While its win on Wednesday lifted it from the bottom of the conference momentarily, the Binghamton women’s basketball team slunk back into last place after a loss in its regular-season closer on Saturday. The contest was closely fought, extending into two overtime periods before UMBC (4-24, 3-13 America East) managed to secure its victory at the Events Center, 66-60.
The defeat seals the Bearcats (5-24, 2-14 AE) into the eighth seed for the conference tournament, meaning that they will face top-seeded Albany on Friday.
“Obviously tough loss. Especially for the four seniors playing their final home game, it would have been nice to get this one,” BU head coach Nicole Scholl said. “But basketball’s not over with yet. We’ve got next week with the conference tournament and at that point, you know we say this over and over again but it is true, you’re back to zero and zero and it’s kind of a start for a new season.”
For at least one senior, however, her last regular-season contest bore a silver lining. Senior guard Vaneeshia Paulk followed up her strong performance against Hartford, in which she recorded a career-high 24 points, with her first career double-double off of 18 points and 13 rebounds. But to Paulk, those numbers mean little.
“It feels good to go out like that, but we still came up short with the loss,” Paulk said. “Stats really don’t matter because at the end of the game, it’s still a loss.”
Paulk was disappointed in her late-game performance, knowing that if she had capitalized on her opportunities, her team could have been singing to a more cheerful tune.
“I should have knocked down free throws; I know in the last couple of seconds I may have missed three or four free throws, and I feel like I should have knocked those down and we wouldn’t have even been in this situation,” Paulk said.
Junior guard Janelle Saling proved a crucial component of the Retriever offense, knocking down 16 points, 15 of which came from beyond the arc.
“I thought we hit some early shots, gained some confidence, then they came back at us and they made some key shots — they had a key 3-pointer that kind of hurt us there at the end, I think from [Saling],” Scholl said. “We were there, but you know hands down, and that’s what she does — she shoots the three. So it was frustrating, a couple of things didn’t fall for us when we needed them to.”
With their offensive output minimal, shooting just 17.4 percent on 4-of-23 shooting in the first 16 minutes, the Bearcats struggled as the Retrievers built a cushion that extended to 11 points at its peak (19-8). But with the clock winding down and halftime looming near, BU’s cylinders began to fire. Contributions from senior forward Julia Barac, freshman guard Kristin Ross and Paulk pulled the score to 21-17 at the half.
After the buzzer, BU came out strong in the first five minutes, knotting the score at 24 before the Retrievers managed to build their lead back up, holding an 11-point advantage with just 6:20 to go. Paulk personally narrowed that gap with six points off a trey and some free throws before sophomore guard Morgan Murphy stepped in and closed it to two. From there, the Bearcats didn’t allow UMBC to slip away again, and regulation concluded with both teams at 44.
In the first overtime period, BU jumped out to a lead that was as large as six due in large part to Murphy, but the Retrievers rallied back to end the period at an even 54. With Murphy fouled out, the second overtime period opened, and UMBC crept ahead for good. Two threes and six downed from the charity stripe granted the Retrievers their lead, whereas the Bearcats’ inability to convert on their opportunities left them in the rear.
The deciding factor of the Bearcats’ dwindling success came from the deep.
“[Saling’s] hitting deep-range 3-pointers. I feel like we kind of sagged down when she came out in over time and hit the three. We didn’t know how to respond to that,” Paulk said.
Next up for BU is the quarterfinals round of the AE Championships, which will be hosted by the two-time reigning champs, Albany (25-4, 15-1 AE). The Great Danes had played undefeated in conference matchups until Saturday, when second-seed Stony Brook robbed them of their record through a 66-56 upset.
Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the SEFCU Arena in Albany, N.Y.