According to Binghamton head coach Linda Cimino, things couldn’t have gone much better in the team’s quarterfinal bout with No. 1 Maine on Saturday.
The Binghamton women’s basketball team (4-26) fell, 78-71, to the top seed on Saturday, effectively ending its 2014-15 campaign. But given that the Bearcats are in a rebuilding phase under their first-year head coach and they entered the postseason carrying the eight seed, that narrow loss isn’t bad.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our girls and the effort that we gave [on Saturday],” Cimino said. “I thought we played at the highest level we could possibly play, and the only better outcome today could have been walking away with a win.”
Playing on their home court as the hosts of the first two rounds of the America East Tournament, the Bearcats kept the Black Bears (23-8) on their toes for 40 minutes. Though much smaller, Binghamton worked to its advantages. The Bearcats poured in 10 3-pointers on a 52.6 percent shooting clip through the game. They drew a sufficient number of fouls to go 15 for 18 from the charity stripe, and shot 46.9 percent from the floor overall to keep pace with a team fielding two First-Team All-Conference players and one Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“I think we give our heart out in all games, and I think today we just played very unselfish,” BU freshman guard Jasmine Sina said. “We communicated, we did everything well, we focused on all the little details and played very well together.”
Much of BU’s efficacy came from the 2015 AE Rookie of the Year in Sina. The 5-foot-5 guard exploited Maine on the arc, shooting 4 for 7 from 3-point range in the first half alone and draining shots above players standing as tall as 6-foot-3. Through the contest, she downed six treys en route to 19 points, besting her season averages of 14.7 points per game and 3.1 made 3s per game.
“Binghamton played a terrific game,” said Maine head coach Richard Barron, the 2015 AE Coach of the Year. “They shot the ball lights out. Jasmine Sina showed why she was Rookie of the Year — she played like a first-team all-conference player today.”
Sina’s 3s, which often came at clutch moments to break up Maine spurts and spark her own team’s runs, were just one part of an “unselfish” Binghamton offense. All-Rookie teammate Imani Watkins was another force for the Bearcats, pouring in 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 shooting from the free-throw line. The 5-foot-8 guard also dished out a game-high six dimes.
Though senior forward Sherae Swinson struggled through foul trouble, she still put up 12 points on an 80 percent shooting clip from the floor in addition to three rebounds in her last game in the green and white. Fellow senior Gintare Surdokaite contributed nine points — all from 3s — two assists and a steal in her final performance as a Bearcat.
After falling behind when Maine tore out to a 15-8 lead in the opening five minutes, BU rallied back. At the half, Binghamton had stormed back from a double-digit deficit to make it a one-possession game, 34-32, heading into the locker rooms.
Preventing Maine from pulling away was a theme on Saturday. When the Black Bears used a 14-3 run in the second half to establish another 13-point lead, 63-50, with under 10 minutes to play, BU managed to chip the lead down to five in the final three minutes.
“Basketball is a game of runs, and that’s how [Maine] beat us last time,” Swinson said. “This game we were able to respond with our own runs, and I think it’s because it started on defense.”
Binghamton was heavily out-rebounded by the Black Bears, who pulled down 38 boards to BU’s 26. But Maine committed 14 largely unforced turnovers, which translated to 21 points for Binghamton — a major advantage for a team outscored 36-16 in the paint.
Ultimately, however, it was Maine’s depth that pulled the Black Bears through to the semifinals. Junior forward Liz Wood, 2015 AE Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and her first-team all-conference teammate sophomore guard Sigi Koizar put up dominant lines, but junior forwards Bella Swan and Mikaela Gustafsson were the game-changers. Swan headed the early game with scrappy defense and potent post-scoring, where she finished shooting 7 for 8 for her 15 points. Gustafsson drew a series of fouls out of Binghamton in the closing minutes and delivered a perfect 7 for 7 from the line to keep Maine afloat for its quarterfinal win.
Wood — who finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and five assists — and Koizar — who put up 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists — both delivered on their expectations.
But Cimino was pleased with the performance, as well as the team’s season overall.
“I think we’ve exceeded my expectations that we had set,” Cimino said. “We weren’t concerned about wins and losses this year — this year we were concerned about getting better and improving every single day, and I think we did that, as evidenced today.”