(Associated Press) (Associated Press)

Eight years ago, amid the heartbreak of the unexpected passing of Army women’s basketball coach Maggie Dixon, Kevin Anderson had only one candidate in mind to fill the vacancy. The search began and ended with Dave Magarity, who had served as Dixon’s associate head coach and was invaluable in helping Army to its first NCAA tournament appearance during that 2005-06 season.

Magarity and Anderson, the former Army athletic director who now holds the same position at Maryland, had an opportunity to reconnect Saturday afternoon, roughly 24 hours before Army plays the 11th-ranked Terrapins in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Comcast Center. The 13th-seeded Black Knights (25-7) are making their second NCAA appearance and are set to face Maryland in the first meeting between the schools.

“It’s a very emotional thing,” Magarity said Saturday afternoon with regard to Dixon’s passing and taking over as coach. “It was a tough time. It was probably one of the toughest things I’ve ever lived through. More than anything, it was a decision I made to stay because I just felt she gave me something back that I thought I had lost.”

Magarity has been in coaching for more than three decades, including a lengthy run as the Marist men’s coach, before spending several years in administrative roles with mid-major conferences, including the Mid-American in 2005. Around then, Anderson persuaded Magarity to join Dixon’s staff, and the result was Army’s first Patriot League tournament title and the first time any Black Knights basketball team, men or women, had earned an NCAA berth.

Nearly a month later, Dixon died suddenly April 6, 2006, of an arrhythmia stemming from an enlarged heart and corresponding problem with a heart valve. Dixon, whom Anderson also had hired, was 29. Magarity was named head coach May 2.

“Both he and I were devastated when she passed,” Anderson said. “After everything had settled, I started talking with my staff, the leadership at West Point, about replacing Maggie. I said, ‘There’s only one person who can do it, and it has to be Dave,’ because he is the only one who can manage through the raw emotion and everything else that comes with losing such a dynamic person.”

In the years since, Magarity was named Patriot League coach of the year in 2012-13, became the third coach in program history to reach 100 wins and is first all-time in victories over Division I opponents. During the season following Dixon’s death, the Black Knights went 26-4, the most wins in a single season at West Point.

Army enters this NCAA tournament having won seven in a row, eight of nine and 13 of 15. During that stretch, the Black Knights beat Navy, 54-48, in the annual Star game between the service academies and dethroned their arch rival after the Midshipmen had won three consecutive Patriot League tournament titles.

“We’re going to represent the Patriot League well because we are one of the toughest teams that I have ever been a part of, and everyone is just ready to play, and we’re going to compete,” Army senior guard-forward Jen Hazlett said. “We have some tough girls on this team. We’re all going to the army, so we’re pretty tough girls, and we play like that on the court.”