UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After the buzzer had sounded on DePaul’s 56-43 victory over Navy on Saturday, the Blue Demons did not run off the court to celebrate their first NCAA tournament victory in five years. Instead, DePaul’s players and coaches remained on the floor and stood in quiet respect behind the Midshipmen while “Navy Blue and Gold,” the school’s alma mater, was played.
It was more than a nice show of sportsmanship. It also was a sign of the high regard the third-seeded Blue Demons held the No. 14 Midshipmen.
Navy had given DePaul fits for 30 minutes, and it wasn’t until late in the first-round game that the Blue Demons (28-6) pulled away for the win.
DePaul escaped to play sixth-seeded Penn State, a 75-66 winner over No. 11 Dayton, in Monday’s second round.
The Midshipmen (20-12) will look back with regret on their turnovers, their missed shots and the offensive rebounds they allowed. But what they should focus on is how well they acquitted themselves against what Navy Coach Stefanie Pemper called “the best team we’ve played in three years.”
Teams like Navy are supposed to be happy just to be in the tournament, not threatening to take down the top seeds. Since the women’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994, no No. 14 seed has ever beaten a No. 3 seed. And Patriot League teams were 1-18 in the NCAA tournament, having lost their previous five NCAA games by an average of 38.6 points.
Yet despite playing in their first NCAA tournament in program history, the Midshipmen showed composure and poise that belied their lack of experience. Five of the eight players who were on the court for Navy were freshmen or sophomores. And whether it was youthful bravado or simple naivete, none of them doubted they would come out of the game victorious.
“The reason that we were in that game is because we all believed that we could win,” senior guard Angela Myers said. “The whole time, even with two minutes left, we’re like, ‘This game is not over.’ ”
And they almost did win. Navy held DePaul to its third-fewest points of the season and fewest points in a win. By dictating tempo and forcing the Blue Demons to play much slower than they would have liked, the Midshipmen kept the game close.
“We’re a pretty good defensive team so we just had to carry that into the game,” Navy freshman forward Jade Geif said. “Being physical was huge. This was probably the most physical game we’ve played in this year. Yeah, they are more athletic than we are, but just getting a butt in them and boxing out was huge.”
But resolute defense wasn’t enough. Navy was undone by 23 turnovers, which DePaul turned into 20 points.
“I had seven of them, gosh,” Myers said. “That was my fault. . . . Definitely not nerves, not playing too fast either. Those turnovers killed us.”
It also didn’t help that Navy shot 39 percent and allowed the Blue Demons to grab 20 offensive rebounds.
Navy struggled to make a basket from the outset, missing 12 of its first 16 field goal attempts. Myers kept the Midshipmen in the game, scoring 11 of her 13 points before halftime. After its poor start, Navy went 4 of 4 from the floor to close out the half, going into the break down 22-21. Myers was the only player for either team in double figures in the first half.
Geif (14 points, 12 rebounds) made a layup to tie the score at 27 less than four minutes into the second half. After Felicia Chester (12 points) scored for DePaul, freshman Alix Membreno sank a three-pointer to give Navy its only lead of the game, 30-29.
Less than 30 seconds later, the Blue Demons were back out in front on Sam Quigley’s layup.
Geif made another layup to pull Navy to 41-40 with 10 minutes 28 seconds remaining, but that was the last field goal the Midshipmen made. They didn’t score another point after Membreno made a pair of free throws with 6:42 to play. Navy turned over the ball on eight of its final 12 possessions.
Despite the loss, Navy has much to be proud of: its first Patriot League tournament title, its second Patriot League regular season championship and the third-most wins in program history.
“The program is in great hands,” Myers said. “The freshmen class is outstanding. I feel like for at least the next three years . . . the bar is pretty high for this program. The sky’s the limit. Look out for us in the future.”
PENN STATE 75, DAYTON 66: The sixth-seeded Nittany Lions won on their home court to earn their first NCAA tournament victory since 2004. Alex Bentley scored 25 points on 12-of-28 shooting to lead Penn State (25-9).
The 11th-seeded Flyers (21-12), who trailed by 14 in the second half, cut their deficit to two several times in the final minutes but failed to take the lead. Justine Raterman, Dayton’s leading scorer, was hampered by a knee injury and played only 19 minutes. She finished with three points on 1-of-6 shooting. The Flyers sank 10 three-pointers but weren’t able to overcome their 22 turnovers.