With 15 seconds left in Sunday’s women’s basketball game against UMBC, sophomore forward Birna Benonysdottir converted a layup off of sophomore guard Denai Bowman’s missed free throw, putting the Bearcats within one point of the Retrievers. Despite the effort, BU lost by a slim margin of 57-54, but Benonysdottir took that drive into Monday’s rematch, scoring a career-high 22 points and helping the Bearcats secure a 65-60 win.
“[Benonysdottir] is a very dynamic player that can do a lot, and when she sets her mind to it… scary,” said BU head coach Bethann Shapiro Ord.
The transfer from Pac-12 member Arizona had a breakout game on Monday in just the second start of her Binghamton career, powering the Bearcats to their first win (1-5, 1-3 AE) of the season and a series split against the Retrievers (2-4, 2-2 AE).
Prior to Monday’s victory, Bowman and senior forward Kaylee Wasco were leaders for the Bearcats in Sunday afternoon’s loss, as Bowman ended the night with 18 points and a career-high nine rebounds while Wasco had her first career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“[Wasco’s] been working really hard and being the only senior on this very young team I ask a lot from her,” Shapiro Ord said. “Both [Bowman] and Wasco are my go-to players. [Bowman’s] always going to stop one of their best players and also attack on the offensive end. She brings so much energy for us.”
UMBC’s graduate student forward Juliet Esadah was the only player other than Wasco to secure a double-double with 19 points and 12 boards. Esadah had both the most points and rebounds out of any player on the court. Another force for the Retrievers was junior guard Kasey Gagan who hit four 3-pointers and ended the night with 16 points.
Bowman and Wasco were once again integral players in Monday’s game, as Bowman scored nine points while Wasco had 12, but Benonysdottir was the key. Benonysdottir not only contributed 22 points, but also seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
One of the major game changers between Sunday and Monday’s matchups was free throws. BU went just 3-11 on free throws in its first game, but was able to convert 23 of 29 free throws the next day, from 27 percent to 79 percent. Two major contributors in this area were Benonysdottir, who made eight of nine free throws, and sophomore guard Cassidy Roberts, who went six-for-six from the line in her first career start and scored a career-high of eight points on Monday.
“We switched the starting lineup, and we did it because we got a better matchup, and I thought we’d be harder to guard as well,” Shapiro Ord said. “I switched [Roberts] and [sophomore guard Zahra Barnes] out. Both are tremendous point guards for us and they both give a little bit different.”
In both games, BU struggled in the third quarter, coming up with just five points on Sunday and nine on Monday. Both times the Bearcats bounced back in the final quarter, but according to Shapiro Ord, the difference between Sunday and Monday’s fourth quarters was squashing UMBC’s second-chance opportunities. The Retrievers had 18 offensive rebounds on Monday, but just three came in the fourth quarter.
“They knew [going into the fourth quarter] that this is it,” Shapiro Ord said. “We went into that timeout, that huddle, and I said, ‘No second-chance opportunities for them.’ They really gritted it out and I’m so proud of them, I really am. They knew giving [UMBC] extra opportunities was going to be the difference.”
After splitting the series with UMBC and garnering their first win, the Bearcats will host Hartford next week on Saturday, Jan. 2 and Sunday, Jan. 3. Tipoff for the first game is set for 3 p.m. at the Events Center in Vestal, New York.