Just under three weeks ago, a last-second layup doomed the Binghamton women’s basketball team to a two-point loss against New Hampshire. But in a rematch on Sunday, it was the Bearcats (14-7, 5-3 America East) that won by a two-point margin with a 54-52 victory over the Wildcats (14-7, 5-3 AE).
“We knew we had to come up here and steal a game from them,” said BU head coach Linda Cimino. “I didn’t want it to be as close as it was. It was kind of similar to the way we lost at home, but we came back and did what we had to do here and I’m very proud of our girls.”
The Bearcats’ scoring leader, senior guard Imani Watkins, used her extensive experience to her advantage. With six seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 52, she drew a foul off a 3-point shot with less than a second left on the clock. The explosive guard sunk two out of the three free throws to give BU a 54-52 edge.
“It wasn’t just the points and steals, it was [Watkins’] leadership,” Cimino said. “She wanted the ball at the end of the game— she wanted the ball and she knew what to do with it. She showed a lot of leadership today mixing in some great defensive stops, and I’m just really proud of her.”
BU started off slowly, with Watkins held scoreless in the first period. She bounced back and scored 12 in the second, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to take a four-point lead at the break. Watkins came into the game as the No.12 scorer in the nation. She finished with 35 points, one short of her career high, and swiped a career-high nine steals.
“I really struggled in the first half, but my teammates stuck with me, the coaching staff stuck with me,” Watkins said. “Coach Cimino’s game plan in the second half really worked. We got a lead and maintained it, and that’s championship basketball.”
BU held a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter, but this was not much of an obstacle for the Wildcats, who pride themselves on making late-game comebacks. This is a testament to the experience that their roster poses, as they are loaded with seven seniors. The first time these two teams played this season, UNH posed a comeback after Binghamton led by 10 in the latter half of the third quarter.
“You have to expect that when a team is that good, they’re going to score,” Watkins said. “You just have to withstand the run, and I think we did, and then we went on a run of our own. We defended, we got stops when we needed to and I think, down the stretch, we really executed.”
UNH scored seven quick unanswered points in the last two minutes to tie the game at 52, prior to Watkins heading to the line and icing the game.
“We worked really hard, it was a great team win,” Watkins said. “We got some key stops down the stretch and we stayed really resilient tonight.”
UNH senior guard Brittni Lai proved to be a Bearcat poacher again when she tied the game with 18 seconds left in regulation. In their first meeting, she drained a game-winning layup with two seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Bearcats are set to return to the court on Wednesday against Vermont. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Patrick Gym in Burlington, Vermont.