ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — It was a ceremony no Navy women’s basketball team had participated in before.
One after another, the players and the coaching staff climbed the ladder and happily snipped a cord off the net. Finally, the only thing left on the backboard was a barren rim.
Freshman Jade Geif had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Navy rallied past American 47-40 Saturday to win the Patriot League championship and earn its first trip to the NCAA tournament.
Playing in its first title game since 1999, Navy (20-11) started slowly and fell behind by 12 at halftime. But the top-seeded Midshipmen opened the second half with a 16-2 run, then used a late surge to secure the victory on their home floor.
As the final buzzer sounded, the players gathered in a group at midcourt for a group hug. Soon after that, they celebrated the first league title in the 33-year history of the program by slicing down the net.
“Obviously all the girls on the team have been dreaming of this since they were little, from kindergarten all the way up to this moment,” Geif said. “To walk up the ladder and cut down the net was the greatest feeling, just knowing we had all done it together. It was really incredible.”
It was the lowest-scoring game in the history of the Patriot League tournament. Third-seeded American (22-9) scored only 10 points in the second half on 4-of-22 shooting.
“There did seem to be a point late in that game where we were just going to win,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. “That’s a real special moment in sports. Not taking anything away from them, but they were just so cold in the second half, and you didn’t get the sense they were going to heat up.”
It was the sixth time American reached a conference championship game, and the sixth time it lost. The Eagles have come up short in four appearances in the Patriot League finals and twice in the Colonial Athletic Association.
After Navy took its first lead at 34-32, the Eagles ran off seven straight points to go up 39-34. But American would score only one point over the final 8:44.
“I thought we kind of weathered the storm after the first two minutes of the second half, but the box score tells the story,” AU coach Matt Corkery said. “We never really got anything going from an offensive standpoint in the second half, and the shots that we did get didn’t go down for us.”
The Eagles’ final lead quickly vanished. Angela Myers hit a 3-pointer for the Midshipmen, Geif scored on a drive and Audrey Bauer connected from long range to make it 42-39 with 4:27 to go.
Neither team scored again until Alix Membreno popped a jumper from beyond the arc to provide the Midshipmen with a six-point cushion with 2:39 left.
Nicole Ryan scored 12 points for American, and Liz Leer had eight points and 10 rebounds. But the story for the Eagles was the dismal second half.
“Ten points in a half. That’s unbelievable,” Corkery said.
The Eagles and Midshipmen finished tied atop the regular-season standings with Lehigh, but Navy won the tiebreaker by virtue of having the best record in games between the three teams.
The Midshipmen didn’t look like a top seed in the first half, but things changed dramatically after the break. Membreno hit a pair of 3-pointers during the spree and Geif contributed two straight layups.
After making only seven field goals before halftime, the Midshipmen got six in the opening 5 minutes of the second half.
The Eagles limited Navy to 33 percent shooting, forced 10 turnovers and didn’t give up a point over the final 5½ minutes of the first half in taking a 30-18 lead.
American got off to a sizzling start, making its first four shots — including three from beyond the arc — to go up 11-3. The Midshipmen, conversely, opened 1 for 6 with four turnovers.
Navy responded by tightening its defense, and the Eagles went nearly 5 minutes without scoring before Ryan sank a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 14-8.
The margin fluctuated between four and six points until American closed the half with an 8-0 run. Ebony Edwards turned a steal into a layup, and Leer twice scored from long range during the final 52 seconds.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)