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Patriot League notebook: Loyola grabs a share of first, Army on the march 

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In the home stretch of Patriot League conference play, the fight for playoff positioning has produced a pileup of contenders, a 10-team fender bender of hoop dreams. Who’s in the running for the title?

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In 2023-24, the Patriot League is shaping up to break a lot of hearts. Up and down the standings there are contenders within championship reach with a résumé of conference wins to back up their title hopes. There’s a legitimate path to the trophy for any and all believers who suit up, coach ’em up or cheer ’em on. Just two games separate first place from eighth place.

So who’s making the biggest push?

Army is making its move in head coach Missy Traversi’s third season. The Black Knights have won seven out of their last nine, including wins over preseason favorites Holy Cross and Boston University.

How are they doing it at West Point? The Army freshmen are making an impact, and a healthy Trinity Hardy is having a breakout junior season. Can they overcome youthful mistakes to make a run to the final? 

Lex Therien has Loyola fans believing, too. Her record-setting 44-point effort against Lehigh pushed the Greyhounds into a first-place tie. The squad’s recent hot shooting and versatile defense make them a dangerous opponent. 

Colgate bounced back this week with two road wins over Bucknell and Holy Cross. The Raiders found a way to end their seven-game losing streak and grab two key victories without injured guard Morgan McMahon, who broke her arm against Loyola, which marked the last of their seven straight defeats.

The Raiders, two games back in the race for first, face a must-win battle on the road this week at American in our don’t-miss game of the week. The Eagles are one game out of top-seed position and previously defeated Colgate 56-54 at Cotterell Court. 

Is the bottom of the conference capable of finding its way into a championship game? Yes. Last-place Lafayette has home-and-home sweeps over first-place Army and second-place American.

Anything can happen.

If you’re looking for order in the chaos, keep moving. In this week’s notebook, we’re leaning into the free-for-all. Who’s peaking, who’s streaking and what’s the biggest game of the week? We’re here for it all. Let’s break down the action as the league enters the most exciting and unpredictable finish to a season in its history.

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Loyola rockets into a first-place tie behind play of Lex Therien

Loyola head coach Banielle O’Banion smiles and claps on the sideline
Loyola head coach Danielle O’Banion is leading the Greyhounds to an exciting regular-season finish. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Lex Therien is unstoppable in single coverage. Or any coverage.

On Sunday against Lehigh, Therien was unstoppable against man-to-man defense, zone defense, double teams on the catch, double teams on the dribble and anything the Mountain Hawks could scheme up.

It’s not breaking news to Loyola or its opponents that Therien can tilt a defense: She’s quick and strong at the rim with great hands in traffic. The revelation in Baltimore is how the Greyhounds have grown into a unit that can hurt teams inside and out with consistency and balance — versus man or zone defenses.

The 93-76 victory at Reitz Arena capped a 2-0 week that catapulted the Greyhounds into a three-way first-place tie with Army and Holy Cross. The offense played off Therien expertly, and the junior forward unselfishly played inside out when the defense dictated.

Against Lehigh, Therien shot 21-for-25 from the floor, breaking a team and league record for the most made field goals in a game, and set a program-high for points with 44. The scoring mark tied Iowa’s Caitlin Clark for the sixth-highest this year.

Therien’s influence on the game drove the team dynamic for the Greyhounds. The junior forward was aggressive on offense but never forced; she screened effectively and dished out three assists versus a single turnover. 

Beneath the surface of Therien’s dominant performance was a team playing unselfish basketball and having fun doing it. 

What makes Loyola different this season? Players around Therien are growing and making an impact. The vision for a consistently competitive program is coming together for third-year coach Danielle O’Banion.

The Greyhounds offense is sharing and moving the ball better than it has all season. Against the Mountain Hawks, the squad produced 27 assists on 37 made field goals and created a variety of open shots on the perimeter with efficient passing and effective reads. The team shot 63.8% from the floor.

Junior guard Laura Salmeron and sophomore backcourt mate Kelly Ratigan both made four 3-pointers to lead a 9-for-15 effort from behind the arc. Each found open shots off a defense compensating for the inside threat posed by Therien.

Sister and frontcourt mate Ava Therien has been a key playmaker for the Greyhounds. High-low action that went sister-to-sister helped run Lehigh out of its zone, and Ava’s penetrating passes inside—both over a fronting defender and bounced into the low post—sliced the defense for easy conversions by Lex.

Ava dished out six assists with no turnovers and pulled in five rebounds. She didn’t register a point, but she didn’t need to—she played her role in this contest perfectly.

That inside attacking pressure opened up the action on the perimeter, and the Loyola guards capitalized. Salmeron scored a career-high 23 points and dished six assists against a single turnover. Ratigan put up an efficient 14 points on 5-for-9 from the field. 

The Greyhounds are filling roles and playing connected. Sophomore guard Meliah Van-Otoo is making an impression in the starting lineup as an effective distributor and defender. 5’9 freshman guard Kimmie Hicks has also emerged as an impact defender off the bench and an opportunistic scorer who is adept at attacking the paint.

Can Loyola also find success with Lex Therien off the floor? She navigated foul trouble in the squad’s first five league games this season, fouling out in three of those contests. Loyola was 2-3 in those matchups. Yes, they can find ways to win.

In the last of those five games, Therien fouled out and was limited to 23 minutes versus American. Freshman forward Lily Bottomley stepped up, adding 10 points and eight rebounds and clinching a 59-55 road win with a key block in the final seconds; that was a confidence-builder for the Greyhounds and a revealing result for the rest of the league.

This team has options and flexibility on both ends of the floor — and when one of those options is Lex Therien, good things are going to happen. 

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Colgate is streaky, but more contender than pretender

Colgate sophomore guard Madison Schiller dribbles the basketball against a defender
Colgate sophomore guard Madison Schiller (7.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is ready for a run to the playoffs. After a seven-game slide, the Raiders pulled off two key road wins to bolster their title hopes. (Photo credit: Colgate Athletic Communications)

It’s been a roller-coaster season for head coach Ganiyat Adeduntan’s veteran Colgate squad. A 2-0 week brings some bounce-back hope to their title chances—and despite the ups and downs, this team is much more of a contender than you may think.

The preseason showed promise: The veteran team returned its top six players from a top-four finish a season ago and was projected to be a challenger in a wide-open race for the title. Coaches around the league agreed, placing the upstate New York program third in the preseason poll.

The puzzle pieces seemed destined to fit for a season in which the program celebrates the 20th anniversary of its only title team — a squad that fell 77-54 to national runner-up Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Two weeks into the conference slate, the Raiders were flying high with a 4-0 start for the first time since the 1990-91 season. Inexplicably, Colgate dropped its next seven league games.

The Raiders’ title hopes surged with their 4-0 start, which included two road wins and a 25-point home victory over Bucknell. Overall, they sat at 11-4. 

What happened? And what does it mean for the home stretch?

Colgate has been losing the close ones. Poor end-game execution and a lack of clutch shot-making hurt the Raiders during the losing streak. Five of its seven losses during that stretch were by three points or fewer.

The Raiders turned that around last week, using clutch shooting to win a buzzer-beater on the road at Bucknell and a stout defense to lock down defending champion Holy Cross. Sophia Diehl stepped up for 18 points against the Bison, but it’s been the consistency of its team defense that has kept Colgate in nearly every game.

The Raiders are tops in the conference in defending the three-point line and ranked fifth nationally, holding teams to 24.6% from deep. Overall, they are allowing opponents just 55.8 points per game — good for 21st in the country. They can lock you down, especially on the perimeter.

The program has leaned into defense since head coach Adeduntan’s arrival in Hamilton, and the offense overall has seen improvement this season with a more diverse approach and a balance in shot distribution.

The load on offense needed another adjustment after a season-ending injury to guard Morgan McMahon, who was scoring 9.2 points and pulling down 2.6 rebounds per game this year. While a broken arm will keep her out for the remainder of the season, the Colgate starting unit is intact, and the Raiders have the depth to stay in the hunt.

Dropping seven of their last nine hasn’t rattled the Raiders. The team is just one game back of a top-four finish and a return to hosting a quarterfinal playoff game for the second consecutive season.

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Army’s freshmen are leading the way at West Point

Army freshman Fiona Hastick dribbles the ball
Army freshman Fiona Hastick is making an impact in her first season at West Point. (Photo credit: Army West Point Athletics Communications)

Freshman forwards Fiona Hastick and Kya Smith are helping make Army an unexpected contender for the league championship this season. The duo has combined to make 42 starts and propel the Black Knights to seven wins in their last nine contests to earn a three-way tie for first.

Opponents are finding out fast: Army’s class of first-years has multiple impact players.

The 6’1 Smith is posting 9.9 points and a team-leading 7.9 rebounds per game. She anchors the paint on both ends of the court and is converting 45.0% on 77-for-171 from the floor. 

Hastick brings a combination of inside and outside play to the mix. The 5’11 combo wing can score inside but is at her best attacking off the bounce from the perimeter. Hastick makes opponents honor her from deep as well, converting 20-for-54 from three for 37.0%. If she gets to her right hand on a dribble attack, defenses are at her mercy; she’s a tough cover one-on-one.

The Virginia native is scoring 8.5 points and hauling in 4.5 rebounds per game for a team that had a lot of questions about its interior play coming into the season. The graduation of forwards Sabria Hunter and Kamryn Hall left some big shoes to fill, but the first-year duo is making its own impression in and out of the paint.

The pair are a part of a group of first-years changing the trajectory of the season for Army. Five of the team’s newcomers are averaging double-digit minutes and bolster a rotation that includes last season’s Rookie of the Year in Reese Ericson (9.0 ppg, 2.8 apg) and the team’s leading scorer in junior Trinity Hardy (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg).

Freshman guard Taylor Wilson, although recently sidelined with an injury, has been a key perimeter threat. She’s hit 11-for 18 from deep over her last five games, including an 18-point effort in the team’s 75-66 road win over Bucknell; she’s made three starts.

Classmate Camryn Tade also plays a big role in the team’s guard rotation. Tade has made five starts for the Black Knights and played 34 minutes and scored eight points in the squad’s vital 58-43 victory over Holy Cross this past weekend. She is playing 18.9 minutes per game and shooting 50.0% from the floor on a 36-for-72 effort.

Army freshman Kya Smith looks up and prepares to shoot the ball
Army freshman Kya Smith is making her presence felt in the paint around the league. (Photo credit: Army West Point Athletics Communications)

UTEP transfer and first-year small forward Soleil Montrose is averaging 12.0 minutes a game and played a season-high 26 minutes in the win over the Crusaders, grabbing a personal-best seven rebounds in an Army uniform.

Can the newcomers help the Black Knights conquer the league in a wide-open race for the title? Hastick and Smith are an inside-out tandem anchoring a team with championship reach — even as freshmen.

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Current Standings

(League record, overall record)

  1. Holy Cross (8-5, 14-10)
  2. Army (8-5, 11-12)
  3. Loyola (MD) (8-5, 13-11)
  4. American (7-6, 9-15)
  5. Boston University (7-6, 15-9)
  6. Lehigh (6-7, 14-10)
  7. Colgate (6-7, 13-11)
  8. Bucknell (6-7, 9-15)
  9. Navy (5-8, 9-15)
  10. Lafayette (4-9, 9-15)

What’s the can’t-miss matchup of the week? 

Colgate at American

Saturday, Feb. 24 @ 4 p.m. ET

The streaky Raiders will head to D.C. for the biggest game of the weekend. The stakes are high for both squads: Entering the week, American sits one-game back from first place with a chance to earn a season sweep and put the Raiders in the rear-view mirror; Colgate is just two games back from the top and aiming to secure a top-four finish for the second straight season.

The Eagles’ fortunes may rest on the right ankle of forward Emily Johns. The senior star tweaked it in a 64-57 loss to Lafayette over the weekend. Johns’ (12.0 ppg) presence in the offense makes everything run more efficiently, and her leadership keeps things disciplined on both ends.

American forward Emily Johns jumps and shoots the ball
Senior Eagles forward Emily Johns will be key in round two of Colgate vs. American in D.C. Can the Eagles pull an important sweep in our game of the week? (Photo credit: American University Athletic Communications)

The Raiders have four road wins in league play behind a defense that travels well and a veteran rotation that keeps them in every game. Balance on offense has been the key to their success. Colgate has six scorers averaging 7.5 points per game.

While the absence of junior Morgan McMahon due to injury is impactful, it does mean more shots for the regular rotation, specifically for forward Sophia Diehl. This weekend, the junior forward solved a tough Bucknell defense, scoring a season-high 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in 36 minutes for a key 59-55 win. 

In 36 minutes in round one against American, Diehl didn’t register a point. 

She’ll be a key performer in this matchup and fans can expect different numbers from the 6’1 Westminster, Maryland, product. Diehl is shooting 47.4% from the field and is Colgate’s leading rebounder, with 6.5 boards per outing. 

Three-point shooting may be the most revealing head-to-head statistic. American is last in the league from behind the arc, and Colgate is second, shooting 35.7% from deep—good for 35th in the nation. 

It will be a feisty and physical matchup; expect foul trouble to be a factor. The result may determine which team earns home court for a potential third matchup in the league playoffs.

The last meeting: Jan. 27, 2024. The Eagles won 56-54 in Hamilton. American used a 19-14 third-quarter edge to add to a one-point halftime lead and grind out a close fourth-quarter finish. Colgate came out of the half shooting 62.5% from the floor in the third but was outmatched by the Eagles’ 66.67% performance. Emily Johns (13), Kayla Henning (12) and Bailey Garbee (12) led a balanced scoring attack to secure the road win. The Raiders struggled from the deep, converting just 1-for-9 behind the arc and committed a costly 18 turnovers. Tiasia McMillan led Colgate with 12 points on a perfect 6-for-6 effort from the floor.

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League news and notes

  • Boston University guard Alex Giannaros scored 25 points and converted a career-best seven 3-pointers in the Terriers’ 69-60 road win at Navy. The junior sharpshooter is shooting 42.4% on a 53-for-125 effort from behind the arc this season.
  • Loyola forward Lex Therien’s 21 made field goals against Lehigh are the most made in an NCAA game this season.
  • Navy freshman guard Zanai Barnett-Gay has six double-doubles on the season. The Glenn Dale, Maryland, native leads the Mids in scoring (18.0 ppg), rebounding (6.5 rpg) and steals (70).
  • Sophia Diehl’s 18-point, 13-rebound effort in Colgate’s 59-55 victory over Bucknell was her first double-double of the season.
  • Lafayette’s 64-57 win over American gave the Leopards their first season sweep of the Eagles since 2019-20. The Eagles lead the overall head-to-head series 35-11.
  • The Rookie of the Year race is a two-player competition: This week’s honoree Ashley Sofilkanich of Bucknell has claimed the weekly award five times; Navy’s Zanai Barnett-Gay has earned it six times. Their respective teams will face off one more time in the regular-season finale on March 6.
  • Navy’s Zanai Barnett-Gay has already set the freshman scoring record for the Mids.
  • American ranks last in the league in 3-point shooting, converting just 25.7% of its shots from distance—good for 328 out of 349 teams nationally.

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.)

Feb. 21

Army at Lehigh @ 6 p.m.

Holy Cross at Bucknell @ 6 p.m.

American at Boston University @ 6 p.m.

Lafayette at Colgate @ 7 p.m.

Loyola (MD) at Navy @ 7 p.m.

Feb. 24

Navy at Holy Cross @ 12 p.m.

Bucknell at Army @ 1 p.m.

Colgate at American @ 4 p.m.

Boston University at Loyola (MD) @ 5 p.m.

Lafayette at Lehigh @ 7:30 p.m.

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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