The University of Scranton women's basketball team won its third straight Landmark Conference championship with a dramatic, 59-58 overtime victory over Juniata on Saturday in the Long Center. With their 21st straight victory, the #11 Lady Royals (26-1) earn an automatic bid the NCAA Tournament which will begin next Friday.
In a back-and-forth affair between the conference's top two seeds which featured 17 lead changes and 11 ties, Scranton overcame a five-point deficit – which matched the largest lead for either team during the game – in overtime by scoring the final six points of the contest to win their sixth Landmark Conference title and 24th overall conference tournament championship in program history.
Bridgette Mann (Canadensis, Pa./Wallenpaupack) was named the Landmark Conference Championship MVP after finishing with a team-high 17 points. After being held to just four point through the first three quarters, the junior guard scored 10 of Scranton's final 12 points including the last six for the Lady Royals in regulation.
Juniata (22-5), who will now await word on a potential at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, jumped out to an early 7-2 advantage on Saturday before Scranton used an 11-5 run to claim a 13-12 edge with 1:11 remaining in the first quarter. The Eagles got a layup at the buzzer to hold a one-point edge at the end of the opening period.
The two teams went point-for-point early in the second stanza with Juniata holding a 20-16 edge at the 6:26 mark. The Lady Royals closed the frame with seven unanswered points to take a slim, 23-20 lead into the intermission.
Scranton and Juniata swapped the lead three times in the third quarter with the Eagles using a 10-2 surge to open up a 38-33 advantage with 1:37 remaining. After two points for each side, Sofia Recupero (Whitestone, N.Y./St. Francis Prep) converted a layup to cut the host's deficit to 40-37 heading into the final period of regulation.
The teams remained within a single possession of each other throughout the fourth quarter in an exciting 10 minutes of play that saw the lead swap hands five times while also featuring five ties.
Trailing by a point, 50-49, with 21 seconds remaining, Mann connected on a jumper to put Scranton back in front before knocking down a pair of free throws to give the Lady Royals a 53-50 advantage with seven seconds remaining.
Juniata called a timeout to advance the ball and Dani Atkinson, who finished with a game-high 26 points, forced overtime by banking in a long three-pointer with 1.3 seconds remaining.
The Eagles tallied the first five points of overtime to hold a 58-53 lead with 3:41 remaining. Makenzie Mason (Doylestown, Pa./Central Bucks West) and Mann both converted a pair from the line each to pull the Lady Royals to within point midway through the period.
Mann, who finished a perfect 8-for-8 from the line, sunk two more with 2:03 remaining to give Scranton a 59-58 lead. That would mark the end of the scoring as a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer for Juniata would not go.
Mason finished one rebound shy of a double-double after totaling 10 points, nine rebounds, a career-high five blocks, and three assists, which match Mann and Atkinson for a game-high. Katie Feehery (Media, Pa./Cardinal O'Hara) turned in another outstanding performance off the bench, finishing one point away from a double-double by pulling down a career and game-high 15 rebounds to go along with nine points.
The Lady Royals shot 32.7 percent from the field for the game while connecting on just 18.2 percent of their three-point attempts. The hosts also went 76 percent from the line in the win.
Atkinson was joined in double-figures by Morgan Instone, who totaled 16 points for Juniata while Rachael Anstine totaled 10 rebounds.
The Eagles finished the contest hitting on 31 percent of their attempts from the floor while going 35.7 percent from beyond the arc and 69.2 percent from the charity stripe.
The 2018 NCAA Tournament field will be announced on Monday at 2:30 p.m.