A change of scenery was just what the Binghamton University women’s basketball team needed.
When the Bearcats (15-8, 8-2 America East) visited the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in January, it was the Retrievers (13-10, 7-3 AE) who looked to be the stronger America East team. But in Wednesday’s game at the Events Center it was Binghamton coming out on top as it took sole possession of second place, beating UMBC by a final score of 47-40.
As conference play heads down the final stretch and with the AE tournament looming in March, seeding is of the utmost importance. Both teams seemed to have understood that as defense played a large role in the first half.
Through five minutes the teams combined for just six points and the Bearcat defense held UMBC junior and America East scoring leader Michelle Kurowski to zero points for nearly 10 minutes to start the game.
But it was only a matter of time until the Bearcats were tested. Multiple calls against them, coupled with a 10-0 Retriever run, shifted the momentum in UMBC’s favor, prompting freshman guard Jasbriell Swain to step up and do what she does best: hustle.
“We come into the game knowing that we’re [not always] going to get good refs and sometimes the calls aren’t going to go our way,” she said. “But we’re maturing and we’re learning that we have to play through that and be tough.”
A late offensive rebound and put-back by Swain tied the game at 16 as the first half defensive battle ended.
Swain finished with 10 points. She also pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds, the most by a BU player since current assistant coach Leah Truncale nabbed 19 against Colgate in 2001.
Kurowski was held to just five points in the first half as a result of defensive adjustments by the Bearcats from the game at UMBC when she tallied 16 in the first period.
“We put Jas [Swain] on her to begin with. Down [in Baltimore] we had [senior] Jackie [Ward] on her to begin with and Jackie was a little bit undersized against her,” said Binghamton head coach Nicole Scholl. “So I think Jas did a fantastic job, but within that I thought our team defense was much better than it was the last time we played them.”
But a different BU defense began the second half — this one was lazier and more lackluster.
Clearly upset by her team’s performance following the intermission, Scholl called a timeout to allow her team to regain its composure.
Despite a better effort by the Binghamton defense, the Retrievers built a seemingly healthy 27-19 lead with 10 minutes left to play.
Just as juniors Viive Rebane and Andrea Holmes countered with six straight points to bring the Bearcats back to within two, Retriever senior Meghan Colabella drew a foul on a runner in the lane. She converted on the shot and free throw to end the BU run and put her team back up by five.
But Rebane and Holmes yet again brought their team back and pulled to within two points with seven minutes remaining.
And when the Bearcats needed it most, Swain came away with a steal and fed to junior Kara Elofson, who tied the game at 30.
Though seemingly absent for much of the game, Elofson added crucial points when her team needed them.
“We talked to Kara at halftime and just said, ‘Look, you just have to keep battling and keep playing,’ and to her credit she was able to do that and finally got things going,” Scholl said. “She’s been another player that’s been relentless for us and when she’s playing tough and when she’s playing physical she’s tough to top.”
Elofson and Rebane led the second half surge that put the Bearcats back in the game down the stretch, which included a 22-5 BU run.
Rebane, who managed just three points in the previous game against the Retrievers, finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. After committing her fifth and final foul, she exited the game to a standing ovation.
“It was amazing, it’s always amazing,” Rebane said. “I love the crowd, they’re always supporting me and it makes me play better.”
Though the Bearcats had late trouble with free-throw shooting, they managed to hold on for a 47-40 win which now gives them sole possession of second place in the conference.
Noticeably quiet in the game’s highlights was star guard Andrea Holmes, who finished with 10 points and nine rebounds.
But Scholl saw a positive in her team leader’s quiet performance.
“It’s about our team, it’s not about one particular person,” she said. “So to have everyone share the wealth is what we’re looking for.”
Binghamton had been understandably disappointed with its effort in the early January loss at UMBC and looked forward to Wednesday night when the Retrievers visited the Events Center, a venue at which BU now holds a 9-0 record this season.
But the Bearcats will now have to venture away from their home court as they head to New Hampshire to take on the 6-15 (3-6 AE) Wildcats on Sunday.
Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.