After a loss to Loyola at home over the weekend, AU women’s basketball head coach Megan Gebbia lamented the team’s tough stretch without success and their ineffective offense, often using the word “disjointed” to describe the the five-game losing streak that the Eagles snapped on Wednesday night.
Gebbia’s exasperation turned to satisfaction yesterday, as the Eagles (7-22, 5-13 PL) managed to knock off Navy (15-14, 9-9 PL) at home in their last game of the regular season by a score of 61-56, only one week after losing 65-52 to that same Mids team - a team that has more than twice as many wins as AU - in Annapolis.
According to Gebbia, after the first quarter – when her squad started sluggish and emerged with a nine-point deficit – the team showed the tenacity and control that she had hoped to elicit in weeks past.
“I thought it was nice to finally close out the game and run things well,” Gebbia said. “For us, we just went to our sets. I just decided that’s what we were executing the best and we were going to stick with.”
Despite being down from the start, the Eagles managed to claw their way back into the game, particularly in the second half when they shot nearly 70 percent from the field after being down by nine after the first quarter, by six at halftime and by six going into the fourth quarter.
AU relied on strong play from its young guards, particularly sophomores Emily Kinneston and Maria Liddane, as well as freshman Kaitlyn Lewis, in order to stay in the game and take the lead in the fourth quarter. Kinneston provided eight points and seven rebounds, Liddane added 11 points of her own along with six assists and five rebounds and Lewis was the joint top-scorer for the Eagles (along with freshman center Cecily Carl) with 13 points, coupled with seven rebounds.
“I thought for the most part, our team came out pretty focused, other than probably the first quarter, which was rough for us,” Gebbia said. “But we got through that and our guards ...– that’s why they’re sitting up here today – showed up in the second half especially and just kind of carried us the rest of the way.”
Gebbia also noted the importance of freshman center Cecily Carl early in the game, as the freshman contributed seven of AU’s 11 points in the first quarter, before finishing with 13 points for the game.
“We congratulated her in the locker room because I think she was the only one who scored in the first quarter,” Gebbia said. “I think people really are starting to notice how talented she is.”
Navy maintained their advantage at the start by shooting a percentage from behind the arc, making six of their 13 three-point shots in the first half. But the Midshipmen soon cooled off, allowing AU to gain ground through solid play in the post, where the Eagles had twice as many rebounds as the Mids for the game, including 13 offensive rebounds, and scoring eight more points in the paint.
After allowing Navy to jump to early 7-0 and 10-2 leads, AU slowly chipped away at its deficit a little bit at a time with clutch plays coming from a variety of sources. Junior forward Lauren Crisler found Lewis underneath for a nice backdoor cut in the second quarter, followed by Lewis crossing over a defender and hitting a step-back jump shot to cut Navy’s lead to one several minutes later.
Liddane also found open lanes to the hoop for easy layups at several points, notably at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, in addition to the one that put AU in the lead for good with just over six minutes remaining.
“It’s nice that we can look out on the floor and say, ‘Wow, we’ve got freshmen and sophomores out there running around,’” Gebbia said. “For the most part in the fourth quarter that’s actually who was mainly in the game, and that shows the success of our program going forward.”
Because of their win, and a loss by Boston University on Wednesday, AU will now host BU for the first round of the Patriot League this Saturday at 2 p.m., in Bender Arena. The winner will advance to face second-seeded Bucknell on March 7 at 7 p.m. away later next week.
If the trio of young guards were at all nervous about the upcoming challenge of postseason play, they didn’t show after the game, laughing when asked about their assumed roles as team leaders and the challenge of March Madness. Lewis knew the answer right away about how far she thought this AU team could go in the postseason.
“All the way,” Lewis said. “I think that today’s the start of a new season. We can make a run now and anybody in the Patriot League can beat anybody else.”