Second-Half Defensive Effort Leads Women's Basketball to 72-47 Win Over Navy, Berth in PL Championship Game

Second-Half Defensive Effort Leads Women's Basketball to 72-47 Win Over Navy, Berth in PL Championship Game

The American University women's basketball team held Navy without a field goal for a 13:10 stretch during the second half, allowing the Eagles to pull away and finish off the Midshipmen, 72-47, in the Patriot League Tournament Semifinals Sunday afternoon at the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. With the win, second-seeded American will face top-seed Lehigh in the PL Championship Game on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Lehigh's Stabler Arena. The contest will be broadcast to a live nationwide audience on CBS College Sports Network.

The first few minutes of action were back-and-forth until Liz Leer scored eight straight points for  American (22-8, 13-1 PL) to give the Eagles a 14-9 lead at the 11:28 mark. She knocked down a pair of three-pointers during the stretch, and added a turnaround jumper in the lane.

An Ebony Edwards three kept AU's advantage at five, 19-14, midway through the half. Leading 21-18 with seven minutes to go, the Eagles put together a 6-0 spurt on a Michelle Kirk layup and a Raven Harris free throw and three-pointer from the corner, which extended the advantage to nine, 27-18.

But third-seeded Navy (17-14, 8-6 PL) fought back with a 10-2 run to get within one of the Eagles. A beautiful backdoor pass from Leer to Lisa Strack for the layup, however, brought the AU lead back to three late in the half. After a defensive stop with time winding down in the opening 20 minutes, Harris drove the ball coast-to-coast to beat the halftime buzzer to give AU a 33-28 lead at intermission.

Leer began the second-half scoring with a turnaround jumper on the opening possession, and later, four straight Strack free throws gave the Eagles a 39-30 lead. After a Navy bucket, a Leer three-pointer followed by a Kirk driving layup extended the advantage to 12, 44-32, with 16:06 to play.

A slashing Kirk bucket plus the foul extended AU's lead to 48-34 at the 11:17 mark. The Eagles put the game out of reach with a 7-0 run, capped on an Edwards driving left-handed layup, to take a 57-35 advantage with 6:38 remaining.

The Eagles continued to apply the pressure late in the game, as a Leer three from straight-away extended the lead to 25, 66-41, with 3:26 to play. Strack added a pair of free throws to give AU a 27-point advantage, its largest of the game, and the Eagles cruised to the final buzzer with a 72-47 victory.

AU outscored Navy by a 39-19 margin in the second half, holding the Midshipmen to 19.4 percent (6-31) shooting over the 20-minute span, including 1-10 from three-point range. On the flip side, the Eagles shot a blazing 63.2 percent (12-19) from the floor in the second half.

"We put a string of positive possessions together offensively...and at the same time we were getting stops," commented American Head Coach Matt Corkery in reference to AU's strong play in the second half. "We put it together at both ends, and fortunately, were able to get separation. I thought we did a better job on [Navy guard Angela] Myers in the second half, keeping her out of the lane. She is such a great player, a great playmaker, and I thought we stepped up our defensive energy on her, which was a big key."

For the second straight game, the Eagles had four players in double figures. Leer led AU with 18 points and eight rebounds, and was a perfect 4-4 from three-point range. Harris finished with 15 points and a career-best six rebounds, while Strack added 14 points and three rebounds. Kirk, the Patriot League Player of the Year, registered 11 points and has now scored 536 points in 2009-10, which breaks the program record for most single-season points. The previous mark was 534, set by Beth Shearer in the  1987-88 campaign.

Navy's Cassie Consedine recorded a game-high 20 points for the Midshipmen.

American's 25-point win goes in the Patriot League record books as the largest margin of victory in a semifinal game in Patriot League Tournament history. The previous record was 23, which was set on two previous occasions, including in 2007 when AU defeated Colgate, 68-45.

AU now moves into the Patriot League Championship Game, which will be played next Saturday, March 13 at 6 p.m. at Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa. The game will be broadcast live on CBS College Sports Network. The Eagles have reached the PL finals on two previous occasions (2004 and 2007), but came up short in both instances.

The Mountain Hawks advanced to the finals with a 73-57 win over #5 Holy Cross in the first semifinal earlier in the day. AU and Lehigh split the regular season title with 13-1 Patriot League records, although the Mountain Hawks earned the top-seed in the conference tournament due to a higher RPI.