The clock is ticking on Vaneeshia Paulk’s college career, and the senior guard displayed a sense of urgency on Wednesday night.
With the Binghamton women’s basketball team vying to snap a 12-game skid, Paulk scored a game-high 24 points and led the Bearcats to a 55-51 win over Hartford.
“Amazing,” Paulk said of the victory, the team’s first since Jan. 7. “Being that we only have one more home game, especially me being a senior, I just needed to get that win. At least one. We are going to beat UMBC as well, but getting this win was very, very important to us.”
Paulk finished her penultimate regular-season game with the Bearcats (5-23, 2-13 America East) scoring in a variety of ways. She buried each of the five 3-pointers she attempted, netted three of eight shots from inside the arc and converted three of four foul shots.
“I think it was one of those nights when [Paulk] was feeling it,” BU head coach Nicole Scholl said. “It was nice to see her kind of go out in her second-to-last game with a night like tonight.”
Paulk carried the Bearcats, but freshman forward Kristin Ross buried the go-ahead basket with 1:07 remaining, breaking a 49-49 stalemate. Ross, who had made only 12 career field goals, received a pass from Albrecht on the right baseline, took one dribble and nailed a jump shot from a few feet outside of the paint.
“I wasn’t thinking about [nerves] at all,” Ross said. “I didn’t expect [the ball], but once I had it in my hands I knew that my team needed a good lead to open it up a little bit.”
Paulk then sealed the deal, scoring the last of her 18 second-half points with 19 seconds left and Binghamton clinging to a two-point lead. Her layup extended the advantage to four, and Hartford (11-17, 8-7 AE) would never pull any closer.
Though the Bearcats finished strong, they started slow. Hartford jumped out to a 5-0 lead, forcing Scholl to call for time. Binghamton proceeded to play arguably its best 17-minute stretch of the season.
With several players contributing, the Bearcats spurted out to a 30-23 lead at halftime.
Hartford, thanks in large part to eight points from freshman forward Alyssa Reaves, began the second half on a 14-9 run, cutting BU’s lead to two with 10 minutes remaining in the period. Two minutes later, the Hawks repossessed the lead on a free throw from freshman forward La’Trice Hall.
The teams reverted to alternating scores for the next few minutes, until another Paulk trey tied the score at 46 with five minutes remaining in the game. Hartford senior guard Alyssa Englert would make two free throws on the following possession to put the visitors up by two.
Their lead didn’t last long. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Paulk drained another 3-pointer, turning the board back in the Bearcats’ favor.
“Shoot till I miss,” Paulk said about her mentality in the second half. “They [weren’t] guarding me so I just kept shooting. Before the game, I got in the gym and got some shots up, so I was definitely confident in my shot.”
After Paulk’s fifth 3-pointer of the game, Swinson, this season’s leading scorer (9.9 ppg), fouled out of the game. Hartford junior forward Cherelle Moore converted one of the resultant free throws, tying the score.
Then Ross nailed her jumper, and Paulk extended the lead to four. Hartford couldn’t score from beyond the arc, and the Bearcats kept pace with UMBC for eighth place in the America East.
Aside from Paulk, BU received contributions from both sophomore guard Kandace Newry and junior forward Sherae Swinson, who each finished with eight points. Sophomore forward Morgan Murphy added 11 rebounds for Binghamton.
The Bearcats will celebrate Senior Day when they return to action on Saturday against UMBC in their regular-season finale. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. at the Events Center.