ORONO, Maine — Earlier this season, committing 29 turnovers likely would have undone the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
Saturday night, the Black Bears shrugged off their frequent miscues and maintained their defensive intensity and offensive execution.
The result was a 66-61 UMaine victory over Stony Brook at Alfond Arena in the teams’ mutual America East regular-season finale.
Colleen Kilmurray celebrated “Senior Night” by scoring a team-high 17 points and grabbing six rebounds.
“‘Killer’ is such a big part of our team, on and off the court,” said UMaine junior Amanda Tewksbury. “We all look up to her and she really makes our team connected.”
Coach Cindy Blodgett’s Bears (5-24, 3-13 AE) will ride some momentum into the America East Championship. Ninth-seeded UMaine plays No. 8 Albany in Thursday’s 7 p.m. play-in game for the right to face No. 1 Boston University in Friday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal.
Stony Brook (6-22, 4-12 AE) is the No. 7 seed and takes on host Hartford in Friday’s last quarterfinal.
Saturday night, Kilmurray was the catalyst. She battled hard at both ends and eventually fouled out with 33.8 seconds remaining.
“It’s a dream everyone has, to win their last game on their home court, so it was a great feeling,” said Kilmurray, whose parents, maternal grandparents and two brothers made the trip from New Jersey. Her sister Christine was unable to attend, as she was helping New York University win an NCAA Division III second-round game.
“If she won, I’ll let her off the hook,” Kilmurray said.
UMaine demonstrated increased maturity against Stony Brook. The Bears struggled with turnovers, but didn’t allow those difficulties to spoil their efforts.
Exhibit A came early in the second half. After extending its lead to 36-29 on four straight points by Brittany Boser, UMaine went into a funk. The Bears, who committed 11 turnovers in the first half, made an equal number during a stretch of six minutes, five seconds.
Rather than collapse, UMaine emerged from the skid still holding a 40-37 lead.
“I think that shows our growth, too, the fact that in the past if that would have happened, we might have shut down or we might have said ‘aw, here we go,’” Tewksbury said. “I think collectively we decided, OK, let’s move on and let’s move past this and fix these mistakes.”
The difference was UMaine maintained its commitment on the defensive end. The hosts’ 1-2-2 matchup zone held the Seawolves in check, eventually holding SBU scoreless for a span of 6½ minutes.
The Bears eventually rattled off seven unanswered points, including Kristin Baker’s three-point play, Kilmurray’s eight-footer off glass and two Samantha Wheeler free throws, to push their advantage to 45-37 with 11:25 left.
Stony Brook, which committed 25 turnovers, later got as close as two points (53-51), but two Rush foul shots and her 3-pointer off a Samantha Wheeler penetrate-and-pitch play helped UMaine stay on top.
The Bears made 10 of 12 free throws to preserve the victory.
“We got to the line, Blodgett said. “Shooting 81 percent (29-for-36) from the line, that was a key for us. We needed to attack in general and our guards needed to rebound, and they did that.”
Tewksbury complemented Kilmurray with 11 points and seven rebounds, while Rush provided 10 points and seven rebounds. Wheeler added seven points and seven rebounds with 10 turnovers.
Rush sparked the Bears at both ends, playing at the top of the zone and running the offense from the point. She scored all of her points in the last 3½ minutes.
“I thought Jasmine came in and just gave us a tremendous lift,” Blodgett said. “To her credit, I threw her in the fire and she did a great job.”
Misha Horsey tossed in a game-best 22 points with five assists and five steals to lead Stony Brook. Kairsten Nunn added 11 points and nine rebounds. UMaine held leading scorer Kirsten Jeter, who has been ill of late, to four points and eight rebounds.
“We definitely went at her on offense to get her in foul trouble and on defense. She caught it at the high post a lot and we would just body-up on her and the guards were good at sliding down and getting a lot of steals off her because she was trying to make jump passes because she was afraid of getting charges at the end,” Kil-murray said.
The Bears took the lead with an 8-2 scoring run late in the first half and never trailed after that. Kilmurray scored six of those points, including a close-range bucket and an 18-foot jumper.