers to close the gap. King’s three-ball with 1:03 remaining in the game put the Bison ahead to stay, 53-51.

Collins, a Second-Team All-League selection, finished with 10 points and six rebounds. The freshman has started all 30 games and is averaging 11.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Classmate King has started the last five games and has added a consistent three-point threat to the offense. She finished with five three-pointers and a game-high 19 points versus Lehigh.

Navy brings its dose of March Madness to Lewisburg for a rubber-match versus the Bison. If the Mids can keep their improbable run to the championship alive, it will take another stellar defensive effort. Navy held Holy Cross to just 36.5% from the field and 2-for-16 from three-point distance in its upset win. Can they stop Collins and King from deep in round three?

Freshman Isabella King hit five three-pointers in Bucknell’s quarterfinal win over Lehigh University. Photo credit: Marc Hagemeier

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Navy’s Jennifer Coleman is the heart and soul of her group, but the production of sophomores Sydne Watts and Kristina Donza will be vital to the Mids’ chances. The two guards are the players to watch if Navy is to pull off another upset win.

The 6’ Watts posted 13 points in the quarterfinal win over Holy Cross and she’ll need to bolster the Mids’ perimeter game against the Bison defense. Donza shoots 26.1% from three-point range but is capable of putting together a strong shooting outing. She was 3-for-5 from distance in her team’s 53-43 loss to Bucknell the last time they played.

Buckell’s two freshman starters are the ones to watch for the hosts. The Navy defense is going to force the Bison to beat them over the top and the team’s perimeter shooting will be a focus. Collins (team-leading 103 three-point attempts) and King (48.1% from three) will play big roles in the outcome.

Since her late-season insertion into the Bison starting line-up, King has emerged as a three-point threat and her shooting has helped her team space the floor. She was a zone-buster in Bucknell’s quarterfinal win over Lehigh, converting five threes in the team’s 56-53 win. In the last four games, King is 16-for-23 from three-point range.

THE KEY STAT: Three-point shooting. Navy needs to have an efficient shooting game from deep to have a chance at another upset. In the team’s early-season 57-55 upset of the Bison, they shot 5-for-12 from three-point range. In the rematch in Annapolis, the Mids shot just 6-for-20 and lost, 53-43.

There’s less pressure on the Bison to win the battle from behind the arc, but the game could get bogged down into a tight, defensive battle if they don’t convert from the outside. In the two head-to-head games this season, the Bison combined to shoot just 8-for-40 from distance. King’s presence in the starting line-up could be a difference-maker. She didn’t play in her squad’s early-season loss to Navy and played just 16 minutes off the bench in the win in Annapolis.

HOW NAVY WINS: Staying true to the team’s identity. The Mids are a team that grinds and wins ugly—with a defensive focus. If Navy can slow the game and make it a low-scoring, defensive affair, they’ll be in position at the end for an upset. If they can shift the pressure to the Bison by keeping it close, Navy will be on the brink of another miracle win.

HOW BUCKNELL WINS: Keeping Coleman in check even if it means getting out of a defensive comfort zone to do it. The Bison have to figure out a way to slow down the senior guard and put pressure on her supporting cast to carry the day. Bucknell will be comfortable in a disciplined, defensive battle but should also push the pace against a Navy team with very little depth.

The Bison (see graphic below) must continue to exploit their advantage with points in the paint.

Graphic credit: CBB Analytics

THE LAST MATCH-UP: Bucknell won, 53-43 at Annapolis. The Bison won the battle of the boards 49-37, and survived a 2-for-15 effort from the floor in the fourth quarter because Navy went 2-for-20. Bucknell’s conversion in the paint will be a key focus in the semifinal.

American and Boston University, together again

The Eagles are streaking. Head coach Megan Gebbia’s club has won five games in a row and is the top seed remaining in the tournament. They also have an 11-game home winning streak. How did they get here?

After a disappointing loss to Colgate (6-24) in the first week in February, the Eagles found themselves two games back and in fifth place in the standings. American rallied and went from fifth place to second by winning its last four games of the season. They have won eight of nine since that loss to the Raiders.

The red-hot Eagles dispatched seven-seed Lafayette 54-48 in the quarterfinals behind the play of Emily Johns. The sophomore post scored a team-high 14 points off the bench to help her squad advance to a semifinal game against Boston University.

The Terriers arrive in D.C. after defeating Army in a high-scoring 80-74 game. Boston seemed to have the game in hand early, up 17 points in the second quarter before an intentional foul by Sydney Johnson appeared to galvanize the Black Knights. Army stormed back to take the lead 40-39 later in the quarter. Army kept things close behind a Patriot League tournament record 37 points from Alisa Fallon in one of the most electrifying individual performances of the season.

It is the third straight year the two teams will meet in the playoffs. The Terriers ended the Eagles’ season in each of the last two years but those games were in Boston. American is 14-1 at home this season and has yet to drop a league game at Bender Arena. In the Gebbia era, the Eagles are 14-0 at home in the playoffs. The teams split the season series this year, each winning at home.

American University guard Emily Fisher has led her team to a 14-1 home record this season. The Eagles meet Boston University in the semifinals for the right to host the championship. Photo credit: American University Athletic Communications

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Emily Fisher is the one to watch for the Eagles. She’ll need to take some pressure off Jade Edwards by scoring and creating early—and controlling the ball efficiently. The senior point guard has reached double-digits in scoring in eight of the last 10 games and her ball control has been excellent. If American can advance to the final, it will take a collective effort from its backcourt.

Keep your eyes on Caitlin Weimar for Boston. The sophomore is coming off a brilliant performance against Army, scoring 21 points on 7-for-7 shooting, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing four assists against zero turnovers.

The 6’4 Weimar and 6’3 Maren Durant can be game changers on both ends of the floor. An important factor for round three will also be the presence of forward Riley Childs. The senior did not play in the Terriers’ loss in D.C. She had nine points and nine rebounds in their win in Boston.

THE KEY STAT: Points in the paint. In the Terriers’ home win over American, they dominated the paint and outscored the team 34-22 on their way to a 69-46 win—the worst loss of the season for the Eagles. In D.C., the Terriers lost the battle in the paint 36-34, and the game, 70-57. The battleground for the middle of the floor is also the pathway to the championship game.

HOW BOSTON UNIVERSITY WINS: Maintaining focus and a championship temperament. Boston is fun to watch and arguably the most talented team in the conference. It is also a group that seems intent on earning the reputation as a program that complains about officiating more than any other team in the league.

The Terriers’ consistent grievance with officiating this season distracts from their play and clearly impacted the contest against Army. Boston earned a late technical foul that kept the Black Knights in the game and were fortunate Johnson’s intentional foul was not classified as a disqualifying foul which would have resulted in an ejection.

How do the Terriers defeat American? Focus.

HOW AMERICAN WINS: The Eagles need to win the turnover battle and control tempo. Rebounding against the size and depth of the Boston frontline is clearly a key, but if American can keep things close on the boards against their superior size—that’s a success. They must win the turnover battle to beat the Terriers—that means successfully pressuring Johnson and backcourt mate, Alex Giannaros.

In both match-ups this season, American lost the rebounding war. The totals over two games? 82 to 55. However, they came out on top in turnovers, 37 to 20 in both contests combined. The Eagles ball control is key in keeping the Terriers out of their transition game while converting any extra possessions they can create into points. In their win over Boston this season, they outscored them 27 to 9 in points off turnovers.

THE LAST MATCH-UP: American won, 70-57 in D.C. Senior Jade Edwards led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds. They shot 10-for-15 from the floor in the first quarter and never looked back. The Eagles’ defense forced Terrier guards Johnson and Giannaros into a combined 12 turnovers.

Graphic credit: CBB Analytics

Final Standings:

(League record, overall record)

  1. Holy Cross (14-4, 20-10)
  2. American (13-5, 21-8)
  3. Boston University (12-6, 17-13)
  4. Bucknell (12-6, 22-8)
  5. Lehigh (11-7, 19-11)
  6. Army (10-8, 16-13)
  7. Lafayette (7-11, 12-18)
  8. Navy (5-13, 10-20)
  9. Colgate (4-14, 6-24)
  10. Loyola (MD) (2-16, 5-24)

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

(Note: All games are streamed through ESPN+ for a subscription fee. Click here for the video link to all league competition. All times are ET.)

March 10
No. 8 Navy at No. 4 Bucknell 6:00 p.m.

No. 3 Boston University at No. 2 American 6:00 p.m.

March 13
Championship game 12:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)                        

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.

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