WEST POINT - Sophomore Kelsey Minato scored a Patriot League Championship game-record 31 points, as the second-seeded Army women’s basketball team defeated No. 5 Holy Cross, 68-58, to claim its second conference title on Saturday evening at Christl Arena.
By virtue of winning the conference championship, the Black Knights (25-7) earn the Patriot League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in Division I program history. Army last reached the national tournament in 2006. The Black Knights’ 25 victories set the team’s Division I record for most victories in a season, and tie the all-time total set as a Division II program in 1983-84 (25-3).
"These kids knew that whatever the atmosphere was going to be, they were going to make their own history here tonight," said Army head coach Dave Magarity. "For us to come out and execute the game plan the way that we did was special.
"(The team) embraced what happened the last time we played a championship game here. We told the story, we showed them the story, but we also spent a lot of time talking about how this is their time. (The 2005-06 team) is such a big part of the fabric of our history here, but this team will go down as one of the best."
Minato, who was named the tournament’s most-valuable player, went 10-of-18 from the floor and 8-of-8 from the foul line, while also grabbing five rebounds. Senior Jen Hazlett earned All-Tournament Team honors and finished with seven points and five boards, and freshman Danielle Failor posted seven points and seven rebounds. Junior Krishawn Tillett and sophomore Brianna Johnson also tallied seven points.
Seniors Brisje Malone and Alex Smith each netted 16 points to lead Holy Cross (20-12), while sophomore Raquel Scott posted a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
Holy Cross led by as many as five during the early goings of the first half before Army put together a 17-4 run to put take a 23-15 lead with 6:06 remaining in the period. Four Black Knights scored during the run, including Minato, who netted 10 of the final 12 points in the stretch. The Crusaders answered by scoring the next seven over a 1:14 span to cut their deficit to 23-22 with 3:47 left in the frame.
Tillett capped a 10-4 Black Knight run by hitting a three-pointer with 53 ticks left in the half to put the hosts up, 33-26. Army was 4-of-4 from the field during the run, including a 2-of-2 showing from long range. Neither team scored in the remainder of the half, with the Black Knights holding the Crusaders without a shot in the last 52 seconds.
The Crusaders outscored the Black Knights, 6-5, in the opening 3:07 of the second half before Army used a 13-5 run over the next 9:26 to build a 51-37 cushion. Four players contributed points for the hosts during the run, including Minato and Tillett, who each poured in four. Smith accounted for seven of Holy Cross’ points during a 13-7 run that cut its deficit to eight by the 2:49 mark.
Minato completed an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:53 remaining to extend the Black Knight lead back to 11, but Holy Cross tallied six of the game’s next eight points to trim the margin to seven with 50 seconds left to play. Three players contributed to Army’s 5-of-6 showing from the free-throw stripe in the final 43 seconds, including Minato and Johnson, who were each 2-of-2. The hosts were able to maintain at least an eight-point advantage the rest of the way, as Holy Cross went 1-for-2 down the stretch.