By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A miserable 20 minutes of basketball cost Holy Cross a place in the NCAA tournament.
The Crusaders’ second-half collapse against Navy in the Patriot League title game Saturday night did not, however, diminish what they accomplished this season.
After building a seven-point halftime lead, Holy Cross shot 24 percent from the floor after the break and lost 57-48. It was a deflating finish to a tournament in which the fifth-seeded Crusaders beat Army and top-seed American to move into position to win the league crown for the 12th time.
It wasn’t the conclusion Holy Cross was looking for, but the Crusaders could take consolation in being close, given they had a 13-12 record and a four-game losing streak on Feb. 11.
“I told the kids before the game we’ve got nothing to prove,” coach Bill Gibbons said. “Everyone counted us out when we lost four in a row. We could have finished this year 13-17 and been on spring break.”
Instead, the Crusaders went 18-14 with just one senior starter. And they were looking pretty good against Navy until the second half, when they were outrebounded 25-13 to finish with a 40-30 deficit on the boards.
“We just didn’t rebound the ball in the second half as well as in the first half,” Gibbons said. “The second-chance points killed us. You’re not going to win any game, let alone championship games, like that.”
Brisje Malone led Holy Cross with 13 points and Alex Smith had 12.
Tournament MVP Jade Geif scored a career-high 22 points for the Midshipmen, including 14 in the decisive second half.
“We needed Jade to be a presence inside because we knew they couldn’t stay with her,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said.
Geif, a 6-foot forward, added: “My teammates want me to score.”
And that she did. In the second half Geif went 4 for 7 from the floor and 6 for 8 at the line.
While Geif took care of the offense, the entire squad teamed to stifle Holy Cross on the defensive end.
After the Crusaders took a 37-36 lead with 13 minutes left, Navy took control while holding Holy Cross without a field goal for nearly nine minutes.
“Their defense was very, very good. They played us the way they needed to play us,” Crusaders forward Amy Lepley, who went 4 for 12 from the field.
“Navy played a terrific second half,” Gibbons said. “I thought we had some good looks that we didn’t knock down.”
The game turned after Smith scored five straight points to put Holy Cross up by one. Geif made a layup, then sank two free throws before Alix Membreno drilled a 3-pointer to put Navy ahead 43-37.
It was 43-40 before Geif made two foul shots and teammate Audrey Bauer sank a baseline jumper. A three-point play by Malone cut the gap to 49-45, but the Crusaders could not get closer.
Navy trailed for the final 19 minutes of the first half, but came out strong after the break. A jumper by Bauer, a 3-pointer by Erin Edwards and a three-point play by Geif turned a 27-20 deficit into a 28-27 lead.
A 3-pointer by Kara Pollinger made it 36-32, but Smith scored five straight points to put Holy Cross back in front with 13 minutes to go.
It would be the Crusaders’ final lead.
Holy Cross limited the Midshipmen to 28 percent shooting in going up 25-18 at halftime. The Crusaders’ first two possessions ended with a turnover and an air ball, but they bounced back with a 9-0 run after Navy scored the game’s first basket.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)