March 14, 2024 

Patriot League notebook: Semifinal round playoff preview and game breakdowns

Top seeds hang on to set up semifinal showdowns among the league's best

Three of the four tops seeds overcame fourth-quarter deficits to survive and advance to the semifinals. Three upstart teams chasing their own hoop dreams join the defending champion Holy Cross Crusaders in the next round.

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In Hamilton, underdog Navy took a 15-point lead into the third quarter before Colgate stormed back to win behind a career-high 25 points from Alexa Brodie and a suffocating defensive stand that held Navy to just 20 second-half points. The 69-64 win has the Raiders in their first semifinal since 2013.

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Loyola topped Lehigh in a rowdy Reitz Arena as junior forward Lex Therien set a playoff tournament record for rebounds by hauling in 23 boards. The contest was squared up at 40-40 early in the fourth quarter before a 7-0 run from Loyola clinched it. The Greyhound guard play was the difference as junior Laura Salmeron scored 20 points and freshman Kimmie Hicks added 13. They advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2016.

In Boston, the Terriers stopped Army 64-62 on a perfectly executed last-second play in which guard Alex Giannaros set a screen to free up Caitlin Weimar for a lay-up and the go-ahead score with just 1.5 seconds remaining. Weimar scored 27 points, grabbed nine rebounds and played all 40 minutes.

In Worcester, Bucknell took a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter but that was followed by seven turnovers as the Bison lost their composure and their chance at the upset, falling 61-56 at the Hart Center. Senior guard Cara McCormack found her stroke to awaken the offense and scored all nine of her points in the final frame to help secure the win.

The Crusader legacy looms over the final four teams remaining in league play: Boston University, Colgate and Loyola have combined for just one Patriot League title, a 2004 championship claimed by the Raiders. Holy Cross owns 12 titles.

 Let’s examine each matchup in our semifinals notebook.

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Loyola takes its Cinderella season to Worcester for a clash with the champs

March Madness is spreading in Baltimore. There’s no better feeling in competition than winning a big playoff game at home in front of a loud crowd—especially when it’s new. Loyola is riding high on that energy following the Greyhounds’ 58-51 victory over Lehigh that sent them to the semifinals for the first time in eight years. It’s the kind of vibe that feeds March Madness moments and can lead to championships. Will Loyola’s fairytale season include knocking off the defending champion at home on the way to the final?

The Crusaders remember the magic of their title run to last year’s championship but it’s been a different mental and emotional approach for the squad picked to repeat. Setbacks for a defending champion that’s selected as the preseason favorite can seem larger and that’s taken some getting used to.

Head coach Maureen Magarity’s team has had to adjust to its ups-and-downs, but they have won four of the last six games and move into the semifinals with the confidence of a champion. The arrival of playoffs has swept in a new, competitive energy for them and their resiliency was on display in the quarterfinals versus Bucknell.

12 league championships bring a lot of confidence and responsibility when the big games roll around, and this squad has demonstrated that it’s built for these moments. 

Whether you’re a fan of a Cinderella run or admire the heart of a champion, this game is primed for an epic finish.

Players to watch: All eyes should be on the battle between forwards Lex Therien and Janelle Allen. On defense, Loyola tends to stay hugged up on the perimeter and not bring help down into the post on an attacking pass inside and that makes the Crusader post players the ones to watch. They need to finish their shots down low. It’s the one-on-one matchups on the interior that will determine the outcome.

Holy Cross senior forward Janelle Allen faces a strong test from a Loyola team on a Cinderella run in the semifinal. The Crusaders look to advance to the championship in search of a title repeat. (Photo credit: Rob Branning Photography)

In Loyola’s 60-47 road win in Worcester last month, there were numerous entry passes available into the post with the defense playing behind and multiple one-on-ones for Allen against Therien. She’ll need to capitalize if they see the same coverage.

Defensively, Allen does a fantastic job against taller players by meeting them early in their cut into the paint and using leverage to hold her spot. Can she bring the same physicality without finding foul trouble? Post teammates Lindsay Berger and Callie Wright will need to do the same and should get one-on-one looks on offense as well; they’ll need to cash in.

Loyola will play off of Wright and Berger outside of 14 feet and one or both is going to need to confidently knock down their jumper in the high post to help Holy Cross succeed.

Even if Therien (16.0 points, 10.8 rebounds per game) isn’t posting big scoring numbers, she brings strength and physicality and opens perimeter looks for teammates with her inside-out play. 

Laura Salmeron (9.7 points per game) and Kelly Ratigan (8.6 points per game) are the players to watch on the perimeter—and guard Kimmie Hicks is one to watch off the dribble attack.

The key stat: Offensive boards. It’s going to be physical when shots go up at the Hart Center. Last matchup, Loyola pulled down 13 offensive boards and Holy Cross hauled in 17. Each teams’ ability to pressure the perimeter and contest shots, especially out of a defensive rotation or breakdown, opens up the attack on the glass. They’ll both put up another round of big numbers here. The key is: who is converting those extra possessions and finishing the putbacks?

How Holy Cross wins: Keep Loyola out of the paint. The Greyhounds are effective in making attacking passes into the low-post and playing off how the defense reacts to Therien inside. The junior first-team All-Patriot League selection is capable of scoring big — her 44 points versus Lehigh in February are evidence of that — but it’s how the offense plays off of Therien that creates the challenge for the Crusaders. 

Holy Cross needs to keep Therien off her spot and if she gets going, they’ll need to adjust early with dig downs or a committed double team. They also need to execute defensively against the Greyhounds little-to-big cross-screens down low; they did a poor job against that action in the home loss.

How the Crusaders win comes down to their ability to close out and contain on the perimeter when they commit defenders by crowding or doubling the post, or protecting against penetration.

Running Salmeron and Ratigan off their perimeter spots is one thing, but containing Hicks’ dribble attack after a hard close-out is another. The more Holy Cross can keep the ball out of the paint, the less it will have to worry about those type of close-outs.

How Loyola wins: Ride the Cinderella wave and play their game. Loyola is up to the moment if the squad can keep its composure. They already own a win in Worcester this season and have the personnel, especially on defense, to create problems for Holy Cross.

The Crusaders are also committed on the defensive end and did well in challenging perimeter shots in both games, especially from three-point range where the Greyhounds shot 4-for-18 at home and 5-for-20 on the road. But the perimeter pressure Holy Cross offers is the door that the Greyhounds can walk through to reach the championship. 

Loyola wins when Salmeron and Hicks get to their mid-range jumpers and drive the rim, especially Hicks. The freshman guard has caught fire down the stretch, starting the team’s last five games and averaging 14.8 an outing over that span on 27-for-49 shooting.

Bottom line: This one is going to take discipline to win. Who’s going to have the energy and mental focus to execute on both ends in the fourth quarter? Save your timeouts, coaches. You’re going to need them.

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Can Colgate stop the Terriers and advance to its first final in 20 years?

Colgate has been the most consistent team in the league all season. Even when things were going sideways for head coach Ganiyat Adeduntan’s squad during its seven-game losing streak in league play, the team was just a possession or two away from success in each of those contests. 

If the ball had bounced its way a few times during that stretch, Colgate would have coasted into the top spot; they are that close to being that good. Heck, they are that good. And it looks like they’ve figured it out, especially now with having conquered the quarterfinals. Their confidence has grown.

Enter Boston University.

The Terriers and Raiders met just eight days ago in Hamilton. It was a thrashing, a 77-40 final on an emotional and successful senior night for the hosts. What can we expect this time around?

The Terriers will be more prepared for round three, but will they have enough offense to solve the Raider defense? Don’t bet against senior forward Caitlin Weimar. The league’s Player of the Year has been dominating all season. 

It looks like Head coach Melissa Graves may have to run her out there for 40 minutes to have a chance. The senior played all 40 minutes of the Terriers’ 64-62 win over Army in the quarterfinal round.

Colgate will be the clear favorite in this matchup. Can Boston find a way to keep it close and test the nerves of a Raider team on the verge of its first championship in 20 years?

Players to watch: Colgate forward Tiasia McMillan is the player to follow for the Raiders. The senior has had an incredible year, posting 10.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Her consistency this season is a big reason Colgate is favored to make it to the final. She’s shooting an efficient 50.7% from the floor.

McMillan had a season-high 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting in the last outing versus the Terriers and got the best of both Weimar and 6’2 forward Anastasiia Semenova. If she comes close to matching Weimar’s output, Colgate will be tough to beat.

Colgate forward Tiasia McMillan is having a breakout senior season and has the Raiders on the verge of its first Patriot League Championship in 20 years. (Photo credit: Olivia Hokanson)

Boston University’s inside-outside combination and dynamic duo of Weimar and shooting guard Alex Giannaros is the anchor of the Terrier attack, but for this group to advance, it’s going to need a third scoring contributor.

So who’s the player the Terriers need to break out? Freshman guard Audrey Ericksen. The 6’ North Carolina native is capable of the scoring outbreak they’ll need to win and scored a season-high 17 points against Colgate earlier this season in Boston.

In the rematch however, the Raider defense zoned in on the shooter and limited her to one point on a 0-for-7 effort from the floor. Erickson will get her chance for redemption. Finding her range from the three-point line is key for the Terriers’ chances. She’s converted multiple threes in 11 games this season. Keep an eye on Erickson’s production in this one. 

The key stat: Points in the paint. The Terriers lost this column 36-28 in their 77-40 loss at Colgate. To have any chance to win, Boston must dominate down low. The Colgate defense will never cheat down off the perimeter in this game unless Weimar and Semenova can score down low consistently.

The BU guards were under tremendous pressure all game last outing, especially sharpshooter Giannaros. Colgate went over ball screens to stick with Giannaros and pressured the perimeter so much that despite trailing by a large margin, the Terriers were only able to get off 11 three-point attempts. They were 1-for-11.

Scoring inside is the key for BU to have any chance of getting its perimeter game going. For Colgate, it’s not a category it needs to win; it just has to avoid losing it badly.

How Colgate wins: The Raiders play a deliberate style and move the ball well in the half court. If they can maintain their patience in their halfcourt game and force the Terrier defense to chase its rotations in the same manner that it did in the last meeting between these two teams, Colgate is headed to the final.

The Terriers showed both man-to-man and a 2-3 zone last time out in Hamilton and had success with neither. McMillan busted the zone with multiple jumpers and exposed its weakness. Colgate’s ball movement led to a high number of wide-open shots.

It’s a big game so it’s going to feel like 15 minutes long at 100 miles per hour for Colgate. If they slow themselves down and focus on executing in the deliberate way they have all season, they’ll win this matchup. 

For Colgate, it’s less a matter of Xs and Os and more about channeling their emotions into disciplined execution. They are the better team.

How Boston wins: Colgate offered single coverage down low on Weimar in the last matchup and the Terrier focus must be on consistent post entries. Boston needs to establish an inside game to make Colgate pay for its commitment to single coverage and locking down perimeter shooters.

If Weimar and Semenova can score early and often enough to force Colgate to adjust and bring a double team or consistent dig downs, Boston will be able to find the space on the perimeter its shooters need to make their three-point shooting a factor.

Bottom line: There’s a whole lot riding on the performance of Weimar for Boston to have a chance in this one.

Final Standings:

(League record, overall record)

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

Tune in to Patriot League action this week

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

Semifinal Round March 14

Boston University vs. Colgate @ 6 p.m. ET

Loyola (MD) vs. Holy Cross @ 7 p.m. ET

Patriot League Championship Game March 17
Championship game @12:00 p.m. ET (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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