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Albany ends women’s basketball’s season in AE quarterfinals

Heart and toughness weren’t enough for the Binghamton women’s basketball team in tonight’s America East quarterfinal against Albany.

The Bearcats couldn’t overcome a 20-point halftime deficit, and fell victim to the league’s regular-season champion, 77-59. The Great Danes (26-4, 15-1 AE) will advance to the semifinals, while the Bearcats (5-25, 2-14 AE) will head home, eliminated from the tournament.

“Congratulations to Albany,” BU coach Nicole Scholl said. “There is a reason why they are the number one team in the conference. I was very proud of our players. There was times when we gave them a run for their money. Overall I am very happy with the way we came out and the way we played”                  The Bearcats executed well in the opening four minutes of the game thanks in large part to the play of their leading scorer, junior forward Sherae Swinson. Binghamton held a one point advantage heading into the first media timeout.

BU would not be on top for long. Albany scored nine consecutive points after the time-out, and overall went on a 29-12 run in the next 10 minutes to build a 16-point lead. America East Player of the Year Shereesha Richards, a sophomore forward, continued to propel her team forward, leading Albany to a 47-27 halftime lead.

“Every time we made a run they came back from it,” Scholl said. “That is the mark of a good team and an experienced team.”

Binghamton came out of the locker room scorching hot from the field. Sophomore forward Morgan Murphy opened second half scoring with a lay-up. Senior guard Stephanie Jensen then made consecutive 3-pointers to cut the Albany lead to 12. The Bearcats, led by the duo of Swinson and Murphy, and Albany would battle for the next few minutes of the game.  A Swinson 3-point basket cut the Albany lead to 10 with 14 minutes remaining

“I think we were just knocking down shots,” Murphy said about the early second-half run.  “Especially at that high post between Sherae and I. Short corner was open as well. We were knocking those down. We had our guards being aggressive. Kandace Newry and Vaneeshia Paulk were being aggressive attacking the basket, getting some fouls. I think we were just swinging the ball around and found who was open.”

BU could not maintain the momentum. Albany, led by Richards on offense and 6-foot-9 junior center Megan Craig defense, increased the lead to 14 with seven minutes remaining. The Bearcats would never recover, as Albany would pull away, winning the game by 18 points.

“Our motto for the last couple of weeks has been, ‘Why not?’” Swinson said about her team’s solid performance against the best team in the conference. “With the end of the season coming up we gave it all we had on the court.”

Binghamton did their best to limit inside touches for Richards and Craig. This strategy was effective for short spurts, but BU did not manage to stop either player. Richards finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Craig added 12 points and five boards.

Albany also received game changing contributions from its sixth player, freshmen guard Imani Tate, who matched Richards with 18 points and tallied a game-high nine rebounds. Junior guard Sarah Royals chipped in 12 points.

Swinson and Murphy finished with 21 and 13 points, respectively. In her final game, senior guard and captain Vaneeshia Paulk struggled for BU, shooting only 2 of 12 from the field. Binghamton received contributions from almost every player on the court, which Scholl saw as a silver lining.

 “Ever since that game (against Hartford) we got some confidence and they just kind of went with it,” she said. “It is nice to see this group play on the level I thought they could have played this whole year, and ended on a positive note this year. It is something for the players who are coming back to build on.”