WEST POINT, N.Y. (AP) - Getting back to the NCAA tournament means a lot to Dave Magarity.
The Army coach was one of the last links to the Black Knights' previous trip to the NCAAs in 2006 as he was an assistant on that team that was led by rookie coach Maggie Dixon. She died a month after losing in the first round of the NCAAs due to an arrhythmia, probably caused by an enlarged heart.
Magarity took the program over the next season and had guided the Black Knights to many great seasons, but no NCAA appearances. Army had lost its first game in the Patriot League tournament the past three seasons.
But now they are back in the NCAAs after a 68-58 win over Holy Cross on Saturday night in the Patriot League tournament title game. With the victory, Magarity became the second coach to lead both a men's and women's team to the NCAA tournament according to STATS. Magarity helped guide the Marist men's program to the NCAAs in 1988. Bill Morris accomplished the feat at La Salle, taking both genders to the NCAA tournament.
"It was 1987, I was 35, now I'm 64 - do the math," Magarity said laughing. "It's a long time that I haven't been in a championship game."
Magarity didn't want the focus of his team to be on the history of the program, but senior Jen Hazlett knew how special getting a win for her coach would be.
"Coach deserves this more than anyone," she said. "He cares more than anyone about this team and I'm happy we can do it for him."
Kelsey Minato scored 31 points to lead Army (25-7) and earn tournament MVP honors.
"We had the great equalizer," Magarity said of his sophomore guard. "She's an incredible player and as special a player as I've ever coached in my 32 years as a head coach."
Holy Cross, which upset top-seeded Navy to get to the championship game, had a difficult season. Head coach Bill Gibbons was on paid administrative leave for three months after a former Holy Cross player filed a civil suit against him right before the start of the season, alleging that he physically and verbally abused her.
The veteran coach, who has been at the school for 29 years, was reinstated in early January and his first game was against Army, which the Crusaders lost.
"It was a tough year," Gibbons said. "If I didn't have my family and my friends and my faith it would have been a lot tougher year. ... It wasn't easy but I think I've risen from it and will be better. Nothing you learn about in coaching 101. It's a year I won't soon forget. I was hoping to top it off with a championship, but I will hold my head high walking out of here tonight."
Minato had a school record 49 points in that win over Holy Cross. On Saturday night she was nearly as unstoppable. The guard scored 17 points in the first half as Army built a 33-26 lead. The Black Knights led 23-15 before Holy Cross scored seven straight to close within one. The Crusaders had a chance to tie it, but Lisa Mifsud couldn't complete a three-point play.
Army then closed the half scoring 10 of the final 14 points, including five by Minato, who earned tournament MVP honors.
The Crusaders got to 38-32 early in the second half, but Army responded scoring 10 of the next 11. Holy Cross closed to 58-50 with 1:54 left, but Minato's three-point play sealed the win.
Brisje Malone and Alex Smith each scored 16 points to lead Holy Cross (20-12).
Holy Cross, which has won 11 Patriot tournament titles, was looking for its first trip to the NCAAs since 2007. The Crusaders lost by a point to Army in 2006 in the Patriot League title game that year.
Gibbons was happy for his longtime friend Magarity.
"Maggie Dixon had a front row seat in heaven for this," Gibbons said. "The job he's done since Maggie's tragedy he's a class act. If it wasn't going to be us this year for all Dave's been through and all he's done I'm happy as a friend and colleague. I'm happy for them and sad for us."
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