Just minutes after their season ended on Saturday, freshman guard Kai Moon and junior forward Alyssa James answered questions from the media, dejection evident on their faces and in their muffled answers. Before leaving the room, they were stopped by Binghamton head coach Linda Cimino.
“Keep your head up,” Cimino said. “We’re going to win a championship next year, I promise. You understand?”
Aware that a long bus trip back to BU awaited them, Moon and James nodded their heads.
The BU women’s basketball team, which entered the America East (AE) Quarterfinals seeded fifth, was held to a season-low 40 points by Maine. Despite a 22-18 advantage at the half, the Bearcats (13-17, 8-8 AE) characteristically struggled in the final two quarters, dooming them to a 57-40 loss and an early elimination from the conference tournament.
“Obviously, we’re really disappointed about our second half and the way we came out,” Cimino said. “After being so proud of our first-half effort, we did not execute our game plan in the second half.”
In the first half, BU put up a fight against the Black Bears (18-15, 9-7 AE), who reached the championship game for the second consecutive season. The Bearcats went on an 8-0 run, including back-to-back 3-pointers from junior guard Imani Watkins and redshirt sophomore guard Jasmine Sina, to close out the second quarter. Less than two minutes into the third quarter, sophomore guard Rebecca Carmody sunk a 3-pointer to put BU up, 25-20.
That was BU’s last advantage, as the Black Bears went on multiple runs to secure a decisive double-digit lead. Senior guard Sigi Koizar, a First Team All-Conference selection, spearheaded Maine’s attack, scoring 14 of her 16 points in the second half.
The Black Bears’ defensive performance proved to be the difference in the game. Maine forced 15 steals and caused 24 turnovers, wreaking havoc on a BU offense that had been averaging 62 points per game.
“[Our problem] was more defense than offense,” James said. “We just had to pick it up on defense; we got a little tired and we got out of it.”
James, who was named AE Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season, led BU’s defense with 13 rebounds and four blocks. Earlier this season, she set new program and conference records after recording 11 blocks in a single game.
Maine’s effective targeting of Watkins, who contributed just seven points to the Bearcats’ effort, was crucial to its success. Heading into the contest, Watkins ranked second in the league with 19.2 points per game. Prior to the tournament, she was the only BU player named to the AE All-Conference First Team.
“You’ve got to give credit to Maine and their defense,” Cimino said.
Following its takedown of BU, Maine went on to upset first-ranked New Hampshire, 61-52, in the semifinal round. The Black Bears are set to face Albany in a rematch of last year’s championship game. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m. on Friday from SEFCU Arena in Albany, New York.
Although the Bearcats’ season ended short of the championship title they had envisioned, Cimino remains confident in her squad’s ability to contend in coming seasons.
“Going forward, we know that we have a bright future,” Cimino said. “We have a lot of young kids and I’m really proud of our program and how far we’ve come in a short amount of time.”