Emily Earl/Assistant Photography Editor Sophomore guard Imani Watkins scored 28 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Bearcats’ exhibition win over ESU on Friday.

With just 3:18 left in regulation on Friday night, the Binghamton women’s basketball team took the lead from East Stroudsburg on a free throw from freshman guard Rebecca Carmody. In their only preseason exhibition game, the Bearcats pulled away in the final minutes to top Division II East Stroudsburg, 66-59.

Although her team was eventually victorious, BU head coach Linda Cimino acknowledged that the contest was closer than she would have liked.

“Obviously this was a really hard-fought win for us,” she said. “I thought East Stroudsburg did an unbelievable job coming in and challenging us. They were really aggressive. They made us work on every single possession. I give a lot of credit to them.”

The Warriors challenged the Bearcats early and often. After allowing ESU to take an early 7-2, Binghamton headed into halftime with a 30-27 edge thanks to 16 points from sophomore guard Imani Watkins. Watkins, who last season was selected to the America East All-Rookie team, proved once again to be an offensive force, dribbling the ball into the paint on multiple occasions and weaving through Warrior defenders to tally layups. Adding to BU’s attack was redshirt sophomore forward Alyssa James, whose imposing 6 foot 1 inch frame aided in her recording of 19 points and nine rebounds in the contest.

In the third period, however, the Bearcats’ weaknesses became evident, as they allowed East Stroudsburg to put up 26 points — almost as many as it had in the previous two periods combined. Leading the Warriors’ offense was sophomore guard Imani Brown, who tallied a team-high 17 points and sunk five treys. ESU made six of the eight 3-pointers they attempted during the period and led by as many as 11 points.

Coach Cimino attributes her team’s lackluster performance during that time frame to an ineffective defensive strategy.

“We changed up our defense,” she said. “We were playing a lot of zone in the third period and they were hitting some shots from the outside and a lot of them were uncontested; we were over-helping.”

In the third period, Binghamton looked like a team struggling to find its rhythm, replete with newcomers who had yet to adapt to playing at the college level. This changed in the final period, however, as the Bearcats outscored ESU, 20-4, to complete a comeback fueled by BU’s ability to get to the free-throw line.

Starting off the final period down by seven, Binghamton came out strong, controlling play and getting fouled often. The Bearcats’ saving grace proved to be their prowess from the free throw line, as 14 of their final 20 points came from this line. BU shot 72.7 percent from the line, continuing last season’s success, in which it led the conference by making 72 percent of all attempted free throws.

Watkins, who drained five of these crucial shots in the final four minutes and added 28 points overall, realized the importance of her team’s efficiency at the free-throw line.

“With the changes to our game, it’s a little bit easier to get there [to the line],” she said. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re working on our free throws every single day so that we’re getting up shots and when we get to the line a lot like we did today, we knock ‘em down.”

Binghamton played five newcomers on Friday night, three of whom were freshmen. Carmody and fellow freshman guard McKayla Hernandez saw the most time on the floor, playing 38 and 26 minutes, respectively. Carmody, a native of nearby Waymart, Pennsylvania, tallied 11 points and nine rebounds.

“Rebecca Carmody is playing a lot of positions for us,” Cimino said. “She’s very versatile and great in transition, so we’re just working on little things with her. Once she gets comfortable, she’s going to be really good.”

Binghamton is set to kick off its regular season on Saturday with its first-ever matchup against Michigan. Tip-off is set for noon at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.