Leading Hartford by 11 points with just 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, it seemed likely the Binghamton women’s basketball team would cruise to the America East semifinals.
But six turnovers at the end of regulation contributed to BU’s improbable 72-68 overtime loss to the Hawks (19-12, 9-7 AE). The Bearcats (19-11, 10-6 AE) left the court frustrated and disappointed after the team blew another lead to Hartford, which closed out its previous game against BU in similar fashion.
“This one hurts,” said BU head coach Linda Cimino. “It’s probably one of the worst losses in my basketball experience . . . got to give credit to Hartford. They forced us to turn the ball over, and they outplayed us in the final stretch.”
Binghamton held the edge from the midpoint of the first quarter until there were eight seconds remaining in regulation. Sophomore guard Kai Moon returned to the starting lineup after missing one game due to a foot injury. Her ability to break the Hawks’ press without committing turnovers was imperative to BU building a double-digit lead which it sustained for most of the second half. Ultimately, after a late-game tweak to Hartford’s defense, the Bearcats began to unravel.
“I thought for the first 3 1/2 quarters, we handled [Hartford’s press] very well,” Moon said. “They changed it a little bit. I think it disrupted us offensively. I had way too many turnovers in the last four minutes and overtime.”
After Hartford cut its deficit to six, Binghamton called a timeout with just over 1 1/2 minutes remaining. Senior guard Imani Watkins was seen attempting to keep the team focused in order to close the game out. The Hawks eventually trimmed the Bearcats’ advantage to two with only 15 seconds remaining. With the shot clock off, Hartford was forced to either foul or force a turnover.
Instead of calling a timeout, Binghamton inbounded the ball to Watkins in the corner of the backcourt. Facing an aggressive double team, she turned it over, giving Hartford a quick layup. With eight seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Binghamton had one chance to erase its mistakes in regulation. Its final play was an inbound to Moon, who isolated at the top of the key and was blocked.
In overtime, Hartford held a lead for the period’s final three minutes. The Hawks rode the momentum to a 72-68 victory, completing the upset over BU.
In their final conference game as Bearcats, Watkins and senior center Alyssa James had well-rounded performances. Watkins totaled 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while James scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and added three blocks.
Watkins and James were the catalysts behind Binghamton’s most successful regular season since 2010-11, and both players were recognized Friday for their efforts. Watkins was named AE Player of the Year, and James was awarded her third consecutive AE Defensive Player of the Year award.
“I credit [Watkins] and [James] for what they’ve done with this program since they’ve gotten here,” Moon said. “They carried our team, this program for the last four years. We wouldn’t be here without them. We wouldn’t have had any of the successes we had this season without those two. This was their team.”
With James and Watkins leaving, the Bearcats’ rebuild will be centered around Moon, who was recently named to the All-America East third team for this season. In Saturday’s game, she put up 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“Our future’s bright. We’ve got somebody like Kai Moon sitting next to me, who’s going to be one of the best players in the league next year,” Cimino said. “We’ve got a couple of young pieces, and a couple of new pieces to add to our program. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Even though BU was eliminated from the AE championship, the team hopes to earn an invitation to the Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament. The team will receive word on whether it has been invited on March 12.
“The season always has to end some type of way, and we’re looking forward to going to a postseason tournament, maybe [the Women’s Basketball Invitational], so our season technically isn’t over,” Cimino said.