LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Navy women’s basketball team’s season is not over. The Midshipmen will slip on their jerseys once more, at least, when the Women’s National Invitation Tournament kicks off this week.
But in some ways, Sunday felt like the end. In the wake of No. 2-seed Navy’s 79-71 overtime loss at top-seeded Bucknell in the Patriot League tournament championship, Coach Stefanie Pemper fought back tears as she spoke of her senior class.
Sarita Condie lost the battle. As Pemper touched on the class’s camaraderie, a tear trickled from the senior guard’s left eye.
Navy jumped out to a 10-0 lead at Sojka Pavilion, seeming every bit intent on claiming the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since the 2012-13 campaign. But in the end, the Bison’s bruising interior presence took a toll on the Midshipmen.
“It’s definitely not for lack of effort,” said Condie, who scored a team-high 16 points and made 4 of 5 three-point shots. “They had quite a few players step up in big moments. And they just made a couple more plays than we did.”
That’s not to say Navy (23-9) didn’t rise to the occasion against the Bison (27-5). With nine seconds remaining in regulation, forward Ashanti Kennedy elevated from the left side of the arc and drilled a three-pointer to tie the game at 67.
“The original play was ran for Taylor [Dunham], and my man and her man both tried to double-team her, so she just kicked it out,” Kennedy said. “I put it up.”
“That’s what we do,” Pemper said she thought to herself as the ball fell through the net.
Indeed, the Midshipmen shot 14 for 28 from long range, as Condie routinely jump-started Navy’s offense by attracting defenders while driving to the lane.
It was that way all season. With Condie leading the charge, Navy experienced one of its most successful campaigns in program history. The Midshipmen reached the 20-win threshold for the sixth time and for the first time since 2014.
For all the regular season success, though, it was an NCAA tournament berth that Navy craved. The team was a fixture in the tournament from 2010 to 2013, and had to win on Sunday to return.
It was clear from the onset that path would flow through Condie, who sent the Midshipmen to Sunday’s championship when she drilled a three-pointer with 0.5 of a second left Friday for a 54-53 win over No. 3 seed Army in the conference semifinals at Sojka.
In the seconds after that win, Condie crouched and stared at the court. Then, after guard Hannah Fenske ran over and embraced her, Condie rose. There was still work to be done here, one more game to win.
Of course, it would have to come against the hometown Bison, who dealt the Midshipmen losses in both of the school’s previous matchups this season and brought the second-longest active home winning streak (27) in the nation into Sunday’s affair.
For all of the Midshipmen’s quick, calculated passing and pesky defense, they had no answer down low for Bucknell forwards Claire DeBoer (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Sune Swart (15 points, six rebounds, five blocks).
DeBoer made 7 for 8 free throws and regularly sneaked around Midshipmen defenders for looks at the basket. She knocked down five three-pointers, too, en route to earning tournament MVP honors.
“I was like, ‘You know what, this is my last game ever playing at Sojka, why not just be confident and go out with a bang?,’ ” DeBoer said.
Navy appeared to grab some momentum late in the fourth, when Justice Swett poked the ball away and fed Dunham in transition. Dunham gave it back to Swett, who finished the layup amid contact. Her free throw gave Navy a 63-60 lead.
But Bucknell punched back, taking a 67-64 lead into the final 40 seconds. Kennedy’s long ball sent it to overtime.
The Midshipmen then finally ran out of gas. They were outscored 12-4 over the five-minute period, eventually ceding the floor for the champion’s celebration.
They didn’t hang around as the Bison rushed the court. They shook hands, gathered their belongings and slogged to the back, left to stomach a failed opportunity to play on the nation’s main stage.
“I thought that we would have to play maybe our best game of the year to win,” Pemper said. “I don’t know that we played better all year than we did today. It wasn’t good enough.”