NCAA Tournament Preview: Mariners Head Up To Bowdoin For Opening Rounds Of National Championships

NCAA Tournament Preview: Mariners Head Up To Bowdoin For Opening Rounds Of National Championships

Live Stats
Live Video 

KINGS POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 28, 2019) – The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy women's basketball team will battle Smith College tomorrow, Friday, March 1, in its first-ever NCAA Tournament contest in the opening round of the 2019 NCAA DIII Championship. The first-round game between the Mariners and the Pioneers is scheduled to tipoff at 5 p.m. at the Morrell Gymnasium on the campus of Bowdoin College up in Brunswick, Maine. 

Making The Trip Up To Attend?
Bowdoin Athletics will be charging admission to enter the Morrell Gym for the first- and second-round games this weekend. Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for seniors (65+) and students. Tickets will be sold at the door both days, beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Live Coverage For The Weekend
If you cannot make the long trip up to the Pine Tree State, the Bowdoin Sports Information office has you covered. All three games this weekend will feature live stats and live video feeds. Here are the live links for the Merchant Marine-Smith first-round matchup on Friday – Live StatsLive Video

Live links for a potential second-round game on Saturday, March 2, will be available on the USMMA Women's Basketball Schedule Page

NCAA DIII Women's Basketball Championship Bracket And Digital Program
To view the NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship bracket, follow this link. The digital program for the tournament is also available at this link. (The Mariners are featured on page 23, Smith is on page 32, and the other two teams in the opening-rounds pod, Bowdoin is on page 6, and Hunter is on page 19.) 

Mariners Move Up Regional Rankings To #6
The NCAA announced its latest Regional Rankings on Wednesday and after landing at #8 two of the past three weeks, the Mariners check in at #6 in the Atlantic Region this week. To view the NCAA Regional Rankings (through games played Feb. 24, 2019), click here

A Closer Look At The Teams
Merchant Marine Mariners – Record: 22-3 – RosterScheduleStats
Smith Pioneers – Record: 21-6 – RosterScheduleStats 

How They Got Here
The Mariners earned an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Skyline Conference Championship last Saturday, Feb. 23, up at Mount St. Mary. They boasted a 20-3 overall (16-2 Skyline) record at the end of the regular season and earned the #2 seed in the Skyline Tourney. After an opening-round bye, USMMA defeated #6-seed Farmingdale State in the semifinals, 64-35, on Feb. 21, before travelling up to top-seeded Mount St. Mary on Saturday and using a stalwart defensive effort to defeat the Knights, 44-39. 

Smith got into the NCAA Tournament via an at-large selection after a 20-5 regular season record, including a 13-3 mark in NEWMAC action, which was good for the #2 seed in the NEWMAC Tournament. In the conference tourney, the Pioneers defeated #7-seed Wellesley at home on Feb. 19, 75-38, in the first round, but lost in the semifinals to #3-seed Springfield, 48-46, on Feb. 21. 

One Common Opponent
The only common opponent that the two teams share is Merchant Marine's arch-rival and Smith's NEWMAC foe, Coast Guard. The Pioneers defeated the Bears, 83-59, at home back on Jan. 23, while the Mariners lost to Coast Guard via a buzzer-beater, 58-56, on the road on Feb. 4. 

Scouting The Smith Pioneers
This is the second time in program history that Smith's 12th-year head coach Lynn Hersey has brought the Pioneers to the NCAA Tournament, as they also qualified back in 2013, when they reached the second round. Prior to its loss in the NEWMAC semifinals last week, Smith had won 12-straight games from Jan. 12 until Feb. 19. 

The Pioneers are atop the NEWMAC rankings, averaging 70.8 points per game and shooting 45.3% from the field, which also ranks ninth in the country. They are the second-best three-point shooting team in the nation, connecting on 39.9% of their shots from beyond the arc. Smith also ranks fourth in the conference with 55.0 points allowed per game and are the league-leaders in holding opponents to 34.8% shooting. Defensively, their +11.8 rebound margin ranks the Pioneers 10th among all DIII teams in the country. 

Senior Lauren Bondi, who was named the NEWMAC WBB Athlete of the Year, is the team-leader with 18.7 points per game, which ranks 37th in the nation. She's also 11th in the country with a 43.0% three-point shooting percentage and 21st with an 85.3% free-throw percentage. Classmate Kennedy Guest-Pritchett is the Pioneers' top rebounder with 11.6 boards per game, which ranks 26th in the nation, and has recorded 13 double-doubles on the season. Both Bondi and Guest-Pritchett were selected to the All-NEWMAC First Team. 

Merchant Marine's Magical Year
11th-year head coach Matt Dempsey, the 2018-19 Skyline WBB Coach of the Year, and long-time assistant Alexa Shields have guided the Mariners to a program-record 22 wins this season, their first-ever Skyline Championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament. USMMA enters the NCAA Tournament with the number-one ranked defense in Division III, allowing just 45.2 points per game, and also lead the nation in field-goal percentage defense (29.8%). The Mariners' offense produces 61.9 points per game, which is fifth in the Skyline, while their 49.32 rebounds per game rank fifth in the nation and their +12.5 rebound margin is good for ninth among all DIII teams. 

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Skyline women's basketball head coaches selected USMMA freshman Lauren Hunter (Tinley Park, Ill.) as the Rookie of the Year for her efforts during her phenomenal first-year campaign. Hunter, who ranks fifth in the nation with 19 double-doubles and is the Mariners' leading scorer (17.1ppg), sharp-shooter (51.8%) and rebounder (12.3rpg), was also selected to the All-Skyline First Team along with junior Kaleigh D'Arcy (White Plains, N.Y.). D'Arcy has produced 14.4 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game, a .375 shooting percentage, 1.5 blocks per game, 3.1 assists per game and a 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

The Other Teams In The Pod
Bowdoin (26-1), which is currently ranked #2 in the ABCA Top 25 Poll and #3 in the Poll, will be making its 19th NCAA Tournament appearance - the most of any NESCAC school. The Polar Bears have advanced to the "Sweet Sixteen" on 12 occasions and twice to the "Final Four", including a runner-up finish in last year's NCAA Championship. Bowdoin owns the nation's third-best scoring offense (84.0ppg) and second-best scoring margin (+29.0) against the nation's third-ranked strength of schedule. 

The Polar Bears polished off just the second undefeated regular season in program history and spent the majority of the year ranked first in both Top 25 Polls. NESCAC Coach of the Year Adrienne Shibles became the program's winningest head coach earlier this season and owns a 249-64 record at Bowdoin (.795). 1,000-point scorer, senior Abby Kelly, was named NESCAC Player of the Year and classmate Taylor Choate was named NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year. Kelly was joined by junior Maddie Hasson as a First Team All-NESCAC selection. 

This marks Hunter's (18-9) fifth NCAA tournament appearance and first since the 2003-04 season. The Hawks, under fifth-year head coach John Garrett, will look to capture the program's first-ever NCAA tournament victory. 

Senior guard Jade Aponte was named the 2019 CUNYAC Player of the Year. During the regular season, she led the conference in scoring (18.4ppg), while ranking second in the league in shooting from beyond the arc (33.9%) and steals per game (3.5). Hunter is ranked seventh in the nation in steals, totaling 396 on the year. 

Junior guard/forward Janine Conway was named to the 2019 CUNYAC All-Star First Team, having averaged 14.2 points in 30 minutes per game in the regular-season, while classmate guard Theresa Leung was named to the 2019 CUNYAC All-Star Second Team. She is a three-year starter who had the best assist/turnover ratio (1.8) in the league. The Hawks have many scoring threats, including off the bench, as 10 different players have scored in double-figures at least twice this season. 

Up Next
The winner of Friday's two first-round games will meet in the second round on Saturday, March 2, at the Morrell Gym, with a trip to the sectionals on the line. Saturday's contest is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff at Bowdoin. 

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